terça-feira, 16 de agosto de 2011

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846)

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

CHARLES DICKENS, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an examination I once made of the mechanism of "Barnaby Rudge," says- "By the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his 'Caleb Williams' backwards? He first involved his hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second volume, and then, for the first, cast about him for some mode of accounting for what had been done."

I cannot think this the precise mode of procedure on the part of Godwin- and indeed what he himself acknowledges, is not altogether in accordance with Mr. Dickens' idea- but the author of "Caleb Williams" was too good an artist not to perceive the advantage derivable from at least a somewhat similar process. Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its denouement before anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the denouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.

There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis- or one is suggested by an incident of the day- or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative-designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view- for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest- I say to myself, in the first place, "Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?" Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or tone- whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone- afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would- that is to say, who could- detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say- but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers- poets in especial- prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy- an ecstatic intuition- and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought- at the true purposes seized only at the last moment- at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view- at the fully-matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable- at the cautious selections and rejections- at the painful erasures and interpolations- in a word, at the wheels and pinions- the tackle for scene-shifting- the step-ladders, and demon-traps- the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.

For my own part, I have neither sympathy with the repugnance alluded to, nor, at any time, the least difficulty in recalling to mind the progressive steps of any of my compositions, and, since the interest of an analysis or reconstruction, such as I have considered a desideratum, is quite independent of any real or fancied interest in the thing analysed, it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my part to show the modus operandi by which some one of my own works was put together. I select 'The Raven' as most generally known. It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to accident or intuition- that the work proceeded step by step, to its completion, with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.

Let us dismiss, as irrelevant to the poem, per se, the circumstance- or say the necessity- which, in the first place, gave rise to the intention of composing a poem that should suit at once the popular and the critical taste.

We commence, then, with this intention.

The initial consideration was that of extent. If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression- for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed. But since, ceteris paribus, no poet can afford to dispense with anything that may advance his design, it but remains to be seen whether there is, in extent, any advantage to counterbalance the loss of unity which attends it. Here I say no, at once. What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones- that is to say, of brief poetical effects. It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least, one-half of the "Paradise Lost" is essentially prose- a succession of poetical excitements interspersed, inevitably, with corresponding depressions- the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity of effect.

It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art- the limit of a single sitting- and that, although in certain classes of prose composition, such as "Robinson Crusoe" (demanding no unity), this limit may be advantageously overpassed, it can never properly be overpassed in a poem. Within this limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical relation to its merit- in other words, to the excitement or elevation-again, in other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect- this, with one proviso- that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for the production of any effect at all.

Holding in view these considerations, as well as that degree of excitement which I deemed not above the popular, while not below the critical taste, I reached at once what I conceived the proper length for my intended poem- a length of about one hundred lines. It is, in fact, a hundred and eight.

My next thought concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be conveyed: and here I may as well observe that throughout the construction, I kept steadily in view the design of rendering the work universally appreciable. I should be carried too far out of my immediate topic were I to demonstrate a point upon which I have repeatedly insisted, and which, with the poetical, stands not in the slightest need of demonstration- the point, I mean, that Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem. A few words, however, in elucidation of my real meaning, which some of my friends have evinced a disposition to misrepresent. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect- they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul- not of intellect, or of heart- upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating the "beautiful." Now I designate Beauty as the province of the poem, merely because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring from direct causes- that objects should be attained through means best adapted for their attainment- no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation alluded to is most readily attained in the poem. Now the object Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable to a certain extent in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion, a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me), which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement or pleasurable elevation of the soul. It by no means follows, from anything here said, that passion, or even truth, may not be introduced, and even profitably introduced, into a poem for they may serve in elucidation, or aid the general effect, as do discords in music, by contrast- but the true artist will always contrive, first, to tone them into proper subservience to the predominant aim, and, secondly, to enveil them, as far as possible, in that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the essence of the poem.

Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation- and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

The length, the province, and the tone, being thus determined, I betook myself to ordinary induction, with the view of obtaining some artistic piquancy which might serve me as a key-note in the construction of the poem- some pivot upon which the whole structure might turn. In carefully thinking over all the usual artistic effects- or more properly points, in the theatrical sense- I did not fail to perceive immediately that no one had been so universally employed as that of the refrain. The universality of its employment sufficed to assure me of its intrinsic value, and spared me the necessity of submitting it to analysis. I considered it, however, with regard to its susceptibility of improvement, and soon saw it to be in a primitive condition. As commonly used, the refrain, or burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but depends for its impression upon the force of monotone- both in sound and thought. The pleasure is deduced solely from the sense of identity- of repetition. I resolved to diversify, and so heighten the effect, by adhering in general to the monotone of sound, while I continually varied that of thought: that is to say, I determined to produce continuously novel effects, by the variation of the application of the refrain- the refrain itself remaining for the most part, unvaried.

