History of Poetic Forms

Ezra Pound summed up the process with poetic economy:

Your eyen two wol sleye me sodenly
I may the beauté of hem nat susteyne

And for 180 years almost nothing.

A prose translation signifies that between Chaucer’s “Merciless Beauty” (about 1370) and the first published poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt (about 1550), the English language underwent a prolonged and turbulent change. In verse, the form of language most sensitive to change, the storm has been raging ever since.

So we’re going to launch a satellite into time and track the course of the hurricane. With a nod at the beginning of the course to poetry written before 1550 and another nod at the end to poetry written after 1900, we’ll follow the storm century by century, from the passion of the Elizabethans to the desperate language games of Whitman and Hopkins.


  • and T. S. Eliot’s essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (download from my web page, jonathanmorse.net).

One five-page paper; two exams and final; many exercises in verse.