Tag Archives: poetry

Literary Art

“Literary Art: Art with its subject matter drawn from a text; illustration. Literary art is generally thought to be aesthetically superior to narrative art. Many romantic painters, e.g., Eugene Delacroix and William Blake, worked in the literary tradition”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Cultural Literacy: For Want of a Nail the Kingdom Was Lost

Here is a Cultural Literacy Worksheet on the proverb For Want of a Nail the Kingdom Was Lost. It’s a half-page document with a short reading and three questions.

Because this is a classic proverb that originates in a Middle High German form as early as the 13th century, and has been a constant across the centuries. In its entirety, which is only seven lines, it’s a nice little chain of cause and effect. I think there is a lesson in all this about the consequences of omission and neglect.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: A historical study (1971) by Dee Brown (1908-2002) of the conquest of the American West and the destruction of the Native American tribes. The title comes from the last verse of a poem ‘American Names’ (1927), by Stephen Vincent Benet (1898-1943):

‘I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.

I shall not lie easy in Winchelsea.

You may bury my body in Sussex grass.

You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.

I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.’

Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, was the site of a massacre of Teton-Sioux by US forces on 29 December 1890, in which at least 150 Native Americans and 25 US soldiers were killed. It marked the final suppression of Native American resistance. In the Wounded Knee protest of 1973, two years after the publication of Brown’s book, some 200 armed members of the American Indian Movement occupied the symbolic site. The occupation ended after a 70-day siege, but helped to focus international attention on the US government’s treatment of Native Americans.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Rotten Reviews: Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel

 Rotten Reviews: Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel

 “…almost pure gingerbread. It has bite, a certain flavor, but it turns into a gluey mess when chewed.”

 San Francisco Examiner

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.    

Rotten Reviews: What the Light Was Like

Rotten Reviews: What the Light Was Like

“…it would be better for Amy Clampitt if, at least for a while, she tucked her notes from Poetry 101 away in a trunk.”


Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Book of Answers: Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Upon the publication of Leaves of Grass, who wrote to Walt Whitman, ‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1850. The complete salutation is: ‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start.’ Whitman was thirty-six at the time of the book’s publication.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

“The Road Not Taken”

Here is a reading on Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” accompanied by its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. This is a rare two-page reading in the series of materials I have prepared using texts from The Intellectual Devotional series; it includes a full typescript of the text of the poem as well as a surprisingly thorough exegesis of the poem itself.

I only wrote this recently, but I did so because in the years that I worked in New York City, especially in the South Bronx, a number of paraeducators with whom I worked were students at Hostos Community College on 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, one of the Bronx’s great intersections. “The Road Not Taken” was at the time and may still be a staple of one or more of the American literature courses at the school. As this reading points out, this is a difficult poem to interpret; Frost himself said so (his remark is one of the “additional questions” on the reading and worksheet), calling the poem “tricky.” Even The Paris Review weighed in on the subject of “The Road Not Taken,” calling it “The Most Misread Poem in America.”

So, for students everywhere wrestling with these verses, this post may be useful to you.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Edgar Allan Poe

Here is a reading on Edgar Allan Poe along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. I believe he is taught at the secondary level. This is a good introduction to Poe’s biography and his bibliography.

Have you read Poe, beyond hearing James Earl Jones read “The Raven” on The Simpsons first “Treehouse of Horror” episode? I confess my own reading of Poe doesn’t extend very far beyond that. He is a very influential figure in the history of American letters. His first editions are some of the most sought after in the antiquarian book trade; his very first book, Tamerlane, which doesn’t even bear his name (the author is given as “A Bostonian) is a high spot in book collecting–it is known as the “black tulip” of American literature. The last copy that came up at auction sold for $662,000. His influence abroad may be even more pronounced, especially in France.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Chinese Poetic Forms

“Chinese Poetic Forms: The two most important forms of Chinese are the shih (poem) and the tz’u (lyric). The shih form was first used in the Book of Songs. These songs are of varied length; the lines are usually four characters long, and are marked by the use of end rhyme, most often at the end of the even-number lines.

Around the first century AD, the four-character line was replaced by the five- and seven-character line. The T’ang dynasty (618-907) saw the development of regulated verse or lu-shih, which were shih poems that used lines of five or seven characters, were eight lines in length, made use of a single rhyme throughout, and required strict verbal and tonal parallelism. The great T’ang poet Tu Fu was a master of this particular style.

The t’zu or lyric form also began to gain popularity in the T’ang dynasty, although its heyday was during the Five Dynasties (907-960) and Sung (960-1289). Originally written to musical tunes from Central Asia, the tz’u is essentially a song form with prescribed rhyme and and tonal sequences (“tunes”) and lines of differing length. Although, by the Sung Dynasty most tz’u were not written to be sung, poets retained the tune title to indicate the metrical pattern they were using. One of the most famous tz’u writers was the woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao.

