Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Syllabus for AP English Literature

Senior AP English
Mr. Ortiz
September 2010

Course Description: The purpose of this class is two-fold: first, it is designed to offer seniors an opportunity to read several significant works in American or English literature. Our main focus on these works will be formalist in nature, i.e., we will be exploring texts primarily in regard to their compositional excellence. This will require a working knowledge of the elements that contribute to the aesthetic quality of a literary work. Concepts such as tone, imagery, diction, plot, prosody, irony, tragedy, comedy, point of view, and voice will receive particularly close attention as we explore how formal qualities shape literary works and literary history.

We will also study the humane values that such works often express. The rich interplay between the formal literary qualities of a work and its political, religious, or philosophical insights will be at the core of class discussion. Our emphasis on narrative structure will also insure that the compelling nature of the texts we study will reach as many students as possible.

The writing assignments in this class will offer each student the opportunity to become a more fluent and insightful writer. Particular time will be given to the thesis statement, i.e., the central controlling judgment at the heart of a successful essay. In this way, the reading and writing parts of this course complement each other: close reading will facilitate compositions of depth and precision. Writing assignments not turned in on the due date (excluding illness or emergencies) will receive a failing grade with no chance of a make-up for that paper.

Students will also keep a Literary Journal that they will be required to write in three times a week. Some entries will be in-class assignments, free-writing periods, annotations of a passage or chapter, brain-storming, and other methods of exploring the composition process. This will allow students to write without some of the pressures of immediate evaluation, and foster a sense that the writing process is a fluid, dynamic activity that should be creative and supple.

Writing assignments will be organized to facilitate three goals: writing to understand a text, writing to explain a text to the reader, and writing to evaluate the text according to generic, historical, and philosophical considerations.

The seminar format of the class is extremely important to a mature study of literature. Attentive participation in the class discussion will be account for 15% of the student’s quarter grade each term. Students who fail to comport themselves with maturity in the seminar will be asked to leave.

Given the nature of our reading assignments, I hope each student in the seminar views the course as an introduction to the college-level study of literary texts that can enrich one’s life no matter what career one ultimately follows. Aesthetic beauty as found in literature is a subject that no single course can exhaustively study. The techniques of literary analysis we use this year are in fact a means to an end: the contemplation of works of verbal beauty that show forth luminously the dignity of the human person.


Paradise Lost, John Milton
Antigone, Sophocles
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
Hamlet, Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Old School, Tobias Wolff
Peace, Richard Bausch
The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway

In Addition, throughout the year we will read and discuss several works of classical literary theory:

Poetics, Aristotle
Ion, Plato
Republic, books 2, 3, 10, Plato
The Art of Poetry, Horace
On the Sublime, Longinus

Weekly Assignment Schedule: There will be a typed, formal essay due approximately every Friday. Length will be 2 pages in the fall; and 4-5 pages starting in January.

Monday: Discussion of work studied in seminar setting. AP terminology handout for incorporation into student writing.

Tuesday: Timed in-class essay on topics discussed in class and on readings assigned for homework

Wednesday: Peer Evaluation of in-class essays based on controlling thesis, on tone, logical development, use of supporting detail from text, and command of the basic elements of effective composition (with direct reference to Ellsworth’s English Simplified). Evaluation of papers that demonstrate a wide-ranging, effectively used vocabulary—both critical and literary—will also be a part of this process.

Thursday: Discussion of work studied in seminar setting; rewrites due for both in class essays and formal written papers.

Friday: Reading aloud of formal written papers, and defense of those papers based on critiques in class from peers and teacher.

Our reading, writing, and discussion of each work will focus on:

1. How do details of tone, metaphor, imagery create characterization?

2. How is the story told? What is theme, and how do narratives develop them?

3. How do stylistic concerns shape the meaning of themes?

4. How do symbolism and other textual details reflect values and embody historical/literary/philosophical judgments?

5. How does diction in the work change the meaning of characters, action, and themes?

6. Does the work employ irony? How? On the level of dialog, scene, chapter, or act?

7. How does the issue of voice shape the work? Are there competing voices? Is there a main narrative voice? Is that narrator reliable? If not, how do we know he or she is not? What are the thematic implications of an unreliable narrator?

8. Does the work use allusion as a major structuring device?

9. Does the work employ flashbacks or other narrative devices? What are the implications of such devices?

10. In what way does the beginning and ending of a work change the meaning of the whole piece?

Reading Schedule by Month:

September: Old School, Heart of Darkness, Great Gatsby

October: Aristotle’s Poetics, Antigone, Hamlet

November: Paradise LostDecember: Paradise Lost

January: Remains of the Day

February: Peace

March: Lyric Poems

April: The Cellist of Sarajevo

May: Review Concepts and Terminology

Monday, August 30, 2010

Second Keats' Letter to John Taylor June 11 1820

My dear Taylor,

In reading over the proof of St. Agnes' Eve since I left Fleet street I was struck with what appears to me an alteration in the 7th Stanza very much for the worse the passage I mean stands thus

"her maiden eyes incline Still on the floor, while many a sweeping train Pass by--"

Twas originally written

"her maiden eyes divine Fix'd on the floor saw many a sweeping train Pass by--

My meaning is quite destroyed in the alteration. I do not use train for concourse of passers by but for [Skits is crossed out by Keats] Skirts sweeping along the floor.

