British Literature: 700-1798
Short Interpretive Essay: The Sommet
1. Allow students to express more precisely their understanding of a particular literary work
2. Provide students with the opportunity to work with the sonnet form in an analytical way.
3. Invite students to read and closely examine a sonnet to discover the resonance of
this particular literary expression.
4. Allow students to apply their composition and writing skills in an essay expressing their understanding of a literary work.
You will use “Sonnet 61” from Idea, Michael Drayton for this work.
I. Getting to know the poem
1) Reread the sonnet several times, including aloud. Try to read the poem in terms of sentences rather than poetic lines. In other words, read it like you’re reading sentences and avoid pausing at the end of a line just because of the rhyming system. This will give you a better idea of what the sonnet is saying. Reading aloud gives you a hearing experience not available during silent reading. This will help you notice how the poet uses sound repetitions and other auditory techniques to suggest connections between ideas.
2. Look up the exact definition of any words you are unfamiliar with or are unsure of. If you really want to be specific, you can use the Oxford English Dictionary (commonly referred to as O.E.D.) to find out what the words meant at the time the sonnet was written. The O.E.D. is only available in libraries because it contains more than 14 volumes! It takes some getting used to, but what it does for every word in English is trace its origin, provide the meaning of the word, and any changes in its history. If nothing else, using the O.E.D. is a real experience in the love of words.
3) Some readers get nervous about metaphors, comparisons, and other literary techniques, but these are pretty much the only way a writer can communicate ideas that go beyond the literal. (For example, no matter how basic the taste of a strawberry is in our experience, there is no word or phrase equivalent to its taste. So anyone writing about the taste of a strawberry would be forced to use a metaphor, comparison, analogy, or some other figurative technique.) Try to identify one of these techniques that work in your poem. Don’t dissect the poem, but see yourself as a miner trying to dig deeper to discover the implications of the poem’s language. Good readers are like astute observers of human behavior: they look beneath the surface at what is involved in a person’s body language and speech, knowing that often the really important meaning is there.
4) Keep notes, for goodness sake! Don’t just try to store all of the above information in your head. Write it. This way you can see what kind of information you have collected.
5) Ask yourself questions about the poem. For example, is the poet talking to anyone in particular? If so, who is she? What kind of relationship does she have with the speaker of the poem (i.e. the voice you hear when you read the poem)? Are there any antecedents or implicit events between the poet and this person?
6) Sum up the focus, or point, of the poem in one sentence. This is a good way to establish the point around which the poem centers its energy.
7) Observe the rhyme scheme and carefully note how it might highlight ideas or key images.
8. Look at the structure of the poem. Does the poet use the first 8 lines to explore a “problem”? Where is the “turning point”? What “resolution” does the poet propose in the last 6 lines?
II. Getting ready to write about the Poem
The step-by-step procedure described above will give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself closely with the poem. You are now ready to consider your writing assignment. Think of an opening paragraph for an essay that would set the stage for a 2-3 page discussion of the poem (this would equate to around 500-600 words since the pages will be double-spaced). This opening paragraph should connect with your reader, create interest, and state your purpose and point for the essay (called the thesis in composition classes). Since you will be exploring the meaning of the poem, your thesis will likely have something to do with the main idea of the poem (see step 6 above).
Once you’ve sketched out an introductory paragraph, you’re ready to organize your notes and think about how you plan to develop your ideas. In the body of your essay (probably around 3 to 5 paragraphs), you want to make sure that you have continuity in your discussion. That is, ideas should flow from paragraph to paragraph, and each paragraph should be organized around a key point you want to make (topic sentence) that supports the thesis stated in the opening paragraph.
A conclusion is more than a simple reformulation of your thesis. This should give the reader a sense of closure regarding the discussion. It should be proportionate to the essay, so that a simple sentence or two would not be enough.
This draft described above would be called something like the Shaping Project by some textbooks. I avoid the term draft because ideas are not always crude. Rather, they are simply sketched out so that you, the writer and your fellow readers, can get a feel for what you are trying to say and how you support what you have said.
Once you’ve received responses to your draft, it’s time to review (that’s what review means, as in reviewing) your essay. Editing has little to do with editing spelling and punctuation and everything to do with content and organization. Successful authors can read their essays as if they were not the writer. They try to see it with a fresh eye in order to see where the trial would benefit from more or less information. They might even find that reorganizing information allows for a stronger flow of ideas. Good writers know that first drafts are never their best writing. Never. This knowledge separates the real writers from the casual student. Professional writers know that real writing starts with editing.
Once the content and organization of the essay is as good as you can get, it’s time to examine it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. If you’ve put all of the required work above into your essay, you want to be sure that you don’t send it in for public reading (translate: a reading by your teacher) without careful proofreading. Nothing sends a message of indifference to a reader more than a sloppy proofread.
Sound like a lot of work to invest in a simple 2-3 page essay on a 14 line poem! It is. Short trials are just as labor intensive as longer trials. In fact, they may be more so, as they require brevity and economy, as well as special support and clarity of detail. The final test format should conform to the MLA test format. I have included instructions for this format under COURSE INFORMATION. Happy writing!
here is the sonnet:
“Sonnet 61” from Idea , Michael Drayton
I d e a.
by Michael Drayton
SINCE there’s no help, come, let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes.
Now, if you wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might’st him yet recover.
Audio Excerpt from “Popular Poetry, Popular Verse” – CD.
Drayton, Michael. Idea.
Daniel’s Delia and Drayton’s Idea. Arundell Esdaile, Ed.
London: Chatto and Windus, 1908. 128.
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