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GS 197 Winter 2013

Assignments and Updates

See also: Blackboard


This is the Assignments and Updates Page. All assignments, and all updates to earlier assignments, will be posted here, beginning with the most recent first.

This is the most up-to-date information available on this website. Please check this page frequently throughout the quarter!!

Wednesday, March 13

Reading: Charles Sze, "The Shapes of Leaves" (in your packet from day 1, but if you can't find it, click here.)

Writing: Two things.

First: critic Jennifer Weeks has written of this poem: "The Shapes of Leaves, as a poem, is reminiscent of classical Chinese poets, as well as of more American influences.  The lyricism is strongly Asian in origin, while the lucidity and sharpness of the language call to mind some of Robert Frost's poetry...."

In a short paragraph, point to a choice Sze makes as a writer that might support Weeks' view either of ways Sze's poem is like Frost (remember that the first poem we read back in January was by Frost), or of ways his poem is like traditional Chinese poetry.

Second: A short essay (no more than two pages!) reflecting on the course. From your essay Carrie and I want to learn something about how this course worked for you. This is the first time we have taught a freshman seminar as a credit-noncredit course. We have liked doing it, and we look forward to doing it again next year.

But we'd like to know from you what worked well for you (what you liked), and what you think we should change (what you didn't like all that much). What do you think you got from the course? Either as a reader of poetry or as a freshman new to the university?

Other questions you might write about include:

Do you think we should have set this up to be a two hour class instead of a one hour class? Why do you think so?

Should we have asked you to write more? Less? We wanted you to write so that you would come to class having thought about the poetry we were about to read at least a little bit, since we think that makes for better conversation in class and more learning. Was that true for you?

However you choose to set it out, the object of this short paper is simply to give us feedback on what we have done together over the past ten weeks and how we can keep its best elements for the next time we teach it.

Wednesday, March 6

Reading: You can find the homework online here.

Of this booklet we handed out pages 8-17, along with pages 46-7: a total of 12 pages. That consists of a short introduction on Du Fu (pp.8-9), the poem "Presented to Wei Ba, the Recluse" in hanzi (p.11), followed by a literal, character by character translation of the poem (pp. 12-3), and then two English translations, the first fairly literal, by Dan Wylie and Elzette Steenkamp, but with various elements supplied which the original poem leaves out (the note on the translation [pp16-17] explains how this works), and the second (pp. 46-7) by Kenneth Rexroth, a famous American poet who translated quite a few Chinese poems. This is an eighth century poem, and according to the stylized poetic custom of the time, its language is very condensed--with every possible unnecessary syllable left out. That is shown in the character-by-character translation--read it without help and it is pretty hard to figure out what is going on at all. So a translator must be creative as well as responsive to the original.

Writing: As you can see from both the literal translation of Du Fu's poem and the significant differences in the two English poetic translations we have given you, translation itself is an art. For today we would like you to reflect on this art, on the choices translators make.

You have two options, though they are not really equally available to you all:

Option 1: If you are able to read the Chinese poem, compare Du Fu's original poem with one of the English translations we have given you. You won't have time to compare the whole poems: just focus on 2-3 places where you think the translation departs from Du Fu's original poem, places where you thnk the translator makes an interesting choice.

Option 2: Read and re-read the two English poetic translations. Focus on 2-3 differences you think are significant. What are the different choices each translator (or pair of translating partners) made? Describe the differences you see, and then explain why you think these differences are significant.

Wednesday, February 27

Reading: The main reading is Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife," though we include along with it the tiny "In a Station of the Metro"--a little gem of an image which is probably Pound's most famous poem. Both of these poems are a lot different from what we have been reading to this point. As we said in class, "imagist" poems depend on understanding the power the imagist poets thought lay in a well-articulated image. In Pound's own words:

"We are not painters, but we believe that poetry should render
particulars exactly and not in vague generalities."

So for next time, instead of writing, we are going to ask for some drawings!


a. What image do you think "In A Station of the Metro" attempts to
convey? Draw it. (You don't have to use color: sketching with a pen is
fine. And it doesn't matter if you are not an artist--Carrie can't
draw at all! The point is to think about what image you see the poem

b. Our second poem, Pound's translation or adaptation of a very ancient work by
a Chinese poet, has several images. Choose two to sketch--one early in the poem, and one later on. Be prepared to explain why you think the image you have made a drawing of is important to the poem.

Wednesday, February 20

Reading: Shakespeare was a dramatist from his head to his toes. He probably made a drama out of taking a walk or combing his hair. He certainly made a drama out of everything else--and especially his sonnets. Each one is conceived of as a tiny 14-line play. There is always a speaker--though that speaker is not the same in every poem. Sometimes he is a man in love; sometimes he is a man angry at his lover; sometimes he is in love with a woman; sometimes he is in love with a man. Sometimes he confesses that he himself has been unfaithful to someone, and at other times he complains about how his lover has been unfaithful to him!

And then there is someone he is addressing--a listener. And finally, there is always a form of action--usually a kind of conflict.

In the two sonnets for next time there is all of that, though they are very different. In the first one Shakespeare is giving his listener a kind of warning--though a strange one. "They that have power to hurt, and then do none..." Already the poem becomes a kind of puzzle. This is one of Shakespeare's most famous poems precisely because it is hard to figure out WHO he is warning, and just exactly WHAT he is warning them about! He seems very serious in the first 8 lines--and he uses words like "stone," unmoved," and "cold" to describe the mysterious "they"--not a very friendly way to describe someone. And then, very suddenly, he switches direction and begins to talk about "the summer flower"--without explaining why he shifts subject. It is as if the poem is really TWO poems, set next to each other, one commenting somehow on the other. That, too, is a kind of puzzle--why would someone be so indirect in speaking to someone else? What is he trying to do?

