Four Nations of British Poetry: 1848

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Four Nations of British Poetry: 1848-1939
Spring Term 2013
Matthew Campbell
By the end of the Great War, British and Irish Poets were writing in a state—the United
Kingdom—and in a language—English—that bore the marks of contemporary conflict and
the uncertainties of possible dissolution in the future. This module will look at the various
ways in which the poetry written about England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland approached the
question of imperial dominance and its end in conflict and political dissolution. It will begin
by looking at Victorian English poets writing narrative poetry about Englishness, Scotland
and Arthurian and Celtic myth: Arthur Hugh Clough (The Bothie of Tuober na-Vuolich)
Alfred Tennyson (Maud, Idylls of the King) and William Morris (‘The Defense of
Guinevere’). It will end with other long poems, by the Welsh poet David Jones (In
Parenthesis) and the Irish poet Louis MacNeice (Autumn Journal), looking back at the First
World War experience and towards an even more uncertain future. In between it will look at
shorter poems and lyric sequences from the UK concerned with political and religious belief
or language and identity while finding new poetic forms for changed places. Other poets
considered will include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A.E. Housman,
Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats and Hugh MacDiarmid.
Although historical contexts will be important, emphasis in seminars will be on reading these
poems with closeness and attention to the adjustments needed between world and word when
sharing public themes. If the poets often respond with private belief or personal anxiety, they
also respond in the aesthetic particularities of elegy, satire or even religious and love poetry.
The course will also look at the afterlife of these issues, and will consider the interest of
contemporary historical and literary studies with the post-Reformation four nations of the
Atlantic archipelago, with vernacular literatures and with world English.
This module aims
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To examine lyric and narrative poetry of the period from 1848 to 1939.
To encourage the close reading of poetry against the specific historical and
intellectual contexts of the end of Empire, colonialism, war and insurrection
To encourage new approaches to British literary history informed by a four-nations
conception of the United Kingdom
To give students the opportunity to research closely the context of a significant period
of British poetry.
To give students the opportunity to write a substantial piece of work about poetry in
historical contexts
By the end of the module students will be able
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To have read a variety of narrative and lyric poems from the period
To research independently into poetry and historical contexts
To write with confidence about poetry in history
Contact:– [email protected]
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