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EN273 Reeling and Writhing

This module is a Distributional Requirement for all Pathways.

Course convenor and tutor: Michael Hulse (room H544)

Office hours: Tues 13.00-14.00 and Thur 10.00-11.00 in H544


Seminars: Tuesday 11:00 - 1:00, Thursday 11:00 - 1:00


Course aims

This module, which is centred upon the experience of occidental cultures, aims to encourage an understanding that both the making and the reception of literary texts (and other artworks) are inseparable from deep cultural currents and trans-national responses to religion, myth and history. It hopes to deepen and intensity students' familiarity, critically but especially through practice, with one of the key aspects of all literary work: intertextual writing. Cultural and in particular literary production will be examined in relation to human strategies of myth-making. Students will become literate in the means by which mythologies are constructed, and will find ways of deploying their analytical skills in the making of new texts. The module is a writing module and aims primarily at generating and enhancing skills in the construction of texts. Inseparably from that, it aims also to reinforce skills in close reading, deconstruction of rhetorical strategies, and awareness of cultural and historical contexts and cross-national comparative dimensions. Students will be required to create intertextually-conceived writings in poetry and to make manifest the thinking behind their work.

It is in the nature of the material studied that some may potentially appear offensive to a modern sensibility.

The course is taught over terms 1 and 2. Our schedule looks like this:

Every week there will be both reading and writing assignments.

a) Term 1, weeks 1 to 5: Myths and histories of antiquity.

Exploration of some key non-Biblical historical and mythological narratives in the western tradition (from Ovid, Homer, Herodotus, etc.), together with poetry and visual images derived from these narratives. Workshops combine analysis of original texts and images with discussion of student work produced in response to the studied texts and the writings derived from them.

Week 1: Introductory

Week 2: For discussion: Homer, Iliad Book XVIII and W H Auden, ‘The Shield of Achilles’. Followed by workshop.

Week 3: For discussion: Ovid, from Metamorphoses, Book X, Rilke, ‘Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes’ and Ovid, from Metamorphoses, Book VIII, Swift, ‘Baucis and Philemon’. Followed by workshop.

Week 4: For discussion: Ovid, from Metamorphoses, Book X, Hughes, ‘Pygmalion’ (Shaw et al). Followed by workshop.

Week 5: For discussion: Herodotus, extracts on Polycrates, poem by Schiller; Herodotus, extract on Candaules and Gyges, poem by C H Sisson. Followed by workshop.

b) Term 1, weeks 7 to 10: The Great Code.

Examination of selected Biblical narratives together with poetry and visual images derived from these narratives. A typical workshop session will spend one hour examining texts and images and one hour discussing student texts produced in response to both the Biblical texts and the writings derived from them.

Week 7 For discussion: Genesis ch. 2-3, extracts from Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IX. Followed by workshop.

Week 8 For discussion: Daniel ch. 4-5, Byron ‘To Belshazzar’, Heine ‘Belsazar’. Followed by workshop.

Week 9 For discussion: Luke 15, 11-32, poem and prose extract by Rilke, painting by Rembrandt, sculpture by Rodin. Followed by workshop.

Week 10: For discussion: Matthew ch. 26-28 (Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 17-21), paintings by Brueghel, van der Weyden, Mantegna, sculpture by Michelangelo. Followed by workshop.

c) Term 2, weeks 1 to 5: Creating mythic images.

Examination of some key iconographies, using sources in the visual arts as well as texts. In workshops, analysis of texts and images is followed by discussion of student texts produced in response to these.

Week 1: For discussion: Prometheus, paintings by Rubens and Ribera, poems by Goethe, Byron and Gautier. Followed by workshop.

Week 2: For discussion: Leda and the Swan, paintings by Boucher, Correggio, Paul Matthias Padua, poem by W B Yeats. Followed by workshop.

Week 3: For discussion: The Annunciation (Matthew 1, 18-25; Luke 1, 26-38), paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Simone Martini, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (discussion of the iconography of the Virgin Mary). Followed by workshop.

Week 4: For discussion: Bluebeard, texts by Perrault and Angela Carter. Followed by workshop.

