Spring 2024

Small Wonders: Close Rereadings

Prereq: none
Units: 2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit

(First Half Term – Ends March 22)
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly
stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21,
I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
— Mark Twain

We all have our landmarks, our favorite poems (and our resistances). They are often not the same choices when we are 15, 20, or 40. So what changes when they change? In this “Samplings” half-semester subject, we’ll look at what happens when we individual readers reread poems—and also, more generally, how a poem can change, in a society—so that the work the artwork does (or the intervention it makes, or the influence or ideas it represents) can change as well. Sometimes such changes significantly alter what the poem “means” or what the poem (or the poet) signifies to the society.

Poets we will read might include Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Emma Lazarus, T. S. Eliot, Dr. Seuss [Theodor Geisel], L. Frank Baum, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Marilyn Chin… and of course poems suggested by the experience of class members. We’ll also look, tangentially, at related questions: how a literary canon changes over time; how a shift in mode [from prose-fiction to film for instance] reframes the original; how translation is a “rereading” and an alteration, in the service of “repetition”; how a poem adapts when it appears alone, or in a collection, or in an anthology. Our method is as close to close-reading as we can come, while keeping this set of questions as our lens. [Pre-1900]