In the first Stanza my copy reads--2nd line

"bitter chill it was"

to avoid the echo cold in the next line.

ever yours sincerely
John Keats

Keats' Letter to John Taylor

Hampstead, February 27th, 1818
Hampstead, 27 Feby

My dear Taylor -
Your alteration strikes me as being a great Improvement - And now I will attend to the punctuations you speak of - The comma should be at soberly, and in the other passage, the Comma should follow quiet. I am extremely indebted to you for this attention, and also for your after admonitions. It is a sorry thing for me that any one should have to overcome prejudices in reading my verses - that affects me more than any hypercriticism on any particular passage - In Endymion, I have most likely but moved into the go-cart from the leading-strings - In poetry I have a few axioms, and you will see how far I am from their centre.
1st. I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by singularity; It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.
2d. Its touches of beauty should never be half-way, thereby making the reader breathless, instead of content. The rise, the progress, the setting of Imagery should, like the sun, seem natural to him, shine over him, and set soberly, although in magnificence, leaving him in the luxury of twilight. But it is easier to think what poetry should be, than to write it - And this leads me to another axiom - That if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all. - However, it may be with me, I cannot help looking into new countries with 'O for a Muse of Fire to ascend!' If Endymion serves me as a pioneer, perhaps I ought to be content - I have great reason to be content, for thank God I can read, and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths; and I have I am sure many friends, who, if I fail, will attribute any change in my life and temper to humbleness rather than pride - to a cowering under the wings of great poets, rather than to a bitterness that I am not appreciated. I am anxious to get Endymion printed that I may forget it and proceed. I have copied the 3rd Book and begun the 4th.
Your sincere and obliged friend,
John Keats

"Bright Star" Trailer

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Keats: Inspiration, Vocation, Craft

*31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821

*The poetry of Keats is characterised by sensual imagery, most notably in the series of odes--short lyric poems on a lofty topic

*John Gibson Lockhart wrote in Blackwoods Magazine

To witness the disease of any human understanding, however feeble, is distressing; but the spectacle of an able mind reduced to a state of insanity is, of course, ten times more afflicting. It is with such sorrow as this that we have contemplated the case of Mr John Keats. [...] He was bound apprentice some years ago to a worthy apothecary in town. But all has been undone by a sudden attack of the malady [...] For some time we were in hopes that he might get off with a violent fit or two; but of late the symptoms are terrible. The phrenzy of the "Poems" was bad enough in its way; but it did not alarm us half so seriously as the calm, settled, imperturbable drivelling idiocy of Endymion. [...] It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the [apothecary] shop Mr John, back to ‘plasters, pills, and ointment boxes’.

*This winter of 1818, though troubled, marks the beginning of Keats's annus mirabilis in which he wrote his most mature work. He had been greatly inspired by a series of recent lectures by Hazlitt on English poets and poetic identity. Keats composed five of his six great odes there in April and May and, although it is debated in which order they were written, Ode to Psyche starts the series.

*Published THREE books of poetry in his life: POEMS (1817); ENDYMION; A POETIC ROMANCE (1818), and LAMIA, ISABELLA, THE EVE OF ST. AGNES, AND OTHER POEMS (1820)

*Letters and poem drafts suggest that Keats first met Frances (Fanny) Brawne between September and November 1818.

* On 13 September 1820, Keats and Joseph Severn, a painter friend, left for Gravesend and four days later boarded the sailing brig The Maria Crowther. Keats wrote his final revisions of Bright Star aboard the ship. The journey was a minor catastrophe – storms broke out followed by a dead calm that slowed the ship’s progress. When it finally docked in Naples, the ship was held in quarantine for ten days because of a suspected outbreak of cholera in Britain. Keats reached Rome on November 14 by which time all hope of a warmer climate had evaporated.

*1882, Swinburne wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica that "the Ode to a Nightingale, [is] one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all ages". Vendler at Harvard says the odes "are a group of works in which the English language find ultimate embodiment".[59] Professor Bate declared of To Autumn: "Each generation has found it one of the most nearly perfect poems in English" and M. R. Ridley claimed the ode "is the most serenely flawless poem in our language."

Written In The Cottage Where Burns Was Born
By John Keats

This mortal body of a thousand days
Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,
Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,
Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!
My pulse is warm with thine old Barley-bree,
My head is light with pledging a great soul,
My eyes are wandering, and I cannot see,
Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal;
Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window-sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o'er and o'er --
Yet, can I think of thee till thought is blind, --
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name, --
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!

