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Autumn Quarter ’04– The Age of Romanticism
The Blackboard

(I'll post things here from time to time to clarify assignments or class discussions)



English 330
December 14, 2004

Since Day One of the quarter I've asked you to think about the poems we read in terms of their functions. “What,” I've asked you to ask, “does this poem (or this line, or this word) DO?” We’ve noted that poems can have different functions, or projects; we’ve noted that the functions works of art have can be different. Sometimes they work to raise a question, and thereby to engage us in a kind of cultural conversation; sometimes they make a particular sort of argument or claim about things, either to explain them to us or to convince us of their importance or to urge us to some sort of action. At the same time, it is not always easy to understand what a work of art’s function is; such texts tend to work by indirection and by condensation, not by direct statement, and thus they invite us to supply as part of our interpretation a hypothesis about what a given text is doing, and how it is doing it.

That’s why careful reading requires careful attention to detail, to choices writers make—to what we’ve called here the “whats” and (as ways to explore and explain the grounds for those choices) the “whys.”

That all said, for this midterm I want you to pick ONE of the passages below, and to write a functional analysis of it. I’d like you to begin by giving me a project statement for the passage. What do you think it is trying to accomplish? What is its “project”? Then as carefully and as fully as you can in an essay NO LONGER THAN 4 DOUBLE-SPACED PAGES, explain how it accomplishes that goal (or set of goals).

Finally, conclude by making a connection between the passage you choose to write about and some other work we have read in this course. Compare it and contrast it. Your only constraint on choice is that I want you to pick a writer DIFFERENT from the author of your passage.

Take your time—you have just about three hours. As on your midterm, I’m interested in thoughtful answers informed by the understandings you have developed as a student in this class.

Passage #1 (Shelley, Book 3 Chapter 2)

Having parted from my friend, I determined to visit some remote spot of Scotland, and finish my work in solitude. I did not doubt but that the monster followed me, and would discover himself to me when I should have finished, that he might receive his companion.
With this resolution I traversed the northern highlands, and fixed on one of the remotest of the Orkneys as the scene of my labours. It was a place fitted for such a work, being hardly more than a rock, whose high sides were continually beaten upon by the waves. The soil was barren, scarcely affording pasture for a few miserable cows, and oatmeal for its inhabitants, which consisted of five persons, whose gaunt and scraggy limbs gave tokens of their miserable fare. Vegetables and bread, when they indulged in such luxuries, and even fresh water, was to be procured from the main land, which was about five miles distant.
On the whole island there were but three miserable huts, and one of these was vacant when I arrived. This I hired. It contained but two rooms, and these exhibited all the squalidness of the most miserable penury. The thatch had fallen in, the walls were unplastered, and the door was off its hinges. I ordered it to be repaired, bought some furniture, and took possession; an incident which would, doubtless, have occasioned some surprise, had not all the senses of the cottagers been benumbed by want and squalid poverty. As it was, I lived ungazed at and unmolested, hardly thanked for the pittance of food and clothes which I gave; so much does suffering blunt even the coarsest sensations of men.

Passage #2 (P. B. Shelley, Mont Blanc)

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.
In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them:—Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapor broods
Over the snow. The secret Strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?

Passage 3 (Byron, Manfred, 3.4 104ff)

SPIRIT. Reluctant mortal!
Is this the Magian who would so pervade
The world invisible, and make himself
Almost our equal?-- Can it be that thou
Art thus in love with life? the very life
Which made thee wretched!

MANFRED. Thou false fiend, thou liest!
My life is in its last hour,-- that I know, 370
Nor would redeem a moment of that hour.
I do not combat against death, but thee
And thy surrounding angels; my past power
Was purchased by no compact with thy crew,
But by superior science-- penance-- daring,
And length of watching-- strength of mind-- and skill
In knowledge of our fathers when the earth
Saw men and spirits walking side by side
And gave ye no supremacy: I stand
Upon my strength-- I do defy-- deny-- 380
Spurn back, and scorn ye!--

To submit this final, embed this in a normal email message to me. Do this by selecting All (Control a)from your edit menu, then Copy (Control C), and then, with your cursor in the email below your name, Paste (Control P).



1. Portfolio Assignment

2. Midterm Rewrite Issues

a. Midterm Project Statements

b. Exchange Re: noticing and exploring--say what?

3. Romantic Survival Project Assignment

4. Are All Poems really only about Poetry?

5. Project Statements

1. The Portfolio Assignment

(Also printed on page 9 of Reading and Writing the Romantic Age)


A portfolio for a literature class is like many other portfolios: a collection and display of the work you have done, together with a reflective essay describing your experience in the course. This project thus offers you a chance to review your quarter's work, as well as to put that work into some kind of narrative perspective. Your portfolio should include:

1) A detailed listing of the contents of the Portfolio.

