Teaching Modern Poetry

By Donoghue, Denis | New Criterion, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Teaching Modern Poetry


Donoghue, Denis, New Criterion


When I was appointed to the Henry James Chair of English and American Letters at New York University, I asked the chairman of the department, the late James W. Tuttleton, if I might be treated as a generalist--one who might be allowed to teach any courses in the Department that he regarded himself as competent to teach, without having to confine himself to a particular "area" or "field." Professor Tuttleton had no problem with that request. Years later, when NYU elevated me to a University Professorship, the then-president, L. Jay Oliva, told me to discuss my teaching duties with the Chair. I saw no reason to do that; I was quite content with my conditions, specifically with my unquestioned movement among the literatures of England, Ireland, and the United States.

Over the years at NYU, I have taught lecture courses in the history of English poetry from Beowulf to Paradise Lost, Shakespeare--the sonnets and about ten plays--the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets, and "Yeats and Modern Irish Poetry." (When I taught this Yeats-and-after course, I included Austin Clarke, Louis MacNeice--not the expected Patrick Kavanagh, whose poems I don't warm to--Beckett, Kinsella, Longley, Heaney, Muldoon, and Mahon: I should have included Montague and MacGreevy, too.) I have also taught graduate seminars in Jane Austen, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and Joyce. I recall with some affection one graduate seminar I taught in "The Language of Literary Criticism;' in which for each class I chose one word, offered a list of readings in it, and suggested how it might validly be used in literary criticism. The words included: form, action, meaning, structure, plot, poem, fiction, metaphor, voice, tone, and a few others that I have forgotten. Normally I would teach such a course and then set it aside for a year or two. But there was one course I got into the way of offering year after year, "Modern British and American Poetry," a graduate seminar, to begin with, though I was happy to see some interested undergraduates join up. "British" was deemed to include "Irish" without any political to-do being made about the inclusion. The class was supposedly a seminar, but I must report that my voice appeared to reduce other voices to a whisper and then to silence. Students, normally voluble, seemed to think they should withhold themselves in my favor.

For some years, I taught the course in two parts. The first part started with Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855), went on to Dickinson, Hopkins, Hardy, Yeats, sometimes E. A. Robinson, always Frost, Stevens, sometimes William Carlos Williams, sometimes D. H. Lawrence, then Pound, and the early Eliot, culminating with The Waste Land (1922). The second part started with Hart Crane, and went on through Beckett, Empson, Auden, Roethke, and Olson, to Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Philip Larkin, and Geoffrey Hill. The students found part two of the course to be either difficult or otherwise tiresome. Gradually, I lapsed into teaching only part one, as in the Fall of 2011.

The first problem we met was how to understand the word "modern" in the tide of the course. I indicated that many of the most alert writers of that period thought of themselves as living at a time of cultural crisis, but I confessed that it was not clear to me what the crisis was. I referred to three such writers, not in chronological order. The first was Yeats and I quoted one of his cryptic poems, "Three Movements," a mere three lines:

    Shakespearean fish swam the sea, far away
                                       from land;
   Romantic fish swam in nets coming to the hand;
   What are all those fish that lie gasping on the
                                            strand? 

I did the little I could with that poem: noted the three lines, each with fourteen syllables and seven main stresses, the monosyllabic masculine rhyme at the end of each line, the first two lines being indicatives, set off against the third, a rhetorical question, one of Yeats's favorite devices when he was being grand or apocalyptic. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Teaching Modern Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.