These points being settled, I next bethought me of the nature of my refrain. Since its application was to be repeatedly varied it was clear that the refrain itself must be brief, for there would have been an insurmountable difficulty in frequent variations of application in any sentence of length. In proportion to the brevity of the sentence would, of course, be the facility of the variation. This led me at once to a single word as the best refrain.

The question now arose as to the character of the word. Having made up my mind to a refrain, the division of the poem into stanzas was of course a corollary, the refrain forming the close to each stanza. That such a close, to have force, must be sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis, admitted no doubt, and these considerations inevitably led me to the long o as the most sonorous vowel in connection with r as the most producible consonant.

The sound of the refrain being thus determined, it became necessary to select a word embodying this sound, and at the same time in the fullest possible keeping with that melancholy which I had pre-determined as the tone of the poem. In such a search it would have been absolutely impossible to overlook the word "Nevermore." In fact it was the very first which presented itself.

The next desideratum was a pretext for the continuous use of the one word "nevermore." In observing the difficulty which I had at once found in inventing a sufficiently plausible reason for its continuous repetition, I did not fail to perceive that this difficulty arose solely from the preassumption that the word was to be so continuously or monotonously spoken by a human being- I did not fail to perceive, in short, that the difficulty lay in the reconciliation of this monotony with the exercise of reason on the part of the creature repeating the word. Here, then, immediately arose the idea of a non-reasoning creature capable of speech, and very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone.

I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven, the bird of ill-omen, monotonously repeating the one word "Nevermore" at the conclusion of each stanza in a poem of melancholy tone, and in length about one hundred lines. Now, never losing sight of the object- supremeness or perfection at all points, I asked myself- "Of all melancholy topics what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?" Death, was the obvious reply. "And when," I said, "is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?" From what I have already explained at some length the answer here also is obvious- "When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover."

I had now to combine the two ideas of a lover lamenting his deceased mistress and a Raven continuously repeating the word "Nevermore." I had to combine these, bearing in mind my design of varying at every turn the application of the word repeated, but the only intelligible mode of such combination is that of imagining the Raven employing the word in answer to the queries of the lover. And here it was that I saw at once the opportunity afforded for the effect on which I had been depending, that is to say, the effect of the variation of application. I saw that I could make the first query propounded by the lover- the first query to which the Raven should reply "Nevermore"- that I could make this first query a commonplace one, the second less so, the third still less, and so on, until at length the lover, startled from his original nonchalance by the melancholy character of the word itself, by its frequent repetition, and by a consideration of the ominous reputation of the fowl that uttered it, is at length excited to superstition, and wildly propounds queries of a far different character- queries whose solution he has passionately at heart- propounds them half in superstition and half in that species of despair which delights in self-torture- propounds them not altogether because he believes in the prophetic or demoniac character of the bird (which reason assures him is merely repeating a lesson learned by rote), but because he experiences a frenzied pleasure in so modelling his questions as to receive from the expected "Nevermore" the most delicious because the most intolerable of sorrows. Perceiving the opportunity thus afforded me, or, more strictly, thus forced upon me in the progress of the construction, I first established in my mind the climax or concluding query- that query to which "Nevermore" should be in the last place an answer- that query in reply to which this word "Nevermore" should involve the utmost conceivable amount of sorrow and despair.

Here then the poem may be said to have had its beginning- at the end where all works of art should begin- for it was here at this point of my preconsiderations that I first put pen to paper in the composition of the stanza:

    "Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still if bird or devil!
    By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore,
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
    Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
                    Quoth the Raven- "Nevermore."

I composed this stanza, at this point, first that, by establishing the climax, I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness and importance, the preceding queries of the lover, and secondly, that I might definitely settle the rhythm, the metre, and the length and general arrangement of the stanza, as well as graduate the stanzas which were to precede, so that none of them might surpass this in rhythmical effect. Had I been able in the subsequent composition to construct more vigorous stanzas I should without scruple have purposely enfeebled them so as not to interfere with the climacteric effect.

And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been neglected in versification is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and stanza are absolutely infinite, and yet, for centuries, no man, in verse, has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing. The fact is that originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought, and although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.

