Monday, October 26, 2009

Backgrounds to Metaphysical Poetry: Wit, Resemblance and Difference

We will continue our introduction to the contexts of metaphysical poetry through reading passages from Francis Bacon's Novum Organum. Lots of questions to pursue: what is wrong with the logic 'now in use' (12)? Why does Bacon emphasize 'Nature' (1)? What is lacking in the methods of those of Bacon's contemporaries who study nature (5)? How does Bacon conceive of the mind (41,42)? How does Bacon conceive of the relationship between words and things? How does he conceive of the imagination? Pay careful attention to aphorisms 55, 58, 60, 63, 68, 101. Are there any dichotomies - explicit or otherwise - that govern Bacon's arguments?

In conjunction with Bacon - particularly his aphorism 55 - we will be looking at chapter 8 of Book I of Hobbes's Leviathan, focusing on his definition of wit (page 14 of the handout on our site). How does Hobbes define wit?

We will also be looking at Dr. Johnson's 'Life of Cowley' for his definition of wit. Why does Johnson so dislike the 'school of Donne'? What lies behind his question - 'Who but Donne would have thought that a good man is a good telescope?' Is it a compliment?

For a complementary set of frames for Donne's poetry, please read Donne's 'Expostulation 19,' and selections from Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Book I, sections 16 and 46 (if you read the selection from the book on reserve, sections 16 and 48). These passages are brief, but also representative of the 'metaphysical' sensibility and style. So read carefully!

Given enough time, we will start with readings from Donne's Songs and Sonnets, 'A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning' and 'The Canonization.'

For additional background, you may also want to consult Eliot's 'Metaphysical Poets.' E.M.W. Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture provides good background for understanding early modern habits of mind - specifically the tendency to see hierarchies and correspondences in the world. For a similar set of arguments from a different perspective, see the second chapter of Foucault's Order of Things.

We suggested that our period may traverse a path from synecdoche to metonymy - what are those tropes anyway?

Lots of different readings - though not too many pages. So get organized early, and again read carefully. Please remember, unless otherwise noted, all texts are available on our site. Have the primary materials - the Bacon handout, Hobbes, Donne and Brown prose selections, and Donne poems - available for class on Monday. If there are any questions about the readings or anything else, please feel free to post a question on the blog, or to contact me directly at

For those who prefer books to internet downloads, most of the material for the course is now - thanks to Smadar! - on a reserve shelf in the library.

Looking forward to next class!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Metaphysical Poetry: Welcome

Welcome to the site for Metaphysical Poetry.

Updates for our class can be found here.