the Day—The Carpe Diem Poets of the Seventeenth Century, and How They
Got That Way
Dr. Michael Bryson
Sierra Tower 832
The theme of love as resistance to authority that we see in Western
literature from Ovid through Shakespeare is both transformed and
amplified in the lyric poetry of such seventeenth-century figures as
John Donne, Robert Herrick, Ben Jonson, and Andrew Marvell. In work
that seems filled with a sense of the fragility and shortness of life,
these writers, each in his or her own way, contribute to an ethos that
has come to be known by the name carpe diem, a phrase that
comes from the Latin poet Horace, who in Ode, I. xi, tells his
mistress Leuconoe that life is short, so they must "seize the day,"
for they do not know if there will be a tomorrow. Horace’s line—carpe
diem quam nimium credula postero: Seize the day, trusting as
little in the next as possible—tells Leuconoe, and all who have
followed since, to live now, and love now, because each second of
scruple, doubt, and delay brings men and women closer to a death that
is non-negotiable, non-delayable, and everlasting. In poetry, and in
life, the idea of death becomes love’s greatest ally in its battle
against the demands of authority, convention, and law. The time to
love is now, this poetry seems to say, because there is plenty of time
to be obedient after death.
This course will introduce you to the
diem poets and the literary history that shaped the traditions
within which they worked and the attitudes against which they
rebelled. This course will also devote some of its focus to
discussions of criticism—particularly the kind of criticism that tries
to allegorize away, or otherwise argue away the significance of love
in poetry from the Song of Songs, through Ovid, Shakespeare, and the
carpe diem poets. The argument is that there is a long
tradition of literary criticism that insists that poems about X (in
this case, human love) are actually about Y (whatever the particular
concern or commitment of the critic is), and that such criticism is
and has been an impediment, not an aid, to understanding.
Each student will do two assignments.
1) A midterm
1500-1750 (5-6 pages) words focusing on some aspect of
love poetry and its critics from the Song of Solomon through the
Italian poets, due
at the beginning of class on 4/5 .
3) A final paper of 2500-3000 words (8-10 pages), topic open, due by 11:59:59 PM
Friday of finals week (research done for
presentations may, of course, be included in this paper). This
final paper must be submitted via email.
Statement on Academic Dishonesty:
Plagiarism is a serious offense that
will be treated seriously. Please read the CSUN policy
1 (1/26): Introductions. The Idea of Carpe Diem; Love
Poetry and its Critics.
Week 2 (2/2):
Origins and Origen
Rabbi named Akiba)
Reading: 1) The Song of Solomon (any printed English Bible, or
3 (2/9): Ovid, Love as a Game, and Critics with No Sense of
Selections from Ovid
2) Critics and their Discontents,
4 (2/16): Love Poetry in the Post-Latin World: Two Anglo-Saxon
Elegies, and the Troubadours, part 1.
2) Criticism: Miriam Muth
3) Troubadour Poetry, ed. Paden,
Troubadour Poems from the
South of France, pp. 24-31, 52-57.
The Troubadours, part 2.
1) Troubadour Poems from the South of France, pp. 70-81,
2) Female Poets, a Different Perspective
3) Critics and their Discontents, part 2
6 (3/1): Love Goes to Heaven: Early Italian Poets
A sample of
Italian Poets from Lentino to Dante
La Vita Nuova from
Love Goes to Heaven, part 2: Petrarch
1) Canzoniere # 3, 11, 12, 13, 36, 90, 106, 121, 133, 183, 364
from Petrarch Canzoniere,
ed. Mark Musa.
Week 8 (3/15): Sixteenth-Century Poetry: Love Slowly Returns to
A Sample of non-English poetry of the Sixteenth
2) Selections from Wyatt, Howard, and Sidney, from The
New Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse.
3/22--Off, Spring Break
3/29--Off, Instructor Trip
Week 9 (4/5): Shakespeare
1) Selections from Shakespeare, from
The New Oxford
Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse.
Week 10 (4/12): Donne
1) Selections from
William Empson – "Donne the Space Man" (from
Seventeenth-Century British Poetry)
Week 11 (4/19): Herrick
1) Selections from
2) Criticism: Sarah Gilead
Week 12 (4/26) Ben
Selections from Seventeenth-Century British Poetry
Week 13 (5/3):
1) Selections from Seventeenth-Century British
Week 14 (5/10): Conclusions
and Choices: Milton's Adam
Paradise Lost 9.886-959
2) Criticism: C.S. Lewis, Irene Samuel,