2) All of the writing you have done for this class over the course of the quarter. (These should be the copies with my comments on them.)

3) A two to three page Self-Reflective Essay.

The Self-Reflective essay should be about your experience in this class. You should prepare for it by reviewing your writing for the quarter, but the actual essay may take a number of forms. It may, for example, discuss the writing you have done this quarter, describing what you take to be your work's strengths, how they may have changed over the course of the term, and anything you think you still might be able to improve. Or it may be a narrative of your experience in this course: why you took it, what problems it presented to you as it progressed, and what you did to address them. Or it may discuss how your attitudes about reading literature have developed, changed, or not changed during the quarter: what were you thinking when you came in, and how has that changed in the ten weeks since?

However you choose to set it out, the object of the exercise is to have you review your experience in the course, to think about that experience, and to do something towards evaluating and making sense of it.

The portfolio counts for 60 points of the course grade; I will evaluate the daily assignments included in the Portfolio on the basis of completeness and quality of involvement (30 points total). The essay I'll evaluate on the basis of responsiveness and thoughtfulness as follows (30 points total):

  • Fully responsive and thoughtfully undertaken = 30
  • Responsive but less completely thought through = 20
  • Marginally responsive, or not well thought through = 10
  • Unresponsive = 0

The Portfolio should be submitted in a large mailing envelope. Its presentation should be neat, ordered, and careful. To have it returned, be sure to address it and to provide postage sufficient for the thirty pages or so you will have submitted.

2a. Midterm Project Statements

(In your re-writes I don't want you barking up the wrong tree altogether--so I have posted here sample project statements for each of the three midterm selections. I think each is pretty good, but they are not the only things one could say, or necessarily the best thing one could say. You can use them, or improve upon them, or, if you think they are wrong, argue against them. But with these in mind, at least you will be sure to be in a ballpark appropriate to the poem's work.)

Nutting: to represent in a nutshell (!) Wordsworth's child-to-adult alienation myth, in which the child, too innocent to know fully what he does, embraces an adulthood that simultaneously breaks his natural sympathy with every living thing. In these lines we see his last embrace of the natural, before he finds himself “beyond all hope.” (I also talk about this poem in RWRA, p. 58)

The Aeolian Harp: to represent the work of the active imagination, as he first moves into a calm will-less state, that then moves in harmony with the harp, representing a unity between poet and nature. He is the harp that the wind plays. And then as the wind swell, his thoughts expand to cosmic dimension before being checked for their iconoclasm.

Dejection: An Ode: to represents to us the movement, or transformation, of the poet’s capacity for perception from a passive and impatient failure of imagination to an impassioned moment of inspired imaginative madness, at one with nature’s forces, moved beyond himself. Though violent and painful in its imagery, the poem to which he becomes something of a witness and scribe is also one which reaches towards and represents for us a dark reality of the human experience.

2.b. Noticing and Exploring--say What?

From a student query: I read what you posted and I reread the criteria on page 47. If you could help me figure this out a little I would really appreciate it. I am pretty sure that I understand what you want with integration/ power—this would be a strong project statement or purpose for my essay, what I am trying to say and where I am going to take it. The second, specifics, I didn't score too high on. Are the specifics more of specific words and their impact on the work rather than lines and phrases? I tried to use lines and ideas from the poem to explain my point, but should I be using those to come up with external ideas? On exploration, it seems as though I didn't touch on this very well at all. This is where I need to do to convince my reader of my points by tying them to my observations. Is this where I discuss why the poet feels this is something that should be shared, the impact it should have and why that would be important? Is it what I feel is important in the message of the poem? You don't want me to paraphrase, but I should make this explain the importance of the specifics that I found- I think. I hope that I am at least getting closer.

My reply: Thanks for the questions. I'm going to send you first to RWRA--you probably read through "Thumbplunging" when I first assigned it, but you may not have focused then on what it has to say about what you now ask. So look again at pp. 19-25. That may not tell you everything you want to know, but it should move the conversation along.

But I will add this. Noticings are about words or lines, yes, but really about "choices" of any sort you can identify. What matters most is that they are always about specific elements of a text. They are not themselves themes; rather they are the specific textual elements that enable us to infer the relevance of thinking about one or another theme, or question. They are the starting points for the way we know what a poem is about, the entry points to thinking carefully about how the poem/text sets about enacting its project.

