Do poems think? Recurrent images of the poet as an inspired lunatic, and of poetry as a fundamentally irrational art, have often fostered an understanding of poets and their work as generally extraneous to the work of the sciences. Yet poets have long reflected upon and have sought to embody in their work the most elementary processes of mind, and have frequently drawn for these representations on the very sciences to which they are thought to stand - and sometimes do genuinely stand - in opposition. Far from representing a mere departure from reason, then, the poem offers an image of the mind at work, an account of how minds work, a tool for eliciting thought in the reader or auditor. Bringing together readings in British poetry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with writings from the emergent sciences of psychology and the physiology of the brain, this interdisciplinary course will explore the ways in which British poets, in years that witnessed the crucial development of these sciences, sought to capture an image of the mind at work. The primary aim of the course is to examine how several prominent genres of British poetry - the lyric, for instance, and the didactic poem - draw from and engage in this period with accounts of cognition within the sciences of psychology, physiology, and medicine. More broadly, the course aims to give undergraduates with some prior experience in the methods and topics of literary study an introduction to interdisciplinary humanistic research.


Students are required to attend all class sessions and to participate. I do not evaluate class participation in terms of how many brilliant things you say in the course of the semester, but I require you to have read the texts thoroughly and to come to class prepared to talk about them. In addition, every student will be required to deliver at least one presentation on an assigned work during the semester, and once again to discuss your final essay. These presentations, between 10-15 minutes in length, should be conceived as exercises in literary interpretation through close analysis, and should ideally help to stimulate a discussion through arguments and questions. Finally, there will be two essays, one 5-6 pages and the other 12-15 pages in length.

MIT Literature Department Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism - use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center.


First Paper 25%
Final Paper 45%
Attendance/Participation/Presentations/Peer Reviews 30%