English 203

Graduate Readings: The Lyric Eye: A Material History of Poetic Form

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2020 Miller, Jennifer
Thurs. 3:30-6:30 186 Barrows

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This course will investigate the material history of poetic form in England—the ways in which the formal features of poems are visually articulated in surviving books and manuscripts—from the pre-Conquest period to the printing of Tottel's Miscellany (1557), and beyond to the modern editions through which we now access early English literature. We will study the habits and innovations of medieval scribes and early modern printers who aimed to communicate poetry's sound effects (something so "simple," for instance, as aligning rhyming words in couplets on the page), developing a kind of "design language" which both echoed and produced modes of lyric comprehension. How might this historic process itself have engendered poetic invention?

We will track the long and dynamic history of the relation of seeing poetry to hearing it, including the relation of poetry on the page to the development of musical notation (a coeval orthography of sound), and the rise of our modern understanding of "lyric" as both sound and substance. How might the movement from a "poetry for the ear" to a "poetry for the eye" inflect the development of the lyric "I," prompting new conceptions of poetic voice?

On our way to a cutting-edge theory of the material lyric, we will, of course, read a lot of early English poetry in the multiple languages and scripts in which it is written (linguistic/paleographical experience helpful but not required), and learn a lot about the cultural moments which produced it. Medievalists and Early Modernists welcome, as well as all those interested in lyric poetry, its development and forms. Anyone who has ever wondered why we align poetic lines on the left and begin them with capitals, or who wonders why they have never wondered, or why it matters: this is the course for you!

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