ENG201Y (L5101, Prof. Percy): Essay #1


Due:             Wednesday, November 13th, 2002, at 6:10 p.m.

Length:         4-5 typed pages (1000-1250 words)

Handing in:    If not to me in class, then to the porter at Wetmore Hall, New College. It is your responsibility to get it date-stamped!

Weight:         Worth 12.5% of final mark.

Late penalty: 2% per working day (Monday through Friday inclusive), to a maximum of 2 weeks/20%. Not accepted thereafter without medical/registrar-supported documentation.

Topics:         As I think of them, I will add specific essay topics to the course home page. It’s your responsibility to check out the list on




General instructions


As with the directed responses, this assignment will encourage you to support an argument

(a)   drawn from a comparison of two poems

(b)   principally with points about the form of the poems.



(a)   I have provided a few broad suggestions below: you (and the Writing Centre?) should refine these broad suggestions into a specific, coherent thesis.

(b)   As I think of them, I will add topics to the version of this page on the course home page.

(c)   If there is a topic that you would like to write on, you must get my written permission by November 6th! A specific, coherent working thesis and a list of form-related supporting points will be particularly persuasive.


Supporting points?

Although you should support your argument with the most persuasive points (which might not relate to the poems’ form), those points should, as much as possible, relate to:

(a)              the poet’s choice of form (i.e. what assumptions does a listener/reader bring to a ballad? to a sonnet? etc.)

(b)             the organization of content between stanzas or within a stanza;

(c)             the organizational effect of repeated sounds or words at the beginning or ends of units.


Primary and secondary sources?

(a)              Your essay must have a bibliography that gives an accurate, full, conventionally-formatted reference to the source(s) of the poems that you have used: i.e. to the Norton Anthology.

(b)              You do not have to use secondary sources for this assignment.

(c)             If you do use secondary literature, you must use a range of relevant articles and books (8-10) and must cite them fully and accurately and conventionally.


Your essay should “read” like an essay: although you will be thinking about “form”, your topic sentences should be focussed on content, and should connect logically with the topic sentences in adjacent paragraphs. Your argument should unfold, step by step, with each paragraph.


The subjects I’ve provided are very broad and you will need to work hard to come up with a specific, coherent, provocative thesis! Why not get some help? I am a fan of College Writing Centres and urge you all to work with the tutors at your college writing center.


Some subjects for essay #1


I would like you to write about two poems and about a topic that engages you. I actively encourage you to formulate a topic of your own that draws a thesis from two comparable poems. Think about the poems that you have most enjoyed and have been most intellectually and emotionally engaged by; I’ll be happy to help you come up with something. Just remember to get my written permission.


You will have to refine these subjects into a specific, coherent, provocative thesis about the two poems that you have chosen.


1.      What does the portrayal of the natural world reveal about the human figure(s) in it? You might consider:

“Fowles in the frith” and Surrey’s “The Soote Season”.


2.      Identify and interpret the differences between versions of the “same” poem:

The two versions of “Mary Hamilton”.

Surrey’s “Love that doth reign...” and Wyatt’s “The long love...”

“The Corpus Christi Carol” and “The Three Ravens”


3.      How does the repetition of a refrain contribute to the portrayal of time in

Spenser’s “Prothalamion” and Wyatt’s “My lute awake!” ?


4.      What thematic purposes are served by the itemization of women’s body parts or other attributes (eyes, voice, breath)? Consider two of

d’Orleans, “The Smiling Mouth”, Spenser, “Sonnet 15”, Drayton, “A Roundelay between two shepherds”, Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130”, Donne’s “Elegy XIX. To his mistress going to bed”.


5.      What thematic functions are served by the apparent interference with Time in

Drayton, “A Roundelay between two shepherds” and Spenser, “Prothalamion” ?


6.      A number of the poems we’ve looked at have represented dialogues: between a man and a maiden who rejects him (and his idea of love?), between two shepherds, between a body and a soul, between a Christian and his silent God. Choose two poems that work well together, and carefully compose a well unified and coherent paper that incorporates your analysis of the dialogue’s effects into your interpretation of those poems. You might consider:

“The unquiet grave” and (Marlowe, “The passionate shepherd” and Ralegh, “The nymph’s reply”)

Drayton, “A roundelay between two shepherds” and Sidney, “Ye goatherd gods”.

Sidney, “Ye goatherd gods” and Herbert’s “The flower” [focus on the relationship between prayer and poetry?]


7.      Both Keats’ “La belle dame sans merci” and Drayton’s “Roundelay between two shepherds” involve a questioner and a respondent whose relationship with nature seems to have been changed because of an encounter with a somehow non-natural female figure. What can you make of this (in a well unified and coherent paper)?


8.      Some of the lyrics that we have read have silent or ambiguous audiences: Sidney’s “goatherd gods” have “silent ears”, the reference of “thou” seems to shift in Wyatt’s “My lute awake!” (and in Donne’s Holy Sonnet 5); the addressee of the first stanza of “The unquiet grave” was not easily identified. Forge a unified and coherent argument ...


9.      Far too many of these poems are responses to loss. Compare and contrast the thematic significance of the symbolic natural landscapes (and perhaps the human role in producing them) in Norton’s extract from Pearl and Sidney’s “Ye goatherd gods”.


10.   In sixteenth-century poetry, the word nymph could denote “one of a numerous class of semi-divine being, imagined as beautiful maidens...” (OED, “nymph” 1) or “a young and beautiful woman.” Consider the thematic function of the nymph in Spenser’s “Prothalamion” and Drayton’s “Roundelay between two shepherds.”


11.  Some of the sonnets that we read in week 7 consider how poets, or poetry, immortalize beauty, or love. Pick two that you feel fit together well, and write a coherent and unified paper exploring the issue: Sidney’s 90 and Spenser’s 75 both involve an interaction between speaker and the woman; mortal things dominate Shakespeare’s sonnets 55 and 65.


12.  Some of the poems that we have looked at present an idealized woman as the object of the gaze of somebody (or somebodies): d’Orleans, “The Smiling Mouth”, Drayton’s “Roundelay”, Spenser’s Sonnet 15, Sidney’s sonnet 71, Shakespeare’s sonnet 130. Consider the thematic function of “looking” in two poems on this term’s syllabus.


13.  How can we know God? Consider how the deity is portrayed in Milton’s “When I consider how my light is spent” and Herbert’s “The flower”. You will need to think about figurative language!


14.  What is the relationship between the body and the soul? Conflict and ...? Compare and contrast the metaphors used in two of Shakespeare’s sonnet 146, Donne’s holy sonnet 5, Marvell’s “Dialogue between the body and the soul”.


15.  The writing of poetry (or the singing of songs) seems to be a secondary subject of some of these poems. What is the relationship between poetry and praise of love or a lover or a god? Consider two of d’Orleans “The smiling mouth”, Sidney’s sonnet 90, Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 (maybe!), Spenser’s “Prothalamion”, Sidney’s “Ye goatherd gods”, Herbert’s “The Flower”.


16.  The flower is a convenient symbol (beauty, vulnerability, transience, resilience). Compare and contrast its function in two poems that we have looked at this term.


17.  Compare and contrast the metaphors describing marital unity and separation by Donne in “A Valediction forbidding mourning” and Bradstreet’s “Letter to her husband, absent upon public employment”. If you wish, you may narrow your focus and consider astronomical imagery!