Fall 2001 – Lehigh University Email: amsp@lehigh.edu

English 385 – British Modernism               Web: www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/

Amardeep Singh             




Assignment 1 – Close Reading


Due Monday September 17

Length: 3-4 pages (UG); 5 pages (grad)


Do a close reading of a poem or poems by Yeats, Eliot, or Tagore. If you choose to work on more than one poem, I would strongly encourage you to limit yourself to poems by a single author for this paper, as I am less interested in broad historical claims or biographical issues than I am in readings of the poems themselves (though I certainly feel that references to political issues and issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and religion can belong in these readings). You are not limited to the poems assigned for class.


There are many ways of doing a “close reading.” At the most general level, a “reading” is simply a general claim (or argument) about a poem that is supported with specific evidence from the poem itself. Traditionally, a close reading will refer to some or all of the following elements in the service of explicating the reading:


Form rhyme, meter, visual/spatial devices (such as stanzas, the location of words or phrases, etc.) 

Language – a poem’s particular diction (an entire paper could be written on Yeats’ use of the word “gyre,” for instance), rhetorical figures, or figurative language (metaphor, simile, metonymy, etc.)

Theme – For instance, modernity, technology, human-ness, etc. It’s often helpful to define themes in relationship to each other, including oppositions (such as fluidity/ blockage in Tagore or vitality/decay in Eliot). Also, issues such as the representation of race, gender, sexuality, etc. might be classified as themes.


If this brief list is insufficient, or if you would like to find out a little more about common poetic devices, I would recommend taking a look at M. H. Abrams’ Glossary of Literary Terms (especially see the entries for meter, rhyme, rhetorical figures, figurative language, poetic diction, and stanza). Referring to these terms is by no means required; indeed, over-reliance on terms that do not add to your argument can be distracting.


Note: A reading of a poem that might refer to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is acceptable (Eliot’s Hollow Men has an epigraph from Conrad).