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Spring 2010 Eng 399 Paper 1

Page history last edited by Dean McCombs 14 years, 4 months ago

Paper 1

4-5 pages

Due: 11 February

 

Prompt

Given the exigencies of time this semester, we did not have time to discuss Emily Dickinson’s poems, 225 [I’m ‘wife’ – I’ve finished that] and 236 [Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –]. This assignment asks you to write a 4-5-page paper on one (and only one) of these poems.

 

Details

This assignment asks you to do a “close reading” of a poem. As you’ll remember from what I’ve said in class, a close reading is generated by looking at the fine details of a poem, story, or novel and using them to build an understanding or an interpretation of some aspect of the work. In the case of this paper, I am asking you to close-read Dickinson’s poems and use these details to create an argument about the poem. In other words, I’m asking you to engage in answering the two key questions of literary studies, “what?” and “how?”

 

As you’ll remember from our first day of class, I suggested that when we make an argument about literature, we are in many ways saying what the text “means.” It has to be an argument in the sense that you cannot simply summarize the text for the reader. Instead, an argument is something that a reasonable thinking person could disagree with. And your job is to show this person that your viewpoint is correct, using the small details (the “how”) of the poem. In some ways, you might think of what you are doing is helping someone who is only a first-time reader of the poem see something unexpected that you have only come to see following careful study of the poem.

 

What you are to do in this assignment, then, is to make your argument by using the language of the poem. You need to show me the evidence of the claims you are making through the words that Dickinson uses in the poem and how she uses them. Think about not only the denotation but also the connotation of what these words mean. (The online Oxford English Dictionary can be very helpful in thinking through both of these.) But don’t stop at the words alone (see appendix). Anything that is in the poem is and should be fair game for you to make your argument.

 

The way that you show that you are using the language of the poem to make your argument is to use direct quotations from the poem. And then to analyze them. A rough rule says that for every line of poetry that you have from the poem you should have a minimum of two lines of your writing that analyzes that passage. If you quote three lines of the poem, then, you should have at least six lines of commentary. If you are not using direct quotations from the poem, you will be unable to make an effective argument.

 

A good scholar is always careful to show where his or her evidence comes from. As a better-than-good scholar, you will obviously do the same. As you use quotations in your work, you must appropriately cite the lines of the poem you are quoting by placing the line numbers within parentheses at the end of the sentence, but before the period. This is frequently called MLA style.

 

For this assignment, you do not need external sources. For one thing, the assignment is short and you cannot effectively do a thorough reading and integrate research in the allotted pages.

 

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