In the second sonnet Shakespeare is much more clear--though the poem can still be a little difficult to make sense of. Here it is a man explaining to someone his relationship to his lover. This, too, is a very famous sonnet, in part because it has some humor in it. For while the first of the two sonnets is very serious in its tone, this one is more comic, as Shakespeare's speaker makes fun of himself. He opens by observing that his lover tells him she is "made of truth," by which he means, she says she is faithful to him. And, he says that he believes her, too--even though he knows she is lying!

That is already strange, but then he goes on to explain that the reason why he accepts her false declaration of fidelity is that he wants her to think that his is too young to know any better! So as he speaks you can figure out the dramatic situation: here is an older man in love with a younger woman, and he is worried that she will dump him because he is older than she is. So he pretends to be young and naive, even though she knows he is not, and he does this, he says, to make sure she stays with him anyway.

So each of them is lying to the other, but each has their reasons for doing so, and as a result, in a funny sort of way, even as they pretend to deceive each other they are nevertheless a happy couple--flattering each other with lies, even as they lie together with each other (he implies) in bed.


Shakespeare is famous for picking just the right word to express his most powerful thoughts. So: For each of these poems I want you to pick the TWO words in each that seem to you to be the most powerful words in the poem--and by powerful I mean: a word which does the most to make the poem as a whole more effective. For each of the words you pick, explain why you are picking THAT word.

So: four short paragraphs--each beginning with a word from one of the two poems, followed by your three or four sentence explanation of how that word seems to you to have a powerful effect on the poem.

[As an example, in today's poem you might have picked "cow-heavy" as a way Plath describes herself. It is powerful because it is probably both accurate for how she feels, just having given birth after gaining 30 or 40 pounds during her pregnancy, and for comparing her to a "cow"--a nice enough animal, but a little dumb, big, and (compared to the way she would like to look) ugly. It's a word that captures the negative side of her feelings about giving birth--something many people think should be a thing of absolute beauty and happiness. Not so, says Plath, not for me, at least at first....]

Wednesday, February 13

Reading: Sylvia Plath, "Morning Song."

Writing: After you have read (and re-read!) this poem, we would like you first to respond to two questions, and then perform one other task.

The Questions:

1. Who do you think the "you" referenced in the first line of the poem is?
2. What do you see as the speaker's attitude toward this person?

The Other Task:

When your two teachers discussed the poem together, we thought the third stanza (lines 7-9) was particularly tricky. Read it carefully and try to "translate" it into your own words. What do you think it is saying? What does it mean?

Wednesday, February 6

Reading: Blake, "The Tyger," and Rich, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers"

Writing: I know, this is TWO poems, not one. But we want this time to think about symbols, images used to suggest meanings beyond the literal. So this assignment is really about tigers, not poems, per se.

So what we'd like you to do is read each poem, and work through for each what you think the poem is trying to suggest the "tyger/tiger" represents.

Finally, once you've thought about both poems, think about how the idea of a tiger is differently evoked in each poem. How are they different? And why? And what does each poet do to make the same word and the same animal mean such different things?

As you develop your answer, I'd like you also to be able to give an answer to the question: How do you know? The answer to HDYK? is always something you have noticed about the language in the poem. Thus in "My Papa's Waltz" you knew that the boy was being physically hurt by the dance because Roethke included details like the dizziness, the scraping of the buckle, the rapping of the father's knuckles on his head, beating a waltz rhythm as they "danced." (And some other detail as well!) Because those details suggest pain and discomfort, even as the poem describes what it calls a "waltz" (which in a normal situation should be fun and pleasureful), we know that there is hurt in this dance as well as whatever pleasure might be there with it.

For next Wednesday, then, focus on the tigers in these poems. What do you think they represent? and How Do You Know?

Wednesday, January 30

Reading: William Carlos Williams, "This is Just to Say" and Kenneth Koch, "Variations on a Theme By William Carlos Williams."

Writing: The title of Kenneth Koch’s poem tells us that his poem takes up a “theme”* of another poet, William Carlos Williams, and offers “variations” on that theme. Carefully read Williams’s poem “This Is Just to Say” and reflect on the theme(s) you see in that poem. Then carefully read Koch’s poem. In your response paper, describe the theme you think Koch is borrowing from Williams, and tell us about two “variations” on the theme that you see in Koch’s poem. What do you see Koch borrowing from Williams, and what does Koch do with that theme in his poem? Why do you think he makes the changes he does?  What is he trying to do? 

(*theme: a subject, central topic, or concept in a poem)

Wednesday, January 23

Reading: Theodore Roetke, "My Papa's Waltz."

Writing: Readers have understood this poem in at least two very different ways. We'd like you to think about why--what does the poet do to give this poem such a sense of ambiguity?

In thinking about that question, first describe what you think is taking place here. Do you think there is actual waltzing [the "waltz" is a kind of dance] in the poem? And if so is it a happy waltz or a frightening one?

And second, what perspective do you think the poet wishes to convey about that action? Is the action taking place a good thing? a problem? Warm? Threatening?

To decide on the poet's perspective, reflect on the poem's tone. Describe which word and image choices that set the tone stand out to you, and what emotions (happiness? anger? sadness?) you think those word choices convey.

Wednesday, January 16

Reading: Robert Frost, "Design."

Writing: For your first response paper we'd like you to read "Design" carefully, and locate FIVE Whats you think are worth talking about, and then write a paragraph for each of the five suggesting possible reasons Why Frost made each of the choices you have noticed. You don't need to figure out the So What step yet--we'll do that as a class next week. (It's ok if you want to go online and find out what other people have thought about the poem. There are differences of opinion, and we'll work out something of our own answer to this question next week anyway.)