First assignment

Due: Jan. 31 Feb. 2 at the beginning of class.

Write a focused paper of 3-4 pages on one of the following two questions:

1. Much art is self-reflexive, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly. Choose one of the following poems and discuss how it engages with larger issues about art. Be sure to consider textual elements, not just philosophical ones: William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130*; Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”; or John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

2.  If you have been reading much news or political commentary lately, you may have noticed various commentators quoting from W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” As E.J. Dionne Jr. recently wrote in The Washington Post:

W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” written in 1919, is my nominee for the most cited poem in political commentary. The line invoked most — “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” — is irresistible…. The other oft-quoted verse comes four lines earlier, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
(E.J. Dionne Jr. “When Yeats comes knocking.” The Washington Post [August 16, 2015].)

Why does Yeats’ poem still have such power almost a century after it was written, to the extent that journalists and commentators, not usually concerned with literature, freely and confidently quote it in political contexts? Be sure that your answer considers the textual characteristics and qualities of the poem.


*not Sonnet 18, as originally written. Though Sonnet 18 could work as well and if you have already written on it, that’s fine too.


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