Poetics Primer

These seven blog posts (click on the images below) are particularly for university students studying Middle English poetry, and especially for those who have to write a commentary or do close-reading in their exams or coursework.  The posts might also be useful for school pupils studying Chaucer for A-level.

School pupils taking English Literature at A Level in the UK are marked in terms of how well they ‘demonstrate detailed critical understanding in analysing the ways in which structure, form and language shape meanings in literary texts’ (AO2).  In order to meet this Assessment Objective, pupils often learn lots of close-reading strategies and are given checklists of elements of poetic form to pick out and comment upon.  Some of these don’t work quite so straightforwardly for Middle English, and hence need a little bit of adaptation and re-consideration.  These posts are a very simple attempt to explain some of the modifications in approach which might be needed.

My ideas are certainly not the only way or the ‘right’ way to close-read Middle English poems.  The advice is written particularly for University of Oxford Faculty of English students studying Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde for Finals.  It’s based on my experiences of teaching students Middle English poetry and marking their essays and exam scripts.

You might also find two other websites useful:

The University of Cambridge’s site, Troilus and Criseyde: Translation and Commentary

Harvard University’s Middle English Teaching Resources Online site

Those of us in the business of commenting on form and meaning would do well to read carefully and ponder Stephen Cushman’s recent essay in Southwest Review:

‘On Middlebrow Formalism, or the Fallacy of Imitative Form Revisited’

Alliteration 1 (1019x384)

Enjambment 1

repetition 1

Word order 2

metre 1


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