Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The End of the Metaphysicals: Vaughan, Hobbes, Milton, Cudworth

In our recent class discussion, we followed the story of Adorno and Horkheimer who argued that it was Bacon who undermined the older idea of 'substance,' and left a world once animated by spirit, bereft and disenchanted. As was suggested in our discussion, the poetry of the period - from Donne to Vaughan - may be understood as an attempt to confront this Baconian legacy.

As a starting point for poems by Vaughan next time - Corruption, Man, Retreat and Cock Crowing - we will look at Milton's representation of this crisis, as Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden of Eden. Please look at the passages from Book XI of Paradise Lost: what does Adam bemoan as he realizes that he must leave Eden? How does the archangel Michael - with whom he is in conversation - attempt to console him? Does Vaughan represent a similar sense of loss in his poems? What forms of consolation are available in his poetry? Are there consolations similar to those in Milton? in Donne? Is Vaughan a metaphysical poet?

For the second part of class, we will be considering similar questions - but in relationship primarily to Thomas Hobbes and the Cambridge Platonist, Ralph Cudworth. What happens to the kinds of questions with which the poets of our period have engaged when they are rendered philosophically? How does Hobbes - in the passages on the document available on our site - understand the relationship between soul and body? Why is he in such a huff about what he calls 'separated essences'? Why does he get upset by those people who use terms like 'incorporeal substance'?

We will also look briefly at how Milton deals with the relationship between spirit and matter. Though it's a huge subject, we will examine a short passage from Book 7 in which the Creation is described - also in the document on our site.

Finally, we will discuss Ralph Cudworth, author of the vast True Intellectual System of the Universe. Excerpts from his text will be made available in class. A preview here:
Unless there be such a thing admitted as a Plastick Nature, that breeds for the sake of something, and in order to Ends, Regularly, Artificially and Methodically, it seems that one or other of these Two Things must be concluded, That Either in the Efformation and Organization of the Bodies of Animals, as well as the other Phenomena, every things comes to pass Fortuitously, and happens to be as it is, without the Guidance and Direction of any Mind or Understanding; Or else, that God himself doth all Immediately, and as it were with his own Hands, Form the Body of every Gnat and Fly, Insect and Mite…
What mileage does Cudworth get out of the 'plastic power'? Is it a philosophical principle? a poetic one? What work is it performing for him?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Instructions for Take Home

Here are the instructions for the take-home final exam. We will discuss in class when and how you can request the questions.

There are two options for the exam:

1. You may choose three of the following questions from the list below (do not answer more than one question on a single work).

2. You may choose one of the questions below, and use that to address (more comprehensively) the issues which we have discussed in class together. If you choose this option, it would make sense to choose a question which a. will lend itself to a discussion of more than one author, or b. will lend itself to a comprehensive discussion of the works of John Donne. This is to say, you might produce an exam which focuses exclusively on Donne, though you should not produce an exam which focuses exclusively on Marvell or Crashaw.

In any event, you should use the exam to synthesize the materials (texts and discussions) from the term. To that end, be sure to use all of the resources at your disposal—class notes, as well, as, of course, the texts themselves. The more details you bring in your answers (including citations from the text), the more effective your exam will be. Finals should be approximately between nine and twelve pages in length.

Don’t be afraid to address the questions on your own terms. That is to say, answer the questions in such a way so that you can give detailed and comprehensive answers. If you find that your understanding of a question has led you to a very brief or superficial answer, then you can be sure that you have understood the question in a less than satisfactory way. This means that in some sense the quality of your exam will be reflected on how you understand the questions (you may actually have to foreground that understanding in the opening paragraph of each essay). Choose questions in such a way that you can show off the depth and detail of your knowledge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Puttenham, in his Art of Poesie (1589) writes: 'But for all this, I do deny that the Eglogue should be the first and most auncient forme of artificiall Poesie, being perswaded that the Poet deuised the Eglogue long after the other drammatick poems, not of purpose to counterfait or represent the rusticall manner of loues and communication: but vnder the vaile of homely persons, and in rude speeches to insinuate and glaunce at greater matters, and such as perchance had not bene safe to haue beene disclosed in any other sort, which may be perceiued by the Eglogues of Virgill, in which are treated by figure matters of greater importance then the loues of Titirus and Corydon.'

What does Marvell achieve in turning to pastoral? Are there 'great matters' - as Puttenham puts it - which Marvell's poems address? How does Marvell conceive of the relationship between man and nature in the 'Mower' poems'? Does Marvell participate in the same sensibility of resemblance - in the 'Mower' poems and 'The Garden' in particular - as does Donne? How might Marvell be situated in a schematic history of the individual. Please think about this question in relationship to the handout that I gave you last time - with passages from Greville and Burton.

We will aim - in the second half of class - to explore some of the poetry of Henry Vaughan: we will be looking at his poems, 'Corruption,' 'Man,' 'The Retreat,' 'The Timber,' 'Cock Crowing,' 'Regeneration,' and 'The Search.' Text available on our site.