Friday, January 30, 2015

For Monday: Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality

For Monday: English Romantic Poetry: William Wordsworth

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections in Early Childhood” (pp.51-57): read the entire poem, but the questions will only focus on Stanzas 1-7

NOTE: This is a longer poem, though it’s broken up into short stanza chapters.  Read it slowly, and focus on each stanza as an individual poem.  Then consider how each one develops a general ‘story’ or narrative about Wordsworth’s life.  Consider this, too, as a kind of mid-life crisis poem: Wordsworth feels himself pulling away from the innocent joys he used to experience in life, and the poem is an attempt to find himself—and to convince other readers to find themselves in the thickets of adulthood. 

Answer 2 of the 4 questions below:

1. According to Stanzas 1-4, what causes the poet to feel distanced from the natural world?  What has come between him and his imagination/emotions?  In Stanza 2 he writes that “But yet I know, where’er I go,/That there hath past away a glory from the earth.”  What is this “glory” that has passed away?  Can we hint at what he feels or sees that is missing? 

2. Read Stanza 5 carefully: how are the metaphors trying to explain the nature of life on earth?  Why is birth “a sleep and a forgetting”?  Why do “shades of the prison-house begin to close/Upon the growing Boy”?  And why might a young boy/girl be “Nature’s Priest”? 

3. In Stanza 6, Wordsworth uses the metaphor of Nature as a Nurse, and the Youth being her “Foster-child.”  In what way are we to understand Nature as nursing a child that is not her own, but which she loves “with something of a Mother’s mind”? 

4. Stanza 7 is one of the most important in the entire poem for explaining a very Romantic philosophy of adulthood.  What does he mean by the phrase “The little Actor cons another part…As if his whole vocation/Were endless imitation.”  How might this be another way of stating Shakespeare’s famous line from As You Like It that “All the world’s a stage”?  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

For Friday: Wordsworth's Short Poems

For Friday: English Romantic Poetry, William Wordsworth

Read these 8 poems on pages 23-57 :
      “We Are Seven”
      “Strange fits of passion”
      “Lucy Gray”
      “My heart leaps up”
      “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”
      “In London, 1802”
      “The world is too much with us”

Answer 2 of the 4 questions below:

1. How does Wordsworth seem to be interested in the same ideas of childhood, innocence, and adult experience that Blake used in his poems?  Why might Wordsworth defend the idea of “innocence” or a child-like perspective on the world?  What do children see (or those who aren’t cynical, like Martin) that many adults forget to look at? 

2. In the poem, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” Wordsworth says that London “like a garment, wear[s] the beauty of the morning.”  Discuss how Wordsworth uses metaphors to transform the vision of sunrise in London; what does he want us to see and experience in a normal, every-day view of the city?  How do the metaphors make London seem more than just a city full of dirty streets and houses? 

3. One of the most famous lines of poetry comes from Wordsworth’s short poem, “My heart leaps up,” which is “The Child is father of the Man.”  What do you think this phrase means?  How can a child (which comes second) be the father to the man (which comes first)?  How might this metaphor help us read many of the poems in this selection, especially “We Are Seven” and “The world is too much with us”? 

4. Wordsworth, like many of the English Romantic poets, was a great lover of nature and took walks the way many people attend church.  How does he describe the power or importance of nature in these poems?  What does nature show us, or reveal to us, about the true realities of human existence?  In other words, what can we find there that we don’t see anywhere else?  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

For Wednesday's Class: Blake's Poems--Intro to Romantic Poetry

For Wednesday: from English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology

William Blake: The Clod and the Pebble, The Chimney Sweeper, The Sick Rose, The Tyger, Ah! Sun Flower, The Garden of Love, A Poison Tree (pp.6-9)

After reading all of the poems above, choose any 2 of the poems to answer the following question:

In each poem (discuss them separately), discuss how Blake uses a specific metaphor to help us see his idea/situation more clearly.  If a metaphor compares an abstract idea to something tangible/visible, how does this metaphor help us “see” something that cannot be seen?  And how does seeing this idea change how we read the poem or view the poem’s subject? 

For example, in “London,” which we discussed in class, he writes “In every cry of every Man...The mind forg’d manacles I hear.”  Manacles are like handcuffs, so they would clink together as the prisoner walked.  However, most people walking the street in London are not prisoners, so they have no manacles.  Blake uses manacles metaphorically, explaining they are “mind forg’d [forged]”, meaning people have created their own manacles and cuffed themselves.  Why would someone do this, and why might we think we’re manacled when we’re really not?  What do we prohibit ourselves from doing?  Why might the London of Blake’s time be a metaphorical prison, full of prisoners who imprison themselves in their minds? 

Friday, January 16, 2015

For Wednesday: Candide, Chs. 13-22

from Leonard Bernstein's musical adaptation of Candide 
For Wednesday: Candide, Chs.13-22 (pp.30-62 Dover edition)

As before, answer TWO of the following in a short paragraph: cite a specific passage whenever possible to help me understand where your answers/ideas came from. 

1. In many ways, Candide is a book about education: how do young people learn to be adults in the modern world (of the 18th century, that is)?  What lessons do Candide and Cunegonde receive in right and wrong, and are either of them forced to corrupt their “good” nature simply to prosper in the world?  Does success require a moral sacrifice for Voltaire? 