So—(picking up on an example from RWRA pp.19-20) why does Mickey Spillane choose "Mike Hammer" as the name for his detective? And why does Agatha Christie pick "Hercule Poirot" for the name of hers? How do these two choices indicate very different understandings of what a "detective novel" is going to be? of what it is going to be able to do? If Hammer is hard and blunt, that may suggest that Spillane's world will be so, too. That this is a bloody and unnuanced sort of a conversation we are here going to have about crime, vengeance, retribution and justice. (Most readers of Spillane would agree with that.) If, by contrast, Hercules Poirot is something of a fancy name, foreign, cranial, that may suggest that Christie's ideas of crime and the restoration of justice tend towards the cerebral and the nuanced. But as readers, to say these things involves a move from a noticing about a choice made—a "specific"—to a hypothesis about the nature of the work within which that choice has been observed. And if we were writing about these two novels, we'd have set up a contrast between their ways of thinking about crime and justice.

Now. That's why I stress noticing in poetry—those things you notice are nothing less than your entry points to understanding.


3. Romanticism Unmasked: The Romantic Survival Project

The immediate goal of the Romantic Survival Project is to explain to someone you know well, who is culturally literate but is not an expert in the Romantic Age, any cultural artifact from the past few years that in your understanding either directly or ironically depends upon on one or more major Romantic themes or concepts.

The project will require your doing three things. First, you will need to locate a recent cultural artifact that in your view depends either directly or ironically on major Romantic themes or concepts; second, you will need to locate an appropriate analogue text—a Romantic Age poem or piece of prose we’ve read this quarter—that can supply a relevant Romantic Age context for your survival artifact; and third, you will need to explain exactly how your analogue text casts light on the hidden romanticism of your artifact—both comparing their romantic elements, and contrasting them as well. You will, after all, have to keep in mind that your artifact is not finally “romantic” in fact—and you will need to be able to explain the ways in which it is not romantic as well as the ways in which it is.

In evaluating the artifact you select it will matter to me less how perfect your example is than how well and how extensively you bring your understanding of romantic themes and conversations to bear in your discussion. We will work in class with one example: The Pirates of the Caribbean. Another example—highly ironic, to be sure—is Road Trip. Which makes another point: the artifact doesn’t have to be “great” art. Road Trip may be funny, but it’s also sexist at points, and really annoying at others. But though the film may not be great art, it certainly engages a whole range of romantic themes in very interesting ways, sometimes satirically, sometimes quite seriously, and almost always quite surprisingly.

Whatever artifact you pick, the task is essentially the same as what we will do together with Pirates: evaluate your artifact’s thematics in terms of the works you have studied this term, and then write a 5-6 page paper in which you either:

a) explain how the themes you have picked have survived in the work, and discuss 3-4 key moments at which they are developed (or, if the work is static, 3-4 elements), comparing and contrasting them with your selected Romantic Age analogue; or

b) pick a single 4-5 minute sequence of the film (or chapter-length segment story or novel) that seems to you to capture best the romantic themes you have encountered in this course, and do a reading of that scene in which you explain as fully as you can what survivals from the Romantic Age inform your scene, and compare and contrast it with your selected Romantic Age analogue.

[In the case that you pick something that is static—like an art object (an urn, say!) or a magazine layout—then instruction b) won’t work very well since it depends upon temporal sequence.]

General Goals:

I hope you will see over the course of this project how vibrant, supple, and adaptable the themes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century have been and continue to be. At the same time I hope you will also see ways to take the knowledge you build in this course well beyond its bounds—this course finally should be about a great deal more than Wordsworth and Hemans and Keats and Byron.

Finally, I hope when you reread your own paper at quarter’s end you’ll see yourself reading the material fluently and with sophistication, thinking about the social and aesthetic functions of the works we read, and relating course readings to your ongoing experience in the world. In an important sense, doing this project well should demonstrate to you as well as to me your learning throughout the quarter.

Grading Criteria:

As with everything else in this class, the 3 criteria (Power/Integration, Specifics, Fullness/Exploration) will apply, but now enriched by the expectations described in the packet appropriate to formal writing. As for Power/Integration, the best projects will have an element of discovery to them—even (as with Road Trip, certainly, and Pirates, most likely) surprise. They will in effect be making what will to many seem counterintuitive claims, and the more substantial those claims, and the more fully explained and defended those claims are (via Specifics, of course, and their Exploration), the more successful the overall argument will be.

Due Dates:

November 18, Full page nomination of a cultural artifact on which to work, along
with a possible analogue work, and a description of the direction you
expect to be going in your analysis. (Submit by email as an embedded

November 30, Draft of full paper. Two copies ready for read-around.

December 9, 7:00 pm. Full paper as part of the course portfolio, due at the start of
class. (Detailed instructions for copies and drafts will follow.)

