Elective Affinities in American Poetry

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
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 a double handful of North American poets writing in English and largely indebted (whether they admit it or not) to the visionary strain in 19th-century Romanticism. We will begin our readings with Whitman and Dickinson, and those two fountainheads of American poetry will provide a vivid context for the comparison and contrast of all that follows. Here are some other topics that will engage our attention as we proceed: Hart Crane’s ambivalent reaction to the modernism of T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop’s apprenticeship to Marianne Moore, the controversies surrounding Frost’s traditionalism, and the decisive influence of Wallace Stevens on John Ashbery. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems we encounter through close, imaginative readings and informed speculation.