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Study Questions on Selected Readings
- Pope, Essay on Criticism
- Paraphrase each verse paragraph briefly, offering a phrase that explains its subject or topic or main point. Then answer the following questions:
1. What structures do you notice in the poem and how do they help get the point across? These structures can be on the level of poetic lines and couplets or can be as large as sections.
2. What do you think Pope's purpose was in writing the poem? How do you draw this conclusion?
3. What does the poem tell you about Pope's aesthetic principles? List these principles and tie them to particular passages.
- Pope, "Discourse on Pastoral Poetry" and Pastorals
- 1. Create a list (in your own words) of Pope's criteria for a pastoral poem. Tie these principles to particular passages in the essay.
2. Create a list of examples of how Pope demonstrates each of these criteria in the four Pastorals
3. What connection do you see between Pope's criteria for good poetry and criticism in Essay on Criticism and his criteria for good pastorals?
4. Come to class prepared to discuss notions of natural and artificial in poetry. How far apart are we and Pope in our notions?
- Spenser, from The Shepheardes Calender
- I recommend that you read both Johnson's Rambler essay and Gay's "Proeme" before you read this selection. Because I have left the spelling in its original form, you may have difficulty reading Spenser. Take your time, and consider reading aloud with a partner from class.
1. Note that the introduction is written about Spenser.
2. The first pastoral is actually the fifth in the series, "May," in which two shepherds speak as two ministers (the word pastor means shepherd, but it has been used commonly for priests and ministers). One is Roman Catholic, and one is protestant. You should figure out which is which and be prepared to explain why. Be prepared also to discuss the significance of the tale of the fox and the kid.
3. The second pastoral is actually the eleventh in the series, "November," and it recounts the death of a maiden named Dido. Come to class prepared to compare this elegaic pastoral with Gay's "Friday" and Pope's "Winter." In particular, be prepared to discuss how Spenser portrays the relationship between humans and nature.
- Gay, from The Shepherd's Week
- Look closely at the language in the "Proeme" and compare it both to the the prose of the introduction to Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender and to Pope's prose in his "Discourse." Use specific adjectives and adverbs for the prose of each writer. Do the same thing as you compare Gay's "Monday" and "Friday" with Pope's "Spring" and "Winter."
- Johnson, from Rambler #37
- Apply Johnson's principles to the pastorals of Spenser, Gay, and Pope.
- Wordsworth, "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" and "Michael"
- 1. Create a list (in your own words) of Wordsworth's criteria for natural poetry as he expresses them in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads." Tie these criteria to particular passages in the "Preface."
2. Create a list of examples of how Wordsworth demonstrates these criteria in "Michael."
3. Create a list of similarities and differences between Wordsworth's "Michael" and Pope's pastorals. Draw conslusions about these similarities and differences. These lists and conclusions will help you compose your first paper for the course.
- Burns, "To a Mouse," "To a Mountain-Daisy," and "The Ballad of John Barleycorn"
- How do Burns' poems fit into Johnson's definition of the pastoral and Wordsworth's definition of natural poetry? Be specific.
- Jonson, "To Penshurst"
- Outline the poem by making a list of the physical attributes of the Penshurst estate and the events Jonson describes, and then tie these physical things to a list of values that Jonson is promoting. In other words, if the house is the physical embodiment of the family (the House of Sidney), what are the Sidney family values?
- Denham, "Cooper's Hill"
- 1. What is the literal organizing principle of the poem? In other words, what are its subjects, and how does Denham move from one to the next?
2. What is Denham's point? In other words, what is significant about each place that Denham mentions, and what is the theme that ties them all together? Note that in order to answer these questions, you will first have to outline the poem.
- Pope, "Windsor Forest"
- 1. What roots in "Cooper's Hill" do you see in "Windsor Forest"? How has Pope followed Denham's lead?
2. What is Pope's concept of ideal nature? Base your answer on specific passages from the poem.
3. Locate passages in the poem that are particularly "pictorial," as if Pope is painting with words.
- Marvell, "The Garden," Dyer, "Grongar Hill," and Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
- As in the previous two poems, here the poets also stand at a particular spot, look around, describe what they see, and present a philosophy of life. What "morals" do you find in these poems? Make a list of the morals you expect that the poets hoped their readers would embrace, and indicate which passages in the poems carry those morals. Then compare these morals to the political morals promoted by "Cooper's Hill" and "Windsor Forest." How do these two later poems differ from the two former poems in their moral statements? How do the poems differ from or resemble each other in form and technique? How do the images of nature in the poems differ from or resemble each other?
- Thomson, from The Seasons
- I will be asking the class to divide into two groups to discuss "Spring" and "Winter" separately. I will be asking each group to articulate how Thomson envisions nature by showing how he differs from Pope and Gay in their pastorals (his themes are similar but his approach and attitude are different) and from Jonson, Denham, and Pope in their "place" poems. Prepare for these group discussions by thinking as you read Thomson's poems about these comparisons. For example, all of the "winter" poems we have read, as well as Gray's "Elegy," focus on death. How Does Thomson's approach differ from the others? For another example, Thomson's "Spring" and Pope's pastorals venerate the "Golden Age" and equate British landscape with Classical landscape. How does Thomson's approach differ from Pope's?
- Wordsworth, from The Prelude and "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey"
- In the first of these, how does Wordsworth take Thomson's idea of Nature as a "great parent" even further than Thomson does? Be specific. What are Wordsworth's most significant encounters with Nature in the poem? What does he learn from Nature? In the second of these, what is the significance of the poet's approach to address the poem to his sister, and what is the significance of the passage of time between his previous visit to the Wye River Valley and the one he experiences in the poem with his sister?
- Hogarth, from "The Analysis of Beauty,"
Burke, "A Philosophical Enquiry . . ."
- Hogarth gives five elements of beauty: fitness, variety, uniformity (or regularity or symmetry), intricacy, and (waving) line. How do his ideas agree and disagree with Burke's? Make a list of Burke's elements of beauty, both for contrast to Hogarth's and for contrast to Burke's elements of the sublime. Make a list of these elements as well (from my summary on page 88). Finally, after looking at both Hogarth and Burke, jot down the points at which you agree with them and the ones at which you disagree. Explain your opinions.
Please note here that we use the word "beauty" or "beautiful" loosely in conversation, often to the point at which it becomes meaningless. Try to differentiate beauty from other pleasant concepts in an effort to keep the word meaningful. Or perhaps try to decide what a "beautiful" tee shot in golf has in common with a "beautiful" summer dress or a "beautiful" view from a rest stop along the highway or a "beautiful" bouquet of flowers or a "beautiful" piece of music. I will begin class by asking you for synonyms for the word "beautiful" and we will try to differentiate between the qualities of beauty and the qualities of things like it.
- Bacon, from "Of Gardens," and Pope, The Guardian "#173"
- Begin by thinking about what organizing principles you would use in re-landscaping a piece of property. Where would you begin if you wanted to create a garden that encompassed your whole (large) back yard? Jot down notes on your approaches to the task.
Then make two lists, one for Bacon and one for Pope, indicating their sources and principles of garden design. (Note that Pope's italicized list of garden items is a satire on contemporary taste.) How do the approaches of the two men differ?
- Shenstone, from "Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening"
- Trace the influence of Addison (particularly his concepts of the great, the unexpected, and the beautiful), Burke (particularly his concepts of beauty and sublimity), and Pope (particularly his concepts of naturalness and artificiality) in Shenstone's essay. Does Shenstone help you understand the former writers? If so, how?
John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, email@example.com