Other poetic forms include the ballad (yueh-fu) and the prose form (fu). The ballads tend to use the five- or seven-character line, but are much more flexible about total length of the poem and prosody and meter. Traditionally, this form has been used to describe the hardships and sufferings of ordinary people, or to express direct or indirect criticism of the government. A common subject of the yueh fu is the abandoned woman who languishes away while her husband is away fighting on the frontier. These can be read as love poems, as criticism of a government policy that sends men away from the fields to fight a distant enemy, or the complaint of a neglected official who feels “abandoned” by his ruler.

Fu is translated variously as ‘prose-poetry,’ ‘rhyme-prose,’ ‘verse-essay,’ or ‘rhapsody’; however, because of its strong rhythmic and metrical qualities, it is generally considered to be closer to poetry than prose. The golden age of the fu was the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Writers of fu, such as Ssu-Mar Hsiang-ju (179-117 BC), were usually officials patronized and favored by the court. They were in many cases lexicographers, a fact reflected in their long (the longest is 10,000 lines), elaborate, almost encyclopedic rhymed descriptions of the splendor of the cities, gardens, and palaces of the Han dynasty. Fu continued to be written even after the Han, many of them taking on a more philosophical tone.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Chinese Literature

“Chinese Literature: The earliest examples of Chinese writing are found etched on bone of cast in Bronze and are over three thousand years old. These short inscriptions, used in divination or in commemoration of important events, demonstrate the unique qualities of the Chinese language and writing system even at this early date. The ancient symbols, which grew out of pictures and visual metaphors, are independent of the sound of the word they represent and are in most cases the same as in modern Chinese once allowances are made for certain changes in their shape. These old inscriptions, however, are of more interest as examples of paleography than as literature.

The first anthology of Chinese poetry, the Book of Songs (Shih ching, 8th to 6th centuries BC), appeared during the Chou dynasty (1027-BC-256 BC). Another anthology, the Songs of Ch’u (Ch’u’tz’u. 4th to 3rd century BC), originated on the southern edges of the Chinese cultural area; its impassioned tone contrasts sharply with the restraint of the earlier Songs and has had an abiding influence on later writing. Two features of this and all Chinese verse are the use of rhyme and a metrical system based on syllable count. The latter half of the Chou dynasty was a period of social change and military conflict, an uncertain environment that seems to have stimulated a great period of philosophical thought. Confucius and Mencius (372-289 BC) stressed a conservative political and moral theory whose ethical and didactic views dominated literary thinking until modern times. The Taoists Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, with their skepticism about government and their concept of the relativism of moral values, seem to contradict the Confucian vision. In the manner of Chinese eclecticism, though, these views came to be seen as complementary aspects of a whole philosophy of living. The Ch’in dynasty (221 BC-206 BC) unified China and attempted to suppress all philosophies except that of the Legalist School, but the brief rule of the dynast allowed many destroyed texts to be reconstructed. During the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) the writing of history became one of the principal responsibilities of government. Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s (145? BC-90? BC) monumental history, the Records of the Historian (Shih chi), not only set the pattern for subsequent official histories but also established many of the conventions used by later writers of fiction. After the Han dynasty, the period of interregnum known as the Six Dynasties (222-589) was another time of constant warfare and great historical changes, of the spread and domestication of Buddhism and of literary theorizing and criticism, which began to show some independence from Confucian ideas.

By the time of the T’ang dynasty (618-907) the new surge of cultural and political accomplishments had been well prepared by the previous age. The T’ang was the golden age of poetry, with such figures as Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, and Po Chu-i. It is also the era in which the writing of fiction became well established. Ch’an Buddhism, a native Chinese sect with many concepts similar to Taoism, had great influence on literature. After the persecutions of 845, however, the Buddhist faith never again played an important role in politics. Poetry reached its peak during the T’ang, and, although poets continued to write in the old forms, creative energy flowed mostly to the new musical genres of the Sung (960-1280) and Yuan dynasties (1280-1368). There are some examples of fiction and dramatic entertainment which date to the T’ang, but the real growth of these forms followed the establishment of large urban centers and the spread of literacy to the merchant classes of the Sung and Yuan periods. The purely written literary language of the scholar-official class was not suitable for these new types of writing. Instead, the spoken colloquial language of the times became the medium for stories, novels, and plays. This literature was read by all levels of society but never had the sanction of Confucian orthodoxy. Colloquial fiction was thus not a completely respectable field of activity or study until the 20th century. Still, many great novels were written, among the most famous being Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, The Plum in the Golden Vase, and Dream of the Red Chamber. The Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1911) also saw great activity in literary and philological scholarship and in the making of encyclopedias and compendia of all sorts. Since the literary revolution of the early 1920s, there has been considerable ferment and controversy in literature. Writers turned their back on tradition and set out to create a new literature based on Western modes and on the use of the spoken vernacular. The short story and essay are of particularly high quality. The names of Lu Hsun, Pa Chin, and Lao She, Mao Tun and Ting Ling acquired some renown in the Western world. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, literature was harnessed in the service of the Communist Party, and became heavily moralistic and didactic. Following the cataclysmic events of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese writers such as Chang Hsien-Liang turned inwards in search of a subjectivity and sense of self, exploring the often painful issues that had so long been denied.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.