Which texts would you select if you had to cover English poetry from Beowulf to Blake in eight teaching hours?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Your major tradeoff in this kind of survey will be depth vs. breadth. I usually try to create a selection that covers examples of as many genres as possible, to give a sense of the general types of writing in the period and their historical evolution. One sequence might be:

Beowulf: discuss oral-traditional composition and the nature of epic, strong stress prosody, Old English

Chaucer: Wife of Bath, Pardoner, or Prologue -- Norman conquest, development of iambic pentameter, Middle English, Christianity, class system

Shakespeare -- 1 scene, perhaps from Hamlet, Othello, etc. Discuss Elizabethan theatre, blank verse, characterization.
Attitudes towards poetry: Sydney's defense
Petrarchan and anti-Petrarchan poetry: Astrophel and Stella 1, a few of Shakespeare's sonnets,
"The Passionate Shepherd to his Love"
Songs: So many of the Elizabethan poems were composed or heard as songs, you should play a few of the better known to students and discuss how the musical sense affected the poems -- I would choose "Fine Knacks for Ladies", Campion's "There is a Garden in her Face", and Jonson's "Driink to me Only with Thine Eyes"
Metaphysical Love Poetry: Marvell "To His Coy Mistress"; Donne "The Flea"
Religious: George Herbert, "Easter Wings", Donne "Death be not Proud" and "Batter my heart, three-person'd God"
John Milton: "WHEN I consider how my light is spent,", opening of "Paradise Lost"

Katherine Philips "Against Love"
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, “A Nocturnal Reverie”

Restoration/18th Century:
Pope, "Essay on Criticism" (long, but it gives commentary as well as exemplifying Pope's style)
Smart, For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry
Blake: Jerusalem, The Lamb


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