Of course I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or metre of the "Raven." The former is trochaic- the latter is octametre acatalectic, alternating with heptametre catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrametre catalectic. Less pedantically the feet employed throughout (trochees) consist of a long syllable followed by a short, the first line of the stanza consists of eight of these feet, the second of seven and a half (in effect two-thirds), the third of eight, the fourth of seven and a half, the fifth the same, the sixth three and a half. Now, each of these lines taken individually has been employed before, and what originality the "Raven" has, is in their combination into stanza; nothing even remotely approaching this has ever been attempted. The effect of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.

The next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the lover and the Raven- and the first branch of this consideration was the locale. For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a forest, or the fields- but it has always appeared to me that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident- it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place.

I determined, then, to place the lover in his chamber- in a chamber rendered sacred to him by memories of her who had frequented it. The room is represented as richly furnished- this in mere pursuance of the ideas I have already explained on the subject of Beauty, as the sole true poetical thesis.

The locale being thus determined, I had now to introduce the bird- and the thought of introducing him through the window was inevitable. The idea of making the lover suppose, in the first instance, that the flapping of the wings of the bird against the shutter, is a "tapping" at the door, originated in a wish to increase, by prolonging, the reader's curiosity, and in a desire to admit the incidental effect arising from the lover's throwing open the door, finding all dark, and thence adopting the half-fancy that it was the spirit of his mistress that knocked.

I made the night tempestuous, first to account for the Raven's seeking admission, and secondly, for the effect of contrast with the (physical) serenity within the chamber.

I made the bird alight on the bust of Pallas, also for the effect of contrast between the marble and the plumage- it being understood that the bust was absolutely suggested by the bird- the bust of Pallas being chosen, first, as most in keeping with the scholarship of the lover, and secondly, for the sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself.

About the middle of the poem, also, I have availed myself of the force of contrast, with a view of deepening the ultimate impression. For example, an air of the fantastic- approaching as nearly to the ludicrous as was admissible- is given to the Raven's entrance. He comes in "with many a flirt and flutter."

  Not the least obeisance made he- not a moment stopped or stayed he,
  But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door.

In the two stanzas which follow, the design is more obviously carried out:-

  Then this ebony bird, beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
  By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
  "Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no
  Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
  Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore?"
                Quoth the Raven- "Nevermore."
  Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
  Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
  For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
  Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door-
  Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
                  With such name as "Nevermore."

The effect of the denouement being thus provided for, I immediately drop the fantastic for a tone of the most profound seriousness- this tone commencing in the stanza directly following the one last quoted, with the line,

  But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only, etc.

From this epoch the lover no longer jests- no longer sees anything even of the fantastic in the Raven's demeanour. He speaks of him as a "grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore," and feels the "fiery eyes" burning into his "bosom's core." This revolution of thought, or fancy, on the lover's part, is intended to induce a similar one on the part of the reader- to bring the mind into a proper frame for the denouement- which is now brought about as rapidly and as directly as possible.

With the denouement proper- with the Raven's reply, "Nevermore," to the lover's final demand if he shall meet his mistress in another world- the poem, in its obvious phase, that of a simple narrative, may be said to have its completion. So far, everything is within the limits of the accountable- of the real. A raven, having learned by rote the single word "Nevermore," and having escaped from the custody of its owner, is driven at midnight, through the violence of a storm, to seek admission at a window from which a light still gleams- the chamber-window of a student, occupied half in poring over a volume, half in dreaming of a beloved mistress deceased. The casement being thrown open at the fluttering of the bird's wings, the bird itself perches on the most convenient seat out of the immediate reach of the student, who amused by the incident and the oddity of the visitor's demeanour, demands of it, in jest and without looking for a reply, its name. The raven addressed, answers with its customary word, "Nevermore"- a word which finds immediate echo in the melancholy heart of the student, who, giving utterance aloud to certain thoughts suggested by the occasion, is again startled by the fowl's repetition of "Nevermore." The student now guesses the state of the case, but is impelled, as I have before explained, by the human thirst for self-torture, and in part by superstition, to propound such queries to the bird as will bring him, the lover, the most of the luxury of sorrow, through the anticipated answer, "Nevermore." With the indulgence, to the extreme, of this self-torture, the narration, in what I have termed its first or obvious phase, has a natural termination, and so far there has been no overstepping of the limits of the real.

