Notes on readings for 1/28

In the readings from January 28, three poems should receive special emphasis.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 129 (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame”)

For notes on this dense poem, please consult the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the sonnets. Whenever I put a Shakespeare Sonnet in a handout, the sonnet number (printed in blue on the screen) is a hyperlink to the page of notes in this edition.

George Herbert, “Prayer” (1)

As with Donne’s “Valediction: forbidding Mourning,” I’m giving this to you in its seventeenth-century spelling. A modern-spelling version is here:

Prayer” (I), ed. N.J. Endicott, in Representative Poetry Online (University of Toronto, n.d.).

The number “(1)” is not part of Herbert’s (or his printer’s) title; in modern texts it distinguishes it from the other poem titled “Prayer” in Herbert’s book The Temple.

The PDF on Sakai includes dictionary links for some words that may be hard to guess the meanings of. In addition:

Christ-side-piercing spear (6)

during the Crucifixion, according to the Gospel of John, a Roman soldier stabbed Jesus with a spear; John 19:34 q.v. Cf. Wikipedia s.v. “Holy Lance”.

The six-daies-world (7)

in the Book of Genesis, God is said to have taken six days to make the world.

in ordinarie (11)

likely in the sense given in OED, 3rd. ed., s.v. “ordinary,” n., P2: “in an official capacity.”

Stevens, “The Snow Man”

A good poem for a pandemic winter.

Notes on Jan. 25 readings

In the readings from January 25, three poems should receive special emphasis. Here are a few further aids to comprehension:

Donne, “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning”

I judged it useful to present this poem to you in a form similar to its first printing. The spelling is Early Modern rather than modern, and that reminds us that Donne’s English was rather different from ours, and his world was really different. However, if the spelling is getting in the way, please refer to the modern-spelling version here:

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” ed. N.J. Endicott, in Representative Poetry Online (University of Toronto, n.d.) .

That version has some extra explanatory notes, though many things will still be hard or impossible to explain. Explanation may in some cases be beside the point here (re-read line 18, and think why). Still:

trepidation of the spheares (11)

an idea from Ptolemaic (geocentric) astronomy, which was the dominant system from the Middle Ages, still taken seriously in Donne’s time. If the poem is from around 1611, it is almost exactly contemporary with Galileo’s 1610 publication of the results of his telescopic investigations (on this see Wikipedia). The Copernican revolution was well underway already. Donne plays with both geocentric and heliocentric cosmologies in his poems.

Dull sublunary lovers love / (whose soule is sense) (13–14)

obscure, but I think it means that earthly lovers’ souls are dominated or constituted by the senses, as opposed to the more “refin’d” faculties Donne attributes to “us.”

twin compasses (26)

the instrument for drawing circles.

Pound, “In a station of the metro”

the metro

the Paris metro, opened 1900.

Armantrout, “Will”

There’s a nice short profile of Armantrout on the Poetry Foundation (which also has a number of her other poems).

the past / perfect (15–16)

in grammar, the “past perfect” refers to constructions like “she had gone” or “I had eaten.”