ENGL 131
All About Sonnets
Last Offered Fall 2023
Division I Writing Skills
This course is not offered in the current catalog

Class Details

Fourteen lines in a fixed pattern. When Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet to England in the 1500s with his translations of Petrarch, the form quickly became entrenched in English, and has been in regular use ever since. Originally penned as expressions of idealized love, sonnets soon expanded to address other kinds of emotionally intense relationships–to God, Nature, art, a particular place, the State, oppressors–while still, obsessively, returning to love in all its myriad forms. This makes the sonnet, deeply personal though it is, also a kind of pocket-sized literary tradition, as each new generation of poets extends, disrupts, and comments upon the whole history of sonnets. “A sonnet is a moment’s monument,” wrote D.G. Rossetti (in, of course, a sonnet)–speaking of the sonnet’s tendency to offer just a snapshot of the poet’s mental and emotional state–but the tradition of producing numbered sequences of sonnets can also string those moments into a kind of narrative. Similarly, while the sonnet is founded in strong feeling, it is also obsessed with logic, delighting in logical argumentation, contradictions and paradoxes. This course will focus on a broad range of sonnets, historically, geographically and thematically, as well as criticism and theory relating to sonnets. Studying sonnets that are variously inspiring, devastating, and lol funny, we will become Sonnet Experts, while developing broadly useful skills in careful reading, concise writing and sound argumentation. Poets will include Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Elizabeth Barret Browning, DG and Christina Rossetti, Claude McKay, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Berryman, Seamus Heaney, Vikram Seth, and many, many more. No prior experience with poetry is presumed.
The Class: Format: tutorial; first week in regular class meetings, followed by weekly tutorial meetings in pairs
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 1988
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: five tutorial essays 3-5 pages; five responses to partners tutorial essays; 10 sonnet paraphrases and/or "prose sonnets;" thoughtful participation in tutorial meetings
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: first-year students
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
WS Notes: Bi-weekly short analytic papers (1000 words) which will be critiqued in tutorial meetings and revised as needed. Bi-weekly critique of partner's paper. Regular sonnet paraphrases and or "prose sonnets" that will be critiqued for linguistic precision and succinctness.

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