*Written July 18, 1818.

To Charles Crowden Clark

Oft have you seen a swan superbly frowning,
And with proud breast his own white shadow crowning;
He slants his neck beneath the waters bright
So silently, it seems a beam of light
Come from the galaxy: anon he sports,--
With outspread wings the Naiad Zephyr courts,
Or ruffles all the surface of the lake
In striving from its crystal face to take
Some diamond water drops, and them to treasure
In milky nest, and sip them off at leisure.
But not a moment can he there insure them,
Nor to such downy rest can he allure them;
For down they rush as though they would be free,
And drop like hours into eternity.

Just like that bird am I in loss of time,
Whene'er I venture on the stream of rhyme;
With shatter'd boat, oar snapt, and canvass rent,
I slowly sail, scarce knowing my intent;
Still scooping up the water with my fingers,
In which a trembling diamond never lingers.
By this, friend Charles, you may full plainly see
Why I have never penn'd a line to thee:
Because my thoughts were never free, and clear,
And little fit to please a classic ear;
Because my wine was of too poor a savour
For one whose palate gladdens in the flavour
Of sparkling Helicon:--small good it were
To take him to a desert rude, and bare.
Who had on Baiae's shore reclin'd at ease,
While Tasso's page was floating in a breeze
That gave soft music from Armida's bowers,
Mingled with fragrance from her rarest flowers:
Small good to one who had by Mulla's stream
Fondled the maidens with the breasts of cream;
Who had beheld Belphoebe in a brook…

…With many else which I have never known.
Thus have I thought; and days on days have flown
Slowly, or rapidly--unwilling still
For you to try my dull, unlearned quill.
Nor should I now, but that I've known you long;
That you first taught me all the sweets of song:
The grand, the sweet, the terse, the free, the fine;
What swell'd with pathos, and what right divine:
Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,
And float along like birds o'er summer seas;
Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness;
Michael in arms, and more, meek Eve's fair slenderness.
Who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly
Up to its climax and then dying proudly?
Who found for me the grandeur of the ode,
Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load?
Who let me taste that more than cordial dram,
The sharp, the rapier-pointed epigram?
Shew'd me that epic was of all the king,
Round, vast, and spanning all like Saturn's ring?
You too upheld the veil from Clio's beauty,
And pointed out the patriot's stern duty;
The might of Alfred, and the shaft of Tell;
The hand of Brutus, that so grandly fell
Upon a tyrant's head. Ah! had I never seen,
Or known your kindness, what might I have been?
What my enjoyments in my youthful years,
Bereft of all that now my life endears?
And can I e'er these benefits forget?
And can I e'er repay the friendly debt?
No, doubly no;--yet should these rhymings please,
I shall roll on the grass with two-fold ease:
For I have long time been my fancy feeding
With hopes that you would one day think the reading
Of my rough verses not an hour misspent;
Should it e'er be so, what a rich content!
Some weeks have pass'd since last I saw the spires
In lucent Thames reflected:--warm desires
To see the sun o'er peep the eastern dimness,
And morning shadows streaking into slimness
Across the lawny fields, and pebbly water;
To mark the time as they grow broad, and shorter;
To feel the air that plays about the hills,
And sips its freshness from the little rills;
To see high, golden corn wave in the light
When Cynthia smiles upon a summer's night,
And peers among the cloudlet's jet and white,
As though she were reclining in a bed
Of bean blossoms, in heaven freshly shed.
No sooner had I stepp'd into these pleasures
Than I began to think of rhymes and measures:
The air that floated by me seem'd to say
"Write! thou wilt never have a better day."
And so I did. When many lines I'd written,
Though with their grace I was not oversmitten,
Yet, as my hand was warm, I thought I'd better
Trust to my feelings, and write you a letter.
Such an attempt required an inspiration
Of a peculiar sort,--a consummation;--
Which, had I felt, these scribblings might have been
Verses from which the soul would never wean:
But many days have past since last my heart
Was warm'd luxuriously by divine Mozart;
By Arne delighted, or by Handel madden'd;
Or by the song of Erin pierc'd and sadden'd:
What time you were before the music sitting,
And the rich notes to each sensation fitting.
Since I have walk'd with you through shady lanes
That freshly terminate in open plains,
And revel'd in a chat that ceased not
When at night-fall among your books we got:
No, nor when supper came, nor after that,--
Nor when reluctantly I took my hat;
No, nor till cordially you shook my hand
Mid-way between our homes:--your accents bland
Still sounded in my ears, when I no more
Could hear your footsteps touch the grav'ly floor.
Sometimes I lost them, and then found again;
You chang'd the footpath for the grassy plain.
In those still moments I have wish'd you joys
That well you know to honour:--"Life's very toys
With him," said I, "will take a pleasant charm;
It cannot be that ought will work him harm."
These thoughts now come o'er me with all their might:--
Again I shake your hand,--friend Charles, good night.

September, 1816.