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A Student's Guide to Literature (ISI Guides to the Major by R.V. Young

By R.V. Young

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Additional resources for A Student's Guide to Literature (ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines)

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Romantic epics, like Wordsworth’s Prelude, Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, and Whitman’s Song of Myself (indeed, the entirety of Leaves of Grass) treat the subjective experience of their equivocal heroes in quasi-epic terms. Among the many other ancient long poems that are worth whatever time a student can find for them, mention has been made already of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, but the one indispensable poem among them all is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an elaborate retelling of a vast array of Greek myths involving change of form.

Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Spenser’s Amoretti (along with his Epithalamion—the finest wedding song in any language), and Shakespeare’s Sonnets are the best English sonnet sequences. The seventeenth century is a treasure trove of lyrical poetry. John Donne’s Songs and Sonets, his Satyres, Holy Sonnets, and Hymns are at the top of the list along with the “minor poems” of John Milton. Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, and Andrew Marvell wrote exquisite lyrics and poems of reflection; George Herbert’s The Temple is the finest collection of religious lyrics in English, but Crashaw’s Carmen Deo Nostro and Henry Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans are worthy successors.

Claims may be made for Congreve during the period 36 A Student’s Guide to Literature of the Restoration and for Sheridan, Beaumarchais, and Schiller during the eighteenth century, but the one indisputable dramatic masterpiece since the Renaissance is Goethe’s Faust. Perhaps more of a dramatic epic than a conventional stage play, Faust is probably the greatest single work of Romanticism and of German literature. Its place at the summit of world literature results from its unique blend of stylistic power, dramatic characterization, and philosophical depth and sophistication.

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