Sunday, November 20, 2005

Some faves from Norman

This was a comment, but deserves to be above the fold:

"A few of my short faves," writes Norman Finkelstein:

Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
--I've never taught that one, I don't think. What does one say about it? Teach it as a ballad? (I hate teaching ballads. Teach me how and why, someone, please!)

Herbert, "Prayer (I)"
--This one I've taught, but not for years. Time to put it back into rotation, maybe?

Herrick, "The Vine"
--Another one I've never tried. What do you do with it?

Shakespeare, "Sonnet XX"
--I'm embarassed to say, I had to check which one that was! It's a weird, gender-bending "master-mistress of my passion" poem. Never taught it. What do you do with it, Norman?

Milton, "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont"
--Tried this once, disastrously, my second or third year of teaching. Again, I'd love to know what one does with it in class to make it sing--

Blake, "The Lamb" and "The Tyger"
--I do the second, not the first. Time to switch or pair them?

Dickinson, "There's a Certain Slant of Light," "Mine by the right of the white election"
--Never tried either!

Williams, "Proletarian Portrait"
--Another one? Damn! I love how little we overlap here. It reminds me how various the field is, even between thoroughly canonical hedgerows. And how little I know, thank God, after only 10 years in the business. I'd had to think I'd exhausted anything already,other than myself.

The Williams is worth reprinting here, I think. Not many folks know it. You can find some scraps of criticism here, too, if need be.

Proletarian Portrait

A big young bareheaded woman
in an apron

Her hair slicked back standing
on the street

One stockinged foot toeing
the sidewalk

Her shoe in her hand. Looking
intently into it

She pulls out the paper insole
to find the nail

That has been hurting her

That's one set of favorites, friends. More, please! Bring 'em on!


Norman Finkelstein said...

Hi Eric. It's a busy day, but I may be able to write a bit individually about teaching some of those poems sometime during the Thanksgiving break. Meanwhile, for the record, I teach what is basically a history of Anglo-American poetry (mainly Anglo) for English majors, so in presenting individual lyrics (and longer poems too, for that matter), I not only stress form, but also historical context, genre, thematic concerns, influence, and even (horrors!) biography. So in the case of La Belle Dame, we've usually read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and have talked extensively about romanticism. I remind the class of Life-in-Death; we talk about the uncanny nature of sexuality; the cyclical quality of the poem; its seasonal aspect; the vision of disease (TB and syphilis), etc. It usually works very well, but then I'm in a trance when I teach the romantics, so what do I know?

Weave a circle round me thrice.



Archambeau said...

Ya gotta pair "The Lamb" and "The Tyger." The mascot of innocence and the mascot of experience need to egg on the fans from different sides of the stadium. One angle of approach: look at the Q&A in each poem. In "The Lamb" the speaker prompts "you" to ask a specific question, and then answers it for you -- all very protective, all very much in line with the whole ethos of innocence. But in "The Tyger" the question comes from the speaker, who, unlike the narrator of "The Lamb" doesn't have all the answers. Even more alarmingly, the speaker of "The Tyger" never gets an answer. Very much in line with the world of doubt and uncertainty that is experience.