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COURSE :Introduction To Literature

DEPARTMENT : ENGLISH

PROFESSOR : OLMSTED

Lecture13 : Visual_Cues

 

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Now that you’ve had a chance to listen to some poets read their work you viewed my introduction to the course and you’ve read the first assignment in our text about reading poetry, I’d like you to take some time to consider what visual cues poetry offers to help you understand it. When I say visual cues, I mean everything from the length of lines to the number of stanzas to the way the lines are grouped and the use of punctuation. We recognize a poem in print largely because it looks different from prose. It’s the way a poem looks was arbitrary than any shape or any poem would work. While it may be true that some poems would have the same meaning no matter how the lines were divided. Poets usually have a reason for shaping the poem a certain way. A poem is always divided into great numbers separate pieces there are of course the words themselves and these appear in lines of various length. Lines are collected into poetic paragraphs called stanzas and these stanzas like paragraphs usually have a specific purpose for topic. Sometimes readers resist analyzing a poem saying that it ruins a poem to take it apart. Others want to be able to say only that they either like the poem or don’t like it rather than to have to explain why. You’ve probably heard people say I don’t know why I just know what I like. In this course that’s not good enough. Aside from the words, lines, and stanzas there are other visual cues. Punctuation for instance can provide clues to meaning. Let’s look at few examples. The first two I’m gonna focus on one of the first two but they’re both in your book on page 314 by two very famous writers D.H. Lawrence and Adrienne Rich. Alright here’s Adrienne Rich’s “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.” What stands out visually that might help you paraphrase the poem? As you can see, both the poems rhyme and both consist of three stanzas. Since each stanza consists of four lines they’re called quatrains. You may want to think of them as three paragraphs each of which has a specific contribution to make to the overall meaning. When you go about writing your paraphrase do it that way stanza by stanza. Think about the setting, think about the poet’s attitude about the subject. This is what’s called tone of a poem. In Rich’s poem the first stanza introduces the idea of fear applied to the tigers they do not fear the men beneath the tree. My yellow seems to be underlining a different there we go. Once the relationship between the tigers and Aunt Jennifer can you detect anything by the end of the poem to suggest that Aunt Jennifer wasn’t happy? Is it possible that the stanzas might represent stages so that there’s a progression between the first stanza and the second stanza and the third stanza? This will help you paraphrase the meaning of the poem. It’s interesting to note that stricter poetic forms and I would call this a strict poet form that’s not a term but just you know it’s got rules you have to follow the rules that are established for the poem. Strict poetic forms are often related to the period in which they were written. Rich who wrote “Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger” at the beginning of her career eventually dropped rhyme and strict stanza structures. She has written at this progression representing a kind of liberation for her and made her poems more personal and more real. I don’t think a recognizable structure is necessarily imprisoning however other poets have written that when they write sonnets for instance or other forms of strict conventions the form itself can free up the mind to discover new aspects about the subject that they would not have found had they written in free verse. Come back to me sorry you all been awhile since I’ve made one of these lectures and so I’ve sort of forgotten how to do it. When Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson wrote in the 19th century the form or appearance that their poems took was as shocking as the content especially in Whitman’s case. Emily Dickinson actually was only published a couple of poems in her lifetime so it wasn’t until later that her form became shocking but let’s look at a poem from each of them. These appear in your textbook on pages 327 to 329. What stands out when you look at these two poems? Okay first let’s look at Whitman’s poem, it has two stanzas each with a different number of lines. There are no rhymes. Each line ends with some kind of punctuation, every single one of them which tells you how the line fits into the sentence. The lines are long and matter fact I had to turn this page horizontally to get them to fit. This is characteristic of Whitman who wrote many poems with long lines often including lists. That’s the case here too, isn’t it? Look at the number of completed sentences in that first stanza. The first line is complete ends with an exclamation point. The next twelve lines going down to here I believe is very long and then the final four these four. Notice that the middle the longest section is consists basically of a list. This was characteristic of Whitman. He really liked lists and there would be a cumulative effect in these lists of meaning and images and was very unique, very different people hadn’t read that kind of poetry before Whitman did this. Notice too that he’s got a lot of exclamation marks without even reading the poem what does that suggest and is it possible that there’s a relationship between the emphasis on power and size we’re talking about a locomotive which is very big and very powerful and the way the poem looks. Now let’s look at a Dickinson poem. Okay give me a second here we’ll put the Dickinson poem. Alright it has four stanzas, all but one of them has four lines this line as you can see is the exception this is a visual cue. This is an example of one kind of visual cue is this difference in an otherwise seemingly strict form. You might ask yourself why that third line what why that fifth line in the third stanza what’s going on different there? The most obvious typographical cue is her use of dashes not only at the ends of lines but in the middle of lines. Dashes are very characteristic of her work just as Whitman seemed to prefer exclamation points; Dickinson used dashes in all her poems. You may already know that she achieved fame as a poet after her death and is now recognized as one of America one of the greatest American poets along with Whitman. What I find both amusing and a little sad certainly it was a bad decision was that way editors early on quote on quote corrected Dickinson’s poem by changing her dashes into proper punctuation. I think it’s fascinating to find out that even with the dashes we are only approximating the original text. Dickinson’s characteristic dash long line is usually a richer variety of pen markings that have no typographical correspondence. For instance dashes may either be very short, they may be very long, sometimes the dashes are even vertical as if to indicate musical phrasing and often periods are elongated stretched out as if to indicate a slightly different pause. Still the dashes and punctuation that she originally chose are much better than the corrections and if you look course docs you’ll see an example of a before and after poem. Before the editors got a hold of it and then an example after they got hold of it. How does Dickinson’s use of short lines with dashes relate to her meaning? How does her style compare to Whitman’s? For me, Whitman represents a wide open expansive kind of American vision with broad celebration of every kind of person and every kind of relationship even those that were considered scandalous at that time and some would consider scandalous even now. Dickinson on the other hand compressed meaning and squeezed the essence from experience. She is therefore harder to understand but her poems are so rich that every time you read one you’re likely to discover something new. She has a poem about how rose petals are pressed for their attar which means scent or essence that’s a good metaphor for all her poetry I think. Thanks for your attention. Hope you enjoy the activities. I don’t know where I didn’t see an opportunity for doing that.

 

 

 

 

HyperManyMedia project is part of a research conducted by the Distance Learning Office@WKU, any question about this project can be directed to: Dr. Leyla Zhuhadar (leyla dot zhuhadar at wku dot edu).