Since antiquity, poets have been representing and reflecting on nonhuman “nature.” What does nature offer the poet? And how has that changed over the course of history?
We will begin by reading Shakespeare’s As You Like It and acquaint ourselves with the tradition of pastoral poetry. We will then turn to two modernizing takes on the pastoral tradition: Wordsworth’s poetry and Lee Francis’s Yorkshire romance film, God’s Own Country (2017) to understand how this poetic tradition has continued to represent the relationship between humanity and the environment. In the next unit, we will study classic examples of Romantic poetic writing from England and the Americas, including Thoreau and Emerson. In the final segment of the class, we will leap ahead to the present and read a survey of contemporary “ecopoets,” with particular attention to how they deal with the problems presented by global climate change and environmental racism.
The primary goal of the course will be to develop skills as writers and thinkers that allow you to approach these topics critically. As writers, you will be encouraged and challenged to analyze texts closely and carefully. Both class discussion and writing assignments will thus direct you to consider form in equal measure to content. By learning to identify and evaluate poetic techniques and intellectual positions in each text, you will learn to develop a better appreciation and understanding of poetry. Perhaps more important, you will learn to describe in writing how these texts work: how they construct and deconstruct, reinvent and critique the idea of “nature” as an object of poetic representation.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Arden Shakespeare edition)
Prose (available in course reader)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker
William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800, excerpts)
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (excerpts), “The Poet”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (excerpts)
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo (excerpts)
Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (excerpts)
Camille Dungy, “Tales from a Black Girl on Fire..” from Guidebook to Relative Strangers
Robert D. Bullard, “Confronting Environmental Racism in the Twenty-First Century” from The Colors of Nature (ed. Deming & Savoy)
Yusuf Komunyakaa, “Dark Waters” from The Colors of Nature (ed. Deming & Savoy)
Poetry (available in course reader)
Virgil, Eclogues (excerpts)
Ovid, Metamorphoses (excerpts)
Lyric poetry by William Wordsworth, Charles Baudelaire, Jorge Luis Borges, Juliana Spahr, Ed Roberson, Jorie Graham, Linda Hogan, CA Conrad, Camille Dungy, Allison Hedge Coke
Films (screenings TBA)
God’s Own Country (2017), dir. Francis Lee
Chasing Ice (2012), dir. Jeff Orlowski
GSIs: Jordan Greenwald & Pedro Hurtado Ortiz