But in subjects so handled, however skillfully, or with however vivid an array of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness which repels the artistical eye. Two things are invariably required- first, some amount of complexity, or more properly, adaptation; and, secondly, some amount of suggestiveness- some under-current, however indefinite, of meaning. It is this latter, in especial, which imparts to a work of art so much of that richness (to borrow from colloquy a forcible term), which we are too fond of confounding with the ideal. It is the excess of the suggested meaning- it is the rendering this the upper instead of the under-current of the theme- which turns into prose (and that of the very flattest kind), the so-called poetry of the so-called transcendentalists.

Holding these opinions, I added the two concluding stanzas of the poem- their suggestiveness being thus made to pervade all the narrative which has preceded them. The under-current of meaning is rendered first apparent in the line-

  "Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
           Quoth the Raven "Nevermore!"

It will be observed that the words, "from out my heart," involve the first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, "Nevermore," dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical- but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and never ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen:

  And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
  On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
  And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming,
  And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
  And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
                   Shall be lifted- nevermore.

quinta-feira, 2 de junho de 2011

"To a Skylark", Shelley, 1820

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert-
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden light'ning
Of the sunken sun,
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of heaven,
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight-

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear,
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.

All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud,
As when night is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflow'd.

What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see,
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody:-

Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

Like a high-born maiden
In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aërial hue
Among the flowers and grass which screen it from the view:

Like a rose embower'd
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflower'd,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-wingèd thieves.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awaken'd flowers-
All that ever was
Joyous and clear and fresh-thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Chorus hymeneal,
Or triumphal chant,
Match'd with thine would be all
But an empty vaunt-
A thin wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Yet, if we could scorn
Hate and pride and fear,
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know;
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

A Defence of Poetry, 1821

Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody.

William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake, The Angel of the Revelation. Watercolor, pen and black ink, over traces of graphite. 1803-1804
Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton's Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.

Essay on Man, 1734)

terça-feira, 10 de maio de 2011

Emulação: Góngora e Gregório

Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561-1627)

Mientras por competir con tu cabello,
oro bruñido al sol relumbra en vano;
mientras con menosprecio en medio el llano
mira tu blanca frente el lilio bello;

mientras a cada labio, por cogello.
siguen más ojos que al clavel temprano;
y mientras triunfa con desdén lozano
del luciente cristal tu gentil cuello:

goza cuello, cabello, labio y frente,
antes que lo que fue en tu edad dorada
oro, lilio, clavel, cristal luciente,

no sólo en plata o vïola troncada
se vuelva, mas tú y ello juntamente
en tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada.

Gregório de Matos (1636-1695)

Discreta e formosíssima Maria,
Enquanto estamos vendo a qualquer hora
Em tuas faces a rosada Aurora,
Em teus olhos, e boca o Sol, e o dia:

Enquanto com gentil descortesia
O ar, que fresco Adônis te namora,
Te espalha a rica trança voadora
Quando vem passear-te pela fria:

Goza, goza da flor da mocidade,
Que o tempo trota a toda ligeireza,
E imprime em toda a flor sua pisada.

Oh não aguardes, que a madura idade
Te converta essa flor, essa beleza
Em terra, em cinza, em pó, em sombra, em nada.

terça-feira, 3 de maio de 2011

To be or not to be -

Hey guys,

the "To be or not to be" soliloquy in the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet (1996) can be found in YouTube at the following link:


Don't forget to take your written activities on Hamlet to class next Friday.
Enjoy! ;)

segunda-feira, 18 de abril de 2011


Dear students,

please read as much as you can of Shakespeare's Hamlet for next class (April 29th). Be sure to take notes as you read, and bring them in for class discussion. The link for the text online:


Have a great Easter, I hope the Bunny will bring you all the chocolate you've asked for! ;)

terça-feira, 12 de abril de 2011

Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales", Part 2

Dear students,

please listen to the audio of "The Prologue" (the one we couldn't listen to in class...) in the following site:


I hope you are having fun with "The Miller's Tale"! Don't forget to bring in your written assignment next class.

See you Friday. ;)

quinta-feira, 7 de abril de 2011

Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales", part 1

Dear students,

tomorrow we begin our readings of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (c. 1483).

Please take note of these useful sites, which may help you with class/home activities:

eChaucer site at: http://www.umm.maine.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer/index.html

The Canterbury Tales at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/webcore/murphy/canterbury/

Enjoy your readings! ;)

sexta-feira, 25 de março de 2011

Class 3 - Reading and Activities

Dear students:

Read the following dictionary entries from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries; how do they expose the historicity of concepts such as "literature" and "poetry"? After that, please do the following activities, in groups or in pairs, to be handed in next Friday (April 1).

