Literature’s forms and parts
This course will explore three main categories or genres of literature — fiction, poetry, and drama. For each one of these genres of literature, there are numerous subgenres , which consist of different styles or approaches to writing stories, composing poems, and performing dramas. Although these genres all differ from one another in significant ways, the general approaches to reading and interpreting that we will develop in this course can be somewhat easily be applied from one genre to another.
Most works of literature may be understood to be composed of three major aspects: content , form , and context . Taking an active approach to reading means focusing on the relationship between these three major aspects of a literary work. While at first it can be difficult to analyze the content, form, and context of a text simultaneously, learning to break down these key aspects and focus on them one at a time will help develop your abilities to think critically and write specifically about literature. Over time, as you become more comfortable and confident with the tasks of analysis, you will be able to see how each of these key aspects are interconnected and work together to create sophisticated works of literature. (1)
Content includes the themes, ideas, and the subject matter of a specific poem, story, or play. (1)
Form is a broad term that encompasses all the specific literary or rhetorical elements that make up how a poem, story, or play is written. Examples include sentence-level literary devices with which you may already be familiar, such as metaphor, simile or personification. But form also includes the overall structure and style of a work, such as whether a poem is written in a specific pattern, as in a sonnet, or whether a story is narrated from a specific point of view, such as the first-person perspective.
There are seemingly innumerable literary and rhetorical devices, which vary slightly depending on the genre of literature. Later modules in the course will enumerate some of the most useful literary devices for each genre, but broadly, analyzing the form of a literary work means analyzing the structure and the use of language. Increasing your understanding of different types of literary structures, literary devices, and rhetorical strategies can become a very useful toolkit for writing effective analyses. (1)
Every work of literature was created in a specific historical and literary context . Likewise, almost all literary works will refer to elements of other literary works. Analyzing how the literary, social, and cultural dynamics of that specific context may have influenced the writing of the literary work — or perhaps how it was published and received in its time — adds another important layer of understanding. However, interpretations of literary texts also change over time as the expectations and values of readers change. Further consideration of the context may benefit from targeted analysis of the audience . As a reader, you are also a crucial member of any text’s audience. (1)
To conclude, let’s take a close look at a short poem by the British poet John Keats. In this poem, the poet reflects upon the transformative experience of reading the epic poetry of Homer translated into English by the playwright George Chapman. In contrast to other popular translations of Homer’s work, the translation by Chapman was instantly more relatable for Keats due to its less formal tone and more lively style of writing.
First listen to the recording of the poem, and then read it a second time on your own. Perhaps do some research to look up the definitions of any unfamiliar words. (1)
“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men Look’d at each other with a wild surmise — Silent, upon a peak in Darien. (2)
The poem contains a number of implied and explicit metaphors. Try to identify some on your own, and then click on the words below to view the completed metaphors. (1)
Click on the missing word in each sentence below to reveal the answer
Reading is __________
A poem is __________