First-Year Studies: Four Poets


At the heart of this course are four poets—Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE), Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Wordsworth (1770-1850), and T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)—poets we label, respectively, classical, neoclassical, romantic, and modernist. These four poets were enormously influential, bequeathing a complex legacy of subjects and styles to which later writers responded in all sorts of ways. Reading these four key poets, we will do several things. We will sketch out the divergent intellectual and cultural worlds that they and their poems both inhabited and shaped. Through close reading and consistent attention to language and technique, we will also aim to enlarge our sense of what a poem can mean and be for us as readers, literary critics, poets—or as all three. In addition to our main four poets, we will read the work of a variety of others, including Shakespeare, Whitman, Yeats, and 21st-century poets Susan Stewart and Louise Glück, so that we can discover how they engaged these forebears: what they loved, what they stole, what they rejected, and how their poetry can live more fully for us if we read it in the light of those who preceded them.