Edmund Coote, The English School-master (1596)

Literature: learning.

Randle Cotgrave, A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611)

Literature: f. Literature, learning.

John Bullokar, An English Expositor (1616)

Literature. Learning: knowledge in bookes.

Henry Cockeram, English Dictionary (1623)

Literature. Learning.

Edward Phillips, The New World of English Words (1658)

Literature: (lat.) knowledge in letters, learning.

John Kersey the younger, English Dictionary (1702)

Literature: skill in Letters, or learning.

* * *

John Bullokar, An English Expositor (1616)

Poesie: The writing of a Poet; a Poets worke.

John Kersey the younger, English Dictionary (1702)

A Poet: one that writes or makes verses.

John Kersey the younger, English Dictionary (1702)

A Tragick Poet: one well skill'd in the writing of tragedies.

John Kersey the younger, English Dictionary (1702)

A Bard: or old British Poet.

John Kersey the younger, English Dictionary (1702)

A Poetess: or female poet.

John Kersey the younger, English Dictionary (1702)

A Rimer: versifier, or riming poet.

Source: http://leme.library.utoronto.ca/


1) In groups or in pairs, discuss the historicity of key concepts such as “literature”, “poetry”, “author”. Use Eliot’s, Koselleck’s and Eagleton's essays as a point of reflection, as well as the previous discussion we had last class.

2) Discuss and then give examples of the “coexistence”, such as Koselleck terms it, of "different eras" in the same historical “present”.

3) Considering that Shakespeare (as any other school-trained author of his time) had learned ancient Rhetoric and Poetics; had read Greek and Latin authors, such as Homer, Plutarch and Virgil; knew the Medieval epic and lyric poems not only of England, but also of France, answer the following questions:

a) How do you relate the case of Shakespeare with Eliot’s idea of “the conception of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written”?

b) How do you explain Eliot’s assertion that emotion “has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet”?

Any doubt, send me an email. Next class, we will discuss further Eagleton's introduction to Literary Theory. Enjoy your readings and activities. ;)

terça-feira, 22 de março de 2011

Literary Theory: an Introduction

Terry Eagleton, British literary critic and scholar (1943-)

Dear students,

for next class, I'd like you to read the text I gave you by Terry Eagleton, his introduction to A Literary Theory.

Please take notes on your reading and bring them in for class discussion.

Enjoy your readings! ;)

quarta-feira, 16 de março de 2011

Preface to "Futures Past"

German historian Reinhart Koselleck (1924-2006)

Hey guys,

Koselleck's preface to his book Futures Past: on the Semantics of Historical Time can be read in the English translation if you access the Amazon site:


Anyhow, I left a copy of this text in the Portuguese translation in my folder. This text will be discussed next Friday along with Eliot's "Tradition and Individual Talent". Don't forget to bring in your notes.

Enjoy your reading! ;)

Tradition and the Individual Talent

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Dear students,

as I said last class, T.S. Eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) is also available in the Internet; check out this site:


But I also left a printed copy of it in my folder; please don't forget to bring in your notes for class discussion next Friday.

Enjoy your readings. ;)

terça-feira, 15 de março de 2011

Why a blog?

Dear students,

now we have our Blog. Good news!

The purpose for keeping this blog is to facilitate communication and access to the texts we will be reading in class or for homework, and to keep you informed. Also, this is a space for you to leave your comments, to read literature in English, to enjoy the texts and the images you see here (I'll be posting paintings and pictures related to our class activities).

The name of the Blog is the title of one of my favorite poems by John Donne (1572-1631): "A Lecture upon the Shadow", published in London in 1633, two years after his death. I chose it as the name for the blog because I feel this image (of a lecture, or a teaching, about shadows) is very powerful, and makes us think about what a class on literature should be like. Are we just going to reproduce the old-fashioned ways of dealing with literature? Or are we going to be critical about what we read, about the decisions we make, the interpretations we construct, and so on? I'll definitely need your help and enthusiasm to make this class be as good, instructive and delightful as I intend it to be!

Please visit the sites I list here on the Blog; they will be very useful for you throughout the semester.

Enjoy your readings! ;)

"A Lecture upon the Shadow", by John Donne (1572-1631)

John Donne

STAND still, and I will read to thee
A lecture, Love, in Love's philosophy.
These three hours that we have spent,
Walking here, two shadows went
Along with us, which we ourselves produced.
But, now the sun is just above our head,
We do those shadows tread,
And to brave clearness all things are reduced.
So whilst our infant loves did grow,
Disguises did, and shadows, flow
From us and our cares ; but now 'tis not so.

