English 71M

James Merrill and the Epic Poem

Spring 1998

Prof. Peter Schmidt

English Literature, Swarthmore College

English 71M syllabus

WWW links relevant for the course

[go directly to syllabus dates & assignments below]

English 71M

class: M 1:15-4:00pm, Kohlberg 116

e-mail: pschmid1

English 71M Web page address: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/pschmid1/courses/engl71M.html

office hours: LPAC 206, WF 11:15-12; 1pm-2pm

Course Readings

in Bookstore:

Dante, The Inferno (the new Robert Pinsky translation is highly recommended)

James Merrill, The Changing Light at Sandover

Robert Polito, ed., A Reader's Guide to James Merrill's "The Changing Light at Sandover"


on General Reserve (preliminary list):

1 The consuming myth : the work of James Merrill, Yenser, Stephen

S McCabe GenRe PS3525.E6645 Z97 198

2 The life and works of Gustave Dore : containing o Dore, Gustave, 1832-1883

S McCabe GenRe NC1135.D7 A4 1885

3 Recitative : prose, Merrill, James Ingram

S McCabe GenRe PS3525.E6645 A6 1986

4 Selected poems, 1946-1985, Merrill, James Ingram

S McCabe GenRe PS3525.E6645 A6 1992

(See also the Web sites below for listings of Web sites on these authors)

Course Requirements

· Regular attendance: because this class meets just once a week, it is crucial that you attend all classes. More than 1 unexcused absence will hurt your grade.

· Come to class having studied the materials assigned for that day, with questions and ideas and passages from the poetry you'd like to discuss.

· The course will be run like a seminar; many of the discussions will be student-led. Participation in class discussions and other class activities will be a crucial part of your grade. This includes both leading class discussion occasionally as part of a group of student discussion leaders and contributing to discussion on your own. After Spring Break there will also be a week devoted to student reports on independent reading.

· Completion of writing assignments on time. There will be a series of four short papers assigned for the course. (For due dates, see syllabus below.) Late papers will be penalized in their grade. Some students who need work with their writing English papers may also be asked to revise a paper either whole or in part; such revision assignments become part of the course requirements. Note: if you'd like to, you may use a student Writing Associate in the Writing Center in Trotter to get help on a paper's draft. I will also be happy to talk with you at any stage of the writing process---but don't try to do paper converences at the last minute.

· Grading: The four papers will count towards 80% of your final grade; quality of class participation, 20%. Poor attendance, poor class participation, and/or late papers will negatively affect your grade.


A note about honesty and coursework: All writing that you turn in for this course should be yours alone and done solely for this course. When you are borrowing ideas and language from others it is your responsibility to acknowledge these sources accurately-whether your sources are your fellow students or published literary critics. Not acknowledging borrowings from others constitutes plagiarism and severe penalties may be involved regardless of whether you "intended" to plagiarize or not. (For more information, see the Swarthmore Student Handbook on Academic Honesty). This does not mean you should be afraid of consulting with others (fellow students, me, a student at the Writing Center) or of borrowing good ideas from others: it is very simple to acknowledge these with a "thank you" at the end of a paper, or through footnotes. When you borrow from published material, including books used in this course and/or books in McCabe, you must acknowledge this in a bibliography at the end of your paper

In almost all cases, you can cite relevant page numbers in the paper itself and the books or articles themselves in a Works Cited section at the end of the paper.

I will discuss in class special ways appropriate to cite poetry to indicate line numbers, line breaks, etc.

For a brief and simple guide to English paper citations, see the links to the English Department's statements on its Web page about plagiarism and how to cite sources for English papers.

These include examples of the most common kinds of footnotes and bibliographic citations; they also include examples of citing poetry.





[Note: more detailed reading assignments will be discussed or handed out the week before each class]

Jan. 19 course introduction; readings from the Inferno, Cantos I-II and The Book of Ephraim, A-E

26 Inferno, I-XVII

Feb. 2 Inferno, XVIII-XXXIV

Friday, Feb. 6 5-7pp. Dante paper due, 5pm, a focused reading of one of the Cantos. Make use of notes and commentary as appropriate.

9 James Merrill, The Book of Ephraim, A-M

16 Ephraim, N-Z; plus in-class screening of Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon

23 Mirabell's Books of Number, 0-4

Friday, Feb. 27 3-4pp. Merrill paper due, 5pm, a close reading of a short passage from either Ephraim or Mirabell

March 2 Mirabell's Books of Number, 5-9; plus Scripts for the Pageant, pp. 285-88. Also: choose a reading/research topic on Dante or Merrill to do later this week and Break.

Spring Break

March 16 student reports on independent reading projects. prepare a 1-2pp. summary for distributing to the class via email after our class meets.

23 Scripts for the Pageant, Yes

30 Scripts for the Pageant, &

April 6 Scripts for the Pageant, No

Friday, April 10 3-4pp. Merrill paper due, 5pm, a close reading of passage(s) from Mirabell or Scripts

13 Coda: The Higher Keys

20 re-read selected passages from Sandover; other Merrill lyrics, including late supplements to Sandover (xerox)

27 re-read other selected passages from Sandover; continue discussion of other Merrill lyrics (xerox); course conclusion

Friday, May 8: 5-7pp. final paper due, 5pm, on Merrill, Dante, or both authors. This paper should use some secondary sources of your own choosing. No extensions.

Web links for English 71M

Yahoo's Dante links: includes info on Dante, various translations, Pinsky discussing and reading from his translation (and also reading Dante's Italian!), info on Renaissance editions of Dante with good graphics in the Newberry library and elsewhere, etc. etc. Great stuff here!


A James Merrill home page, including a sound-file

of JM reading a short excerpt near the end of Sandover


Stories about the Ouija