Week 5: For discussion: Dracula. Followed by workshop.

d) Term 2, weeks 7 to 10: Student choices.

Historical and mythological texts chosen by students on the module will be discussed. Workshops follow the model already described, combining scrutiny of texts and images with discussion of student texts.


If you'd like the timetable as a Word document, please click here


Key primary texts

The Bible (Authorized Version)

Herodotus, The Histories

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Homer, The Iliad, The Odyssey

Selected poems by

Anon, Arnold, Byron, Dryden, Gautier, Goethe, Hughes, Milton, Rilke, Sisson et al (examples used in seminars will typically include those noted above, section 10)

Visual images in reproduction by

Bellini, Bosch, Bruegel, Caravaggio, Ghiberti, Giotto, Leonardo, Simone Martini, Michelangelo, Raphael, van der Weyden, et al (examples used in seminars will typically include those noted above, section 10)

Key secondary texts

Roland Barthes, Mythologies

Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God

Northrop Frye, The Great Code

E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art

Robert Graves, The Greek Myths

Background bibliography

W H Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

Nicholas Boyle, Sacred and Secular Scriptures

Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture

Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation

James Fenton, The Strength of Poetry

Sigmund Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’ (1908), Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood’ (1910), ‘The Moses of Michelangelo’ (1914)

Helen Gardner, Religion and Literature

Brewster Ghiselin (ed.), The Creative Process

Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter?

Michael Hamburger, The Truth of Poetry

Anthony Hecht, On the Laws of the Poetic Art (especially chapter one)

W N Herbert/Matthew Hollis (eds.), Strong Words

Vladimir Mayakovsky, How are Verses made?

J D McClatchy (ed.), The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry

Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry

Ezra Pound, The ABC of Reading

Michael Schmidt, Reading Modern Poetry

Paul Valéry, The Art of Poetry

Edgar Wind, Art and Anarchy

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module you should have

1 acquired fluency in the writing of poetry conceived in interplay with existing primary texts,

2 developed an independent ability to identify texts that can usefully serve as source material for intertextual exploration,

3 demonstrated an ability to distinguish the means by which religious, heroic and historical mythologies are created, and

4 demonstrated an awareness of the complex intertextual relations of ancient religious, historical and mythological writing to later canonical literature from the Renaissance to the present.


100% Assessed: You will be required to submit both an original portfolio (300 to 500 lines of poetry, with a 1,000-word commentary) and a 4,000-word critical essay.

50/50: You will be required to submit both an original portfolio (150-200 lines of poetry, with a 1,000-word commentary) and a 2,500-word essay (50%) AND a 2-hour exam (50%).

Titles for assessed essay

Note: these are only suggestions, and I’d welcome it if you formulated your own title. MH

1 Compare a passage of Homer with a later re-telling and consider what aspects of the Homeric world benefit from being re-imagined by a later writer.

2 Compare any two versions of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, bearing in mind their relation to the original telling by Ovid and/or Virgil.

3 Discuss the contention that Herodotus has merely served later writers as a source of powerful stories.

4 How necessary is faith if a reader is fully to respond to re-tellings of Biblical narratives?

5 If it is true that the Crucifixion has proved more amenable to presentation by visual than by literary artists, examine the reasons why this might be so.

6 Discuss female passivity in presentations of Leda and the Virgin Mary.

7 Discuss the popularity of the myth of Prometheus in the modern era.

8 What gender issues would you expect to address, and how might you hope to resolve them, in writing a modern version of the story of either Pygmalion or Candaules and the Queen of Lydia or Leda and the swan?

9 To what extent can literary and/or visual artists be said to create iconographies?

10 If mythologies are socially constructed, can it still be possible for a single literary/visual artist to create a mythology?