That love hath not attain'd the highest degree,
Which is still diligent lest others see.

Except our loves at this noon stay,
We shall new shadows make the other way.
As the first were made to blind
Others, these which come behind
Will work upon ourselves, and blind our eyes.
If our loves faint, and westerwardly decline,
To me thou, falsely, thine
And I to thee mine actions shall disguise.
The morning shadows wear away,
But these grow longer all the day ;
But O ! love's day is short, if love decay.

Love is a growing, or full constant light,
And his first minute, after noon, is night.

Course Syllabus (to be updated...)

Introduction to Literature in English

Course Syllabus

Prof. Lavinia Silvares

Class days:

March – 11, 18, 25

April – 1, 8, 15, 29

May – 6, 13, 20, 27

June – 3, 10, 17

July – 1, 8 (?)

Total days: 16 (15 days of class + 1 day of assessment)


Prof. Lavinia Silvares



Teacher's room 21 (above the library staircase)

General plan:

Part I. Theory: Historical perspectives and the writing of literature

2 classes

Part II. Theory: The different genres of literary texts

2 classes

Part III. Reading: Literature 1 – Origins up to the 1700s

3 classes

Part IV. Reading: Literature 2 – Mid 18th century up to the 1850s

4 classes

Part V. Reading: Literature 3 – Mid 19th century up to contemporary literature in English

4 classes


1 class

Assessment method:

1 take-home individual assignment (40%)

1 in-class individual assignment (40%)

Weekly readings (20%)

General bibliography:

To be distributed in class and available at my folder

Additional information:

Study groups on Literature will be held every 15 days, on Fridays, from 6PM to 7PM

Student frequency requirement: 75%

Part I – Historical perspectives and the writing of literature

Class 1 (11/03). Introduction

  1. Notions of historical periods and literary movements: discussing the horizontal timeline as a system of representation.
  2. The historicity of "literature": the different genres and their functions; lyrical poetry; the epic; the satire; the essay; the novel; the short-story; drama etc.
  3. Perspectives on the construction of canon / pantheon / tradition
  4. The composition; the poet (poiétes); the reader: "O poeta é um fingidor. / Finge tão completamente / Que chega a fingir que é dor / A dor que deveras sente." (Fernando Pessoa, "Autopsicografia"). "the poet, like a painter or any other image-maker, is a mimetic artist" (Aristotle, Poetics, XXV)

Readings for next class:

Aristotle. Poetics, IX. London: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Koselleck, Reinhart. "Prefácio", in Futuro Passado: contribuição à semântica dos tempos históricos. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto / PUC-Rio, 2006, p. 13-18.

Eliot, T. S. "Tradition and individual talent", in Selected Essays (1917-1932). New York: Harcourt, 1932, p. 3-11.

Assignment: write a paragraph (main ideas) for each text you read; be sure to bring it to class for discussion.

Class 2 (18/03). Reading, interpreting, discussing

  1. Discussion of texts read for homework
  2. Aristotle's Poetics: notions of "mimesis" (P., I), "poiein" (P., I), "poietés" (P., I), "drama" (P., III), "universal" (P., IX)

"A Poet is as much to say as a maker. And our English name well conforms with the Greek word: for of poiyin to make, they call a maker Poeta." (George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, 1589, I: 1). "Poesie: an art not only of making, but also of imitation" (idem)

"Poetry is the expression of the imagination" (Shelley, A Defense of Poetry, 1821)

  1. "imitation" and "emulation": Cicero, Horace, Quintilian, Longinus
  2. The concepts of "author", "authorship", "authority"
  3. Rhetoric and Aesthetic
  4. Readings in class:
  1. Shakespeare: "Hold, hold, my heart; [...]" (in Hamlet, Act. I, Sc. v.), 1603
  2. Shelley: "To a Skylark" (in Prometheus Unbound), 1820

Readings for next class:

Burke, Peter. "Origins of Cultural History", in Varieties of Cultural History. UK: Cornell U. P., 1997, p. 1-22.

Chartier, Roger. "Mistério estético e materialidades da escrita", in Inscrever & apagar: cultura escrita e literatura. São Paulo: Ed. UNESP, 2007, p. 9-22.

Assignment: write a paragraph (main ideas) for each text you read; be sure to bring it to class for discussion.