The foundational courses in English include four seminars, of which majors are asked to take at least three:
ENGL 125 Readings in English Poetry I
Introduction to the English literary tradition through close reading of select poems from the seventh through the seventeenth centuries. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse linguistic and social histories; and the many varieties of identity and authority in early literary cultures. Readings may include Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Middle English lyrics, The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, and poems by Isabella Whitney, Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, Amelia Lanyer, John Donne, and George Herbert, among others. Preregistration required; see under English Department.
ENGL 126 Readings in English Poetry II
Introduction to the English literary tradition through close reading of select poems from the eighteenth century through the present. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse genres and social histories; and modernity’s multiple canons and traditions. Authors may include Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, and Derek Walcott, among others. Preregistration required; see under English Department.
ENGL 127 Readings in American Literature
Introduction to the American literary tradition in a variety of poetic and narrative forms and in diverse historical contexts. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse linguistic and social histories; and the place of race, class, gender, and sexuality in American literary culture. Authors may include Phillis Wheatley, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Allen Ginsberg, Chang-Rae Lee, and Toni Morrison, among others.
ENGL 128 Readings in Comparative World English Literatures
An introduction to the literary traditions of the Anglophone world in a variety of poetic and narrative forms and historical contexts. Emphasis on developing skills of literary interpretation and critical writing; diverse linguistic, cultural and racial histories; and on the politics of empire and liberation struggles. Authors may include Daniel Defoe, Mary Prince, J. M. Synge, James Joyce, C. L. R. James, Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, Yvonne Vera, Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, J. M. Coetzee, Brian Friel, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Alice Munro, Derek Walcott, and Patrick White, among others. Preregistration required; see under English Department.
Following longstanding departmental practice, these courses teach the arts of critical analysis and interpretation in small, faculty-led, discussion-based seminars. Unlike most introductory surveys, these foundational courses focus on reading deeply, rather than broadly, dwelling on a few important texts instead of moving quickly over many. The contents of the syllabuses have shifted over time—English A1, introduced in 1906, centered on the works of the Victorian prose stylists Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin; current readings explore a range of forms and genres including medieval lyric poems, early modern epics, nineteenth-century novels, and contemporary short fiction. But an emphasis on close reading and clear, incisive argumentation endures. Through conversation, writing, and rewriting, students enrolled in foundational seminars learn to make meaning out of words, lines, stanzas, sentences, and paragraphs. They come away with a sharpened awareness of what it means to read with the attentiveness that literature demands, and a capacity to respond with their own ideas and insights. This is necessary training for English majors, and it has value for all writing in which the marshaling of words and facts, the construction of an argument, and the relation between text and context play a significant part.
Each section of English 125, 126, 127, or 128 is likely to develop its own narrative threads, as the contents of the readings and the tastes, interests, and expertise of the participants shape the conversation over the course of the semester. At the end, however, the common result of these distinct experiences should be a heightened sensitivity to and curiosity about the way language works; a confidence in engaging with historically, geographically, formally, and culturally diverse literary texts; and a capacity to translate keen observations into elegant, well-crafted essays. To quote a passage of some length and draw out its implications so that each word gives an account of itself; to support general assertions with the particulars of evidence; to attend to the shifts of the meaning of a single word or a phrase over time—the improvement of these skills forms an essential part of the curriculum in English.
Of course, no one can hope to read everything, but we ask you to approach your introductory coursework in a spirit of adventure, remaining open to the pleasures and challenges of texts that are new, alien, or even off-putting to you. The requirement of three courses is meant to encourage this: by ranging across periods, genres, and geographies, you will acquire an appreciation for both the diversity and the continuity of literary history, grounding your study in multiple, mutually illuminating canons of English literature.