ENGL 125: Introduction to Poetry
As the culminating work of the course you will write a four to five page Final Essay. It will be graded on a 100-point scale, using the same rubric as the midterm. You are required to submit some preliminary work in the form of a first draft. Be sure to check the Schedule for due dates for the draft and the final essay. This deadline is the 22nd, so a first draft is due on the 22nd not the final draft. The final draft is due the 28th.
The essay will be graded in three categories:
1. rhetorical design (argumentation, integration, and explanation of quotes, etc.)
2. sentence design (spelling, proofreading, grammar, etc.)
3. formatting (with emphasis on use of MLA style).
The essay is a genre of writing that places emphasis on several qualities. Foremost among them are style and sound reasoning. To write with style, you must write with personality (yes, you can use first-person pronouns, but not to excess). “Personality” means that the prose is yours and only yours: Your sentences are clear, varied and expressive. Some will be long, some short, others will use keywords and explain quotes, while others will pose questions or propose solutions and observations.
As for sound reasoning, your writing should be supported by evidence, and the evidence should be held together by an argument. An argument is not necessarily critique, in the negative sense, or a proof: it is a point you wish to make about something. The point takes several forms, and may even change or admit flaws over the course of the essay. Understood in these two ways, the essay is the genre in which we are invited to practice and fulfill our promise as expressive individuals. It is a democratic genre in that regard, in that it is popular and open to all who wish to write it, requiring no specialized knowledge, but requiring insight and logic.
You are advised to write the essay you want to write, and to write the essay you would want to read. As college students, you are no longer bound by the standardized test preparation model of essay, but if that is useful to you, consider it as a starting point. Know however that there are many ways to write an essay as there are to write a song, so take chances with your prose, make bold arguments, and write for your pleasure and that of your readers.
The options listed below are recommended but not required. If you have a question or an idea for a variant type of essay, then ask it quickly so your instructor may consider it and you can begin your work. The primary evidence should include only assigned poets or poems in the Norton Anthology. Use of secondary sources is limited; in general, avoid general wiki-type sources.
Please do not hesitate to ask questions but do so well in advance. Also know that the UNC Writing Center website offers many useful handouts regarding the writing process, technical advice and other common questions and techniques. If you find yourself struggling, or maybe want a fresh perspective, you may find the site useful. You can also contact a UNC writing tutor.
The following resources will also be useful:
Hints for Writing a Strong Paper
Using MLA Documentation for Poetry
The final essay must satisfy the following criteria in terms of its method:
1. It must have a clear thesis. A thesis is not a merely descriptive statement along the lines of “There are differences and similarities between the works of Coleridge and Wordsworth.” A thesis would instead read as follows: “In the following essay, I will show that while Coleridge is known as the more technically proficient poet, Wordsworth is in fact more technically accomplished, in that he masters several forms (such as the Sonnet) and completely reinvents the Ode.”
2. The paper must demonstrate an ability to align careful analysis of poetic meter. There may be little of it in your paper, and you might refer more to general concepts such as themes, but at some point you must apply scansion to a few lines so as to illustrate your point about a poet or poem.
For example, the beginning of Wordsworth’s poem, “The world is too much with us, late and soon,” is fairly irregular:
The WORLD | is TOO | much WITH | us; LATE | and SOON,
[pretty standard iambic pentameter]
GET – ting | and SPEND – | ing, we LAY | WASTE our | POW – ers;—
[harder to scan—an extra syllable]
LIT – tle | we SEE | in NA – | ture THAT | is OURS;
[more iambic toward the end]
We have GIV – | en our HEARTS | a – WAY, | a SOR – | did BOON!
[TWO extra syllables]
Your thesis might argue that the irregular rhythms and extra syllables show the speaker’s outrage at the situation—he can’t contain his frustration at the way human beings are interacting with nature in his day. You might then proceed to write most of your paper on Romantic views of nature, but you might use any of the following observations of the poem’s meter to set up that case:
• You can point out that the feet that break the pattern contain significant words: “getting,” “lay waste,” “given,” and “hearts.”
• You can point out that the first line with extra syllables contain the problem of excessive consumption of material goods (“Getting and spending”).
• The second line with too many syllables talks about us giving away our “hearts.” Why two whole extra syllables for that one?
• Once you’ve thoroughly discussed the variations, you want to connect them to the rest of the poem. Wordsworth continues to burst out in an exclamation—“Great God!”—so it would be fairly easy to prove that the beginning of the sonnet intends to show a speaker that is quite upset!
3. Secondary Sources
Please be mindful of using secondary sources. You have practiced reading and applying several essays to poems we read along the way, so the practice is not new. However, if used to excess, it can crowd out style, drown your argument, or lead to confusion. Use secondary critical sources carefully, and with discretion—use only the best available sources. For example, T.S. Eliot’s famous essay on Metaphysical Poetry would be a good choice when discussing John Donne, but Wikipedia would not be. Additionally, do not merely use a secondary source because it agrees with your opinion: Use it instead to elaborate a new idea, offer contrast, and advance your thesis in a new direction. You are required to use at least one source for this essay, and use it with care and intelligence.
Write with personality. What this means is that your sentences should be varied in length, you should place important keywords near the beginning of sentences and paragraphs, and you should choose verbs with care. Avoid excessively chatty prose, but don’t try to sound like a robot. Write as you—a student studying poetry, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, and figuring things out. Personal anecdote is welcome, so long as it is relevant and not excessive.
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