English R1A

Reading and Composition: Cider, Milk, Sugar, Wool; Poetry and the Art of Cultivation

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2021 Bircea, Jason
MWF 9-10 233 Dwinelle

Book List

Williams, Raymond: The Country and the City

Other Readings and Media

(all available as a course reader or online): Virgil, Georgics; John Philips, Cyder; Stephen Duck, The Thresher's Labour; Mary Collier, The Woman's Labour; John Dyer, The Fleece; James Grainger, The Sugar-Cane; Ann Yearsley, Clifton Hill; Robert Bloomfield, The Farmer's Boy


What’s right for bringing abundance to the fields; 
Under what sign the plowing ought to begin,
Or the marrying of the grapevines to their elms; 
How to take care of the cattle and see to their breeding;
Knowing the proper way to foster the bees
As they go about their work; Maecenas, here
Begins my song.
—Virgil’s Georgics

What should we make of a poem that proposes to instruct its readers on the proper methods for manufacturing cider? Or on how to care for one’s sheep or cultivate sugarcane on a colonial plantation (and presumably, grow wondrously rich off of slave labor)? What, in short, should we make of poems that seek to impart knowledge about the “science” of agricultural labor? Are such poems simply agricultural almanacs in verse? And if not, what kinds of aesthetic experience do such poems provide? How seriously should we take their didactic aims? 

We’ll begin the course by reading selections from Virgil’s Georgics, a classical poem that announces itself as a song specifically about agriculture and rural occupations. We’ll then turn to 18C-British adaptations of Virgil’s poem, including John Dyer’s The Fleece (1757) and John Grainger’s The Sugar-Cane (1764). Attending to 18C poems about labor, cultivation and commerce, we'll explore how poets in the period accounted for the ongoing transformations in rural and urban life occasioned by agricultural and industrial “improvement”, imperial expansion and global trade. A substantial portion of our reading will be devoted to the work of laboring-class poets such as Stephen Duck, Mary Collier, Ann Yearsley and Robert Bloomfield.  

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