Monday, May 10, 2010


One of the major challenges of Major English Writings I is linguistic. In this course you will be exposed to varieties and complexities of our English language beyond what you are likely to have encountered. It will not be easy for you to struggle with the Middle English of Geoffrey Chaucer, the “Father of English poetry,” but in three weeks, with the help of our well-annotated Norton anthology—if you apply yourself—you’ll break through to the delight of Chaucerian wit and insight.

Likewise, the antique and oblique language of Spenser’s epic Faerie Queene will puzzle first, then gradually enchant you, once you submit to its captivating complexities.

John Donne’s paradoxical wit, dense with metaphors and metaphysical curiosities, may strain your brain initially, but will in time reveal a clarity discovered by your attentive and patient inspection as you anatomize his intricate imagination.

Christopher Marlowe’s “mighty lines” of dramatic iambic pentameters, which elevate the intellect of the aspiring Doctor Faustus, beg to be read aloud, and doing so will fill your mouth with eloquence such as you have never yet uttered.

Francis Bacon’s essays on sundry subjects, from envy to revenge, demonstrate a breadth of curiosity and intellect, as well as a compact intricacy of prose syntax that will stretch and flex the synapses of your neo-cortex.

Finally, John Milton’s magnificent Paradise Lost will sweep you from street talk into a cathedral of epic language resonating like a pipe organ bellowing Bach.

How much of all this linguistic prowess will rub off on your own writing may not be known for years to come. But to the extent that your neural pathways have been exercised by accommodating to novel, intricate, and nuanced modes of speech, such facility lies more within your reach.