Eight American Poets

Sophomore and above—Year

American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight major American poetic careers. We will begin with Whitman and Dickinson, those fountainheads of the visionary strain in American poetic tradition, before turning to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. Some of the poems we will be reading are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer inspection; other poems—most notably, the poems of Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, and Crane—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, attitudinal: a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty and with passages of poetry that are, at times, wholly baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway—or account, as best we can, for the meanings they create out of the meanings they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems (and poets) that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.