ENGL 353(F) Modern Poetry

We will explore the effects of two of the most influential poets of this century, William Butler Yeats and Wallace Stevens, on the work of two recent poets: James Merrill and John Ashbery. We will examine the tangled and controversial means by which Yeats and Stevens, writing chiefly between the two World Wars, tied the political, social, and intellectual ferment of the era to the fate of poetry. Considering such issues as occultism, nationalism, and unrequited love in the poetry of Yeats, we will explore the ways in which they are transmuted in Merrill's gay epic, The Changing Light at Sandover. We will further examine the roles of aristocratic bias and proto-fascism in Yeat's and Merrill's work, as well as critics' tendencies to equate these impulses. Tracing themes such as cosmopolitanism, isolationism, and insurance in Stevens' work, we will consider how they inform Ashbery's meditations on the roles of the city, of accident, and of awakenings from political numbness in shaping contemporary American consciousness. We will consider the ways in which all four poets' work both invites and eludes accusations of self-reflexive lyricizing. Format: discussion/seminar. Requirements: two 8- to 10-page papers. Prerequisite: a 100-level English course, except 150. Enrollment limit: 25 (expected: 25). (Post-1900)