Beginning with Poems
Why begin the study of literature with poems? Written words are the building blocks of literature, and poetry, in Coleridge's famous equation, is "the best words in the best order." To be understood and appreciated, poetry requires a close attention to words and their ordering as they are read and reread. All good literature requires such attention, but practically speaking, poetry provides the best way to acquire the art of rereading because of its shorter forms. More importantly, poetry can be the most emotionally intense and satisfying of literary forms. We will read a small number of poems written in English from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries from several genres - sonnet, ode, elegy, verse epistle, satire, villanelle - and on several subjects - love, death, and politics. Poets will include William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and William Butler Yeats.
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