2. El Dorado is fabled paradise in the New World, which many explorers, including Sir Walter Raleigh, spent their lives trying to find.  Lucky for him, Candide stumbles right onto it.  What does Candide see in El Dorado that goes against the very nature of European civilization?  Why might this entire passage be an elaborate satire of tradition and the idea of “whatever is, is right”? 

3. After the incident with the monkeys, Candide remarks, “after all, pure nature is good, since these people, instead of feasting on my flesh, have shown me a thousand civilities, when they learned I was not a Jesuit” (39).  How is Candide guilty of adopting Pangloss’ philosophy too literally here?  What lesson does he miss in this episode that the reader catches at once? 

4. How do the two new characters, Cacambo and Martin the Manichean, add to the satire of the novel?  What new perspectives do they offer, and how do they help us see various aspects of the world that Candide is too young and ignorant to notice?  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

For Friday: Voltaire's Candide, Chs.1-12

For Friday: Voltaire, Candide, Chs. 1-12 (pp.1-29)

REMEMBER: these questions are meant as a kind of guide to help you ease into the book and find ideas you might otherwise miss or ignore.  Ideally, by answering two of the questions, you will be forced to consider not only what you read but why Voltaire wrote it.  Don’t worry about being right or wrong; the important thing is simply to attempt an answer based on the ideas in the book.  Even a “wrong” answer can help our class discussion on Friday.

Answer TWO of the following (you can either post your responses as a comment below OR bring it to class):

1. Describe Dr. Pangloss’s philosophy as it appears throughout these chapters, notably in the beginning of the book and during the earthquake in Lisbon. Is Pangloss the voice of “reason” in the work (Voltaire’s voice, in other words), or is he an object of satire?  Use a specific passage in the book for support. 

2. The name “Candide” means “candid, honest, or open,” suggesting that Candide is an innocent soul who believes the best of people.  How does Voltaire test Candide’s faith throughout these opening chapters?  Do you feel he agrees with Candide that mankind is essentially good, despite a few “bad apples,” or does he think Candide is an idiot for holding such beliefs? 

3. How does Voltaire criticize the Church in the passages about the Lisbon earthquake (which was a real event)?  Do you think Voltaire is an atheist (as he was accused of being in his lifetime), or is he more critical of how religion is used by those in power?  Discuss a specific passage in support of your reading.

4. At the end of the Old Woman’s Tale, she explains, “A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life.  This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics” (Dover 29).  What, after all her trials and misfortunes, do you think she “loves” about life?  What can she still see that most people in her situation could not?  Also, do you think Voltaire agrees with this statement—or is he satirizing the Old Woman’s stupidity?  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

For Wednesday: Reading a Portrait

For Wednesday's class, spend a few minutes looking at the picture above--William Hogarth's portrait of Miss Mary Edwards (1740).  For Wednesday's class, answer the question that follows in a short paragraph--at least a few sentences.  This is practice for the reading responses we'll be writing throughout the semester.  You can post your response as a comment to this blog OR you can bring your response to class on Wednesday.  The blog is due by class time, however--you can't turn this one in late, since it's a warming-up exercise.  

THE RESPONSE: Who do you think this woman is?  Not who she is literally, but based on the portrait, what kind of woman is this?  Why is she being immortalized in art?  What values or ideas does she seem to have or represent?  Based on this painting, do you think she's kind?  Vain?  A good mother?  An evil bitch?  What kind of clues are scattered throughout the painting to suggest how we might read or understand her?  

[Note: Don't look this painting up on-line and try to find the 'right' answer, since there really isn't one.  I just want to know how the painting strikes you on a first glance.  Looking elsewhere will ruin this for you and for the assignment]  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Welcome to the Spring Semester!

This is the official blog for our class, General Humanities II, which despite its generic title is actually a class that...

a. studies history and culture through significant works of literature
b. makes connections between the modern world and previous times/cultures that influenced our way of life
c. helps us identify with people who lived long ago, making them live once again
d. questions the idea of history being something of the past; history, in literature and the arts, is always present, and we create it even as we experience it through books, paintings, music, etc.  

In this course, we will read 6 representative works from a long span of time: the Enlightenment through the 20th century.  While we can't chart every culture or every significant period, these works will uncover specific people, ideas, and movements that shaped the modern world, and that we continue to be inspired by.  From Little Red Riding Hood to Tarzan of the Apes, the past continues to haunt us even when we forget where it came from.  The purpose of this class is to go back in time and understand where some of our deepest held beliefs and cultural myths originated,  and whether or not these works still merit their designation as 'classics'.  To me, teaching this class is always an exciting proposition, since I never use the same works twice (there's so much to choose from, after all), and even familiar works can led to new, unexpected pathways.  Hopefully you will be willing to play along and read, ask questions, and make new discoveries on your own.  

I will post all your daily responses on this blog site, as well as assignments and other important announcements.  Be sure to buy the following books, since they will form the core of our class discussions, papers, and exams.  You can find them all in the ECU bookstore, or on-line at Amazon, etc.  Please note that buying the specific editions of some works will be useful to you, since you might not find all the right poems or stories in another edition.  [note: don't worry about the posts below this one--they are from last Spring's classes, though feel free to browse through them to see what kind of work you might expect]  

Required Texts:
  • Voltaire, Candide (Dover or other)
  • English Romantic Poetry, an Anthology (Dover)
  • Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, Fairy Tales (Puffin Classics)
  • Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida (Penguin Classics)
  • Burroughs, Tarzan (Penguin Classics or other)
  • Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon)