30.453 Poetry and Prosody
“The empirical study of poetry will convince us that meter is a prime physical and emotional constituent of poetic meaning” writes Paul Fussell in his Introduction to Poetic Meter & Poetic Form (3); and Ezra Pound maintains that “Rhythm MUST have meaning. It can’t be merely a careless dash off, with no grip and no real hold to the words and sense” (Letters 49). This course will offer instruction in the use of traditional tools for the prosodic analysis of poetry–special attention will be paid to the techniques of metrical analysis and the ways in which such analysis contributes to the reader’s discovery of poetic meaning. Using examples drawn from the entire poetic tradition (from SGAGK to Language Poets), the course will explore ways of approaching metre and form. Considering that most of the major poems in the language also constitute moments of metrical discovery, the course (depending on individual interests) may examine some (or sections) of the following texts: Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book I); Pope’s The Rape of the Lock; Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience; Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”; Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley & The Cantos; Eliot’s The Waste Land, and H.D.’s Trilogy.
In his important essay “Poetics and Metrics,” Renato Poggioli asserts that “the apparition of a new literary genre is always accompanied by the invention or the exclusive adoption by that genre of a definite verse form” (347). In other words, poetic genre and metrical form are often tied to each other. Taking this as one of the important laws of literary theory, the course may also consider the nature of certain genres (elegy, satire, epic, long poem, etc), including historical developments within them.
Finally, the course may also consider the coherence and development of the work of individual poets (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Marvell, Herbert, Pope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Browning, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Eliot, Moore, Pound, Cummings, Williams, H.D.), or particular historical movements (metaphysical poetry, imagist poetry), or particular forms (sonnet, free verse).