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Writing essays for this course

Prof. S. Gottlieb

Revised March 10, 2001

In writing Essay Number 2, you were presented with a set of topics and asked to write an essay which required the following:

  • That you frame your essay around an idea, or a set of ideas, in order to present a unified study of two or three of Donne's Holy Sonnets. The topics I suggested were prompts for how to frame your essay. Some of you suggested other interesting possibilities.

  • That you integrate within your ideas some close reading of the poems you selected. In other words, I asked that you avoid explication, or line by line analysis per se.

  • That you use the on-line or the multi-volume print version of the OED to study two key words from any of your poems so as to demonstrate either how Donne uses ambiguity in the poem or to recapture the seventeenth-century meaning(s) of a word, some of whose meanings are now obsolete.

Successful essays demonstrate that you have learned to recognize and to discuss certain of Donne's key themes and ideas, that you have learned to read Donne's poetry with increasing sophistication, and that you have successfully incorporated information from the OED. In addition, successful essays have integrated an awareness of other relevant information and techniques of analysis on the course Web site or presented in class. Clearly successful essays receive grades in the B range. The finer essays receive a grade in the A range. These finer essays are not necessarily letter perfect, but their subtle combination of learning, thought, and style is unusual.

The successful essays demonstrate an ability to generate a worthwhile argument, to develop a variety of thought, and to present well analyzed and pertinent examples from the texts you study. The finer essays classify image and thought patterns in the poetry and integrate this information within a discussion of the range and force of Donne's thought. This capacity to abstract ideas from literary patterns, and to discuss their significance, is found in the finer essays.

Some of the finer essays show an increasing awareness of the seventeenth-century social context or of the seventeenth-century philosophical context, the latter possibly from having read Tillyard's book, possibly from other documented sources, but very likely from the course lectures, the course handouts, and from reading widely enough and frequently enough in Donne's poetry. Some of the finer essays demonstrate how artistic complexity creates meaning in literature. The finer essays achieve a balance between a clear presentation of your ideas and an imaginative reading of well-selected words, phrases, and longer passages from the poems. All essays receiving the highest grades possess clearly expressed and interconnected sentences, a thoughtful sequence of paragraphs with ideas integrated within the paragraphs. These essays are carefully edited for style and grammar, as well as for format and documentation, and avoid undue redundancy.

 Last modified: 2/3/2003
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