The Senses, the Soul, and Poetic Consciousness
Professor Mary Helen McMurran
By the Romantic era, the subject of poetry is the poet’s own soul-- its own exquisite sensations, its visions, its “emotions recollected in tranquility,” as Wordsworth put it. Yet, the modern idea of a self-conscious, sensate, and thinking being began much earlier, as did its poetic expressions. In this course we will trace the development poetic self-consciousness from the middle of the seventeenth century to the early Romantics. Instead of the familiar literary and cultural history of the self and its agency, or the self and sensibility, we will track consciousness as, on the one hand, an imaginative retreat from the world into the mind, and, alternately, as co-extensive with sensory experience. Not coincidentally, nature poetry and its thematization of heightened sensory attention are crucial to this history.
We will study a range of poets from Anne Finch, to Alexander Pope, James Thomson, and William Cowper, with an emphasis on overlooked lyric forms: ode, hymn, and reverie. The course will end with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats. The poetry will be studied along with brief selections from philosophical debates about the relation of body, mind, and soul (Locke, Leibniz and others) many of the texts are paired with a scholarly essay or book chapter (J. Culler, A. Richardson and others.