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EN333 Poetry and Emotion

Professor Emma Mason

NOT RUNNING 2019–2020


This module explores the idea and expression of emotion in poetry and poetics from 1780 to the present. It is framed by two debates current in literary criticism.

The first is the status of 'lyric' poetry: is lyric a quality, category, or aesthetic ideal of poetry? How do poets translate everyday experience into the lyric? What are the material conditions that shape the lyric from William Wordsworth's reading of poetry as feeling to Jennifer Moxley's definition of the 'poet's emotional signature'?

The module's second frame is the 'affective turn', a phrase used in literary criticism, philosophy, history, geography and cultural studies to describe a renewed interest in how affect and emotion help us understand experience, being and society. The module explores the ambivalent relationship between literary criticism and affect: are sentiment and emotion key to reading, or do they threaten to eclipse the discipline and rigour of literary critical thinking?

'I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.' - William Wordsworth, 1802 ‘Preface’ to the Lyrical Ballads

'The poet’s emotional signature is retained in the poem. Aristotle, in his bipartite model of the soul, places the emotions under the obedient, illogical part, reason with command and logic. Yet both parts are cognitive and partake in the logos. Thought is the efficient cause of emotion. This is why a poem’s intelligence is more moving than its heart.' - Jennifer Moxley, 'Fragments of a Broken Poetics' (2010)