Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Course No:  350:577
Index # - 12542
Distribution Requirement:  A4, D
Monday - 1:10 p.m. 
MU 207

American Poetry to 1900 

Meredith McGill

This course will introduce students to the poetry of the colonial and early national periods, and to the development of a variety of local, regional, and national poetic traditions across the nineteenth century.  In order to get some purchase on the changing cultural status of poetry across this large span of time, we will combine the close analysis of poems, poetic genres, and poetic theory with the study of modes of circulation, examining cultural sites for the performance of poetry, such as the tavern, the salon, and the lecture circuit, and a wide range of print formats in which poetry appeared, such as commonplace books, travel narratives, broadsides, newspapers and periodicals, sheet music, and anthologies.  While we will spend a significant amount of time on the two most influential nineteenth-century American poets, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, we won’t proceed as if their poetry was inevitable or as if their solutions to the challenge of writing poetry in a democracy were the only ones worth considering.  Rather, we will examine the full range of American poetic production before the advent of modernism and will reflect on what the eclipse of large swaths of this history means for our understanding of the American poetic tradition.

Topics will include:  Puritan poetics; provincial poetry and the course of empire; settler colonialism and natural description; the rise of the poetess; poetry and literary nationalism; lyric theory, print, and oratory; gender, sexuality, and bohemian poetry; abolitionist poetry; poetry, the Civil war, and reconstruction; regionalism, local color, and the dramatic monologue.

Poets will include Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Michael Wigglesworth, Phillis Wheatley, Timothy Dwight, Fitz-Greene Halleck, William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Lydia Sigourney, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whitter, Herman Melville, Adah Isaacs Menken, Julia Ward Howe, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Sidney Lanier, Sarah Piatt, and Paul Laurence Dunbar

Students will write two short papers, complete exercises on the sequence of  Whitman’s editions of Leaves of Grass and on reading Dickinson’s fascicles, and present research, along with an annotated bibliography, on one of the formats or venues for the circulation of poetry. 

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