Student feedback, spring 2015

The module as a whole
Brill! Fab! Super!
Everything is great.
My favourite module.
Best module I’ve ever taken.
Really interesting module. Great fun.
Excellent – by far my favourite module.
Nice atmosphere in the class. Lots of laughs.
It’s a really enigmatic but fascinating module.
Very well guided, and always very informative.
Interesting topics that were a pleasure to explore.
My favourite module because both highly intellectual and creative.
In my three years at uni, this was the most fun module I have done.
The most open module for feedback, class discussions, and good times!
Genuinely my favourite ever module across my entire degree, so much fun and I learnt loads!
My favourite module of the year, thoroughly enjoyable, and also a great help in improving and expanding my poetry.
Wonderful – the 50/50 balance of workshop and discussion works well, and the presentations are a nice way to segue into discussion.
For those seeking to understand themselves and the purpose/impact of poetry this module is perfect! This module has been one of the most fantastic experiences in my time at Warwick!
I would not have considered myself a poet before starting this module, but I have found every session exciting and interesting. That submitting a poem to be discussed is no longer painful is amazing in itself.
Don’t change this module at all.
Very constructive and helpful feedback.
Definitely feel I have progressed hugely in my poetry.
Poetry feedback extensive, encouraging, unpatronising and constructive.
The best and most detailed feedback I have had in my three years at the university.
Feedback is always very helpful and encouraging. It has really helped me gain a sense of the goals of my own writing and books I need to read.
The tutor
Great knowledge of subject and sense of humour.
Kindness and truthful criticism perfectly balanced.
Enthusiastic, helpful and always open to discussion.
Encourages a real sense of community in the seminar.
Took students’ work and suggestions in the most positive way.
Encouraged people to speak, gave very good feedback on poems.
Michael is the best teacher I have had during my time at Warwick.
Very knowledgeable and good at keeping an amiable atmosphere in seminars.
Interesting and fun seminar tone, encourages independent reading and research.
Widened my understanding of the topic, lots of reading suggestions, wonderful stories!
Michael has such a vast wealth of knowledge and makes every seminar thoroughly enjoyable.
He is incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable and very encouraging about the creative work.
Fostered an appreciation of poetry, its value in culture, and aided one in formulating and appreciating a personal voice.
Michael encourages interest effortlessly. I’ve gone from not being able to write poetry to churning out pantoums left, right and centre.
I’m not sure any academic can quite justify the £30k debt I’m now in – but you definitely come closest!
Special prize for tutor’s favourite feedback
No bullshit from Michael.
Special prize for wittiest feedback
Thanks so much, Michael.
You’re an amazing teacher.
Look – I write haikus!

Student feedback, spring 2014

Absolutely brilliant.
My favourite module!
Enjoyed all the texts!
Absolutely lovely module.
This has been an exhilarating and creative module.
I really enjoyed this module, it was my favourite seminar.
This is my favourite module, it has resparked my interest in poetry, and Michael is a fantastic tutor.
My favourite module of the year, most thought-provoking seminar yet.
I feel I’ve learnt the most on this module this year.
I cannot praise these seminars enough. The module is wonderfully constructed. The seminars are engaging and informative. The group have produced incredible pieces of writing. Fantastic!
These have been some of the most interesting seminars I have attended for my degree – always engaging, stimulating and enjoyable!
The content is what I have always been interested in and having a tutor like Michael has made it even more interesting. I have rebuilt the confidence to write poetry.
The discussion is well-guided and the tutor knows everything about everything. I have never been bored.
I loved the combination of visual arts and other aspects of culture. Overall I’ve gained so much historical and artistic knowledge that can be applied to so many aspects of literature!
This module is refreshing – it encourages students to explore their own interests and strengths, to learn to be self-critical and to explore texts from a broad spectrum of time periods.
The texts we’ve studied have been so interesting that they’ve actually inspired some of my best poetry.
Michael is inspiring and always brings so much knowledge and energy to every topic that he may be omniscient / a genius.
Feedback was incredibly helpful, safer environment than Practice of Poetry.
Extremely supportive and conducive learning environment for students who want to do poetry.
[The tutor was] knowledgeable about seemingly everything but still always interested in what everyone else has to say – truly encouraging & inspiring teacher – feel utterly privileged to have been student. Learnt so much and gained interest in so many new things.
[The tutor] created a very supportive peer group and fostered everyone’s talents, extremely apt at filling in spaces of knowledge for class.
I cannot express how fantastic Michael has been as a tutor.
Fascinating discussions, and really helpful feedback on poetry.
Brilliant module, Michael is so knowledgeable about everything!
Everything is great!
Everything was brilliant.