4. Are All Poems really only about Poetry?

[One of you wrote to ask whether we hadn't gone a little overboard with the theme of poets and poetry. "If I read with the thought in mind that the project could be focused on explaining the plight of a poet or that it explains how the poet sees the world, I find it possible to conclude any poem has this intention." The writer went on to wonder whether there weren't more subtle and diverse arguments one could make--or was I in effect leading you to a kind of "cookie cutter" simplicity. Those are important questions, so I wrote the response below.

Thanks to the poster for the question--if one of you has a question like this, it's my experience that others do as well, and indication that I need to be clearer about what I do mean.]

Hi--sorry I wasn't able to get back on line in time to respond to this before the exam. It has good questions in it.

First off, I'm not at all sure you could succeed in an effort to make all poems about the plight of poets. There are lots of such poems in this course, to be sure, but then, that's because the romantics were very concerned with the project of "inventing" a new kind of poem and a new kind of poetry. That being true, it is unsurprising that they work on that theme a lot.

But we looked at one last night before the exam that isn't about writing poetry--though it certainly makes an indirect claim on behalf of widening the conventions for poetic subjects. And there are certainly others.

The other big question here has to do with whether I think the one-size-fits-all approach better than another. Hm. That's not a description I would choose for my own preferences, and I'd certainly like to think I'm not an automaton, looking for the "most probable and easiest" of arguments! Do I eschew subtlety, reject innovation in favor of the cookie cutter? Let's just say I hope not.

At the same time, I do think 1) poets over time have established a set of thematic/ conversational ballparks, and it is very helpful to know what they are and to understand how poets in the past have used them; and 2) I quite meant it when I said that to be able to name the thematic ballpark(s) within which a poem works is not yet by itself to have accomplished much. It is to have gotten in position to read well--not to have read well. That's why I call them conversational ballparks--they establish a place to play; they aren't the game itself. To say a poem is about writing poetry is not yet to have said very much at all--and I think that is in effect what your post argues. We are on that score, I think, in agreement.

But to say how a given poem differs from others, how it makes its particular case, what it emphasizes, downplays, what it finally argues about the possibilities of poetry--that begins to become interesting. It is no bad thing that poems and poets take up recurrent issues. Although some things a particular culture cares about are fleeting, other things continue to be of interest, continue to spur response, restatement, attack, modification. [Indeed, some critics, like Roland Barthes (in "The Death of the Author"), have argued that it would be impossible for it to be any other way!]

Finally, with respect to memorizing "the top three," I don't think either the themes in "Thumbplunging" or in the "Some Romantic Themes" essay are prioritized, and I'm guessing you won't find it declared in any of those pages that no other topics of conversation exist! The "less recognizable, but equally or 'sufficiently' plausible" sounds fine to me--a violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye, even. Yes, such Lucys are very much worth notice.

5. Project Statements

One of you wrote to me asking for more explanation of what I mean by
"project statement." Was there anything in RWRA about it? Is it just a
description of the poem's theme?

Here is my answer:

Not Quite. The relevant part of Reading and Writing the Romantic Age is
the section in "Thumbplunging" on "So What" (pp.22-4). That talks about
"function," and the notion of what a work's project is--or, put another
way, what the work sets out to accomplish. A "project statement" is simply
your description of what you understand a given work's project to be.

I give an example of a project statement right there in the assignment:

"We have already done this exercise with "Lines Written..." and "Expostulation and Reply" in class on Tuesday. Both poems argue the necessity of reintegrating nature and its common sense into our consciousness if we are to realign man's currently malign [or "dead"!] relationship to other men."

That last sentence is a project statement. I then go on to add in
explanation: "Each poem makes its argument in a different way, but both
can be seen to be engaged in the same basic project." So--my claim there
is that the two poems each is a different way to try to get the same thing
accomplished. They are different poems, but they have the same project.
(Someone could disagree with that, of course--point out what they thought
I hadn't noticed. They would then have to come up with their own project
statements--one for each of the two poems I had written about.)

Now let me give you a different example: I suggest in RWRA that
Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" "works to represent to us his
theory of poetic making" (p.23).

That's true, I think. In his Preface Wordsworth says poetry derives from
"emotion recollected in tranquility," and that is certainly what the lyric
describes. But even if true, it is also pretty general. In class we
talked about the poem in more specific terms, and I might summarize much
of what we said like this:

Wws's "I Wandered" works to represent to us the way natural sights that enable one to feel connected to the transcendent orders of the world can be the basis for pleasure when later recollected in tranquility.

That, too, would be a project statement. Others are possible, and better and
worse readings of a poem will result in better and worse understandings of--and
hence project statements to describe--what it sets out to do.