Neoclassic Poetry Final Exam

At Loyola College in Baltimore, I majored in Math and minored in English Lit. Actually, to be strictly correct, I majored in Math and minored in Sue Abromaitis. After taking her Modern Fantasy Literature class as a Freshman, I simply took every other course that Mrs. Abromaitis taught. Hands down, she was the best teacher I have ever had. Fully twenty years later, I still remember, nearly verbatim, many of the lessons she taught us.

Sue was a "hard" professor -- that is, she expected her students to work hard, to think, and to follow her directions to the letter. In particular, her essay tests were works of art. They were take-home tests. She always told you exactly what she wanted, even to a top word-count. (If you answered all her questions and gave appropriate examples, you would find that the number of words came out to within 10%.) With Sue Abromaitis, there was no bluffing and no bullshitting. Either you knew your stuff, or you failed.

She was great!

(Incidentally, for those who deride critics and who say "those who can't do, teach" -- I learned more about writing from Mrs. Abromaitis' reasoned criticism than from any other source. She was a good critic. Now, admittedly, good critics are very scarce, and perhaps you've never run into one -- but when you do, you'll know what you've been missing.)

In 1980, I took my last Final Exam from Sue Abromaitis, in Neoclassical Poetry. A devilish spirit took me, and I produced my answer in the form of rhyming couplets (the dominant verse form of Neoclassical poetry). After I turned it in, I fretted for days that she would take it as mockery, and fail me.

I need not have worried. She took it in the spirit it was offered, and even called it a "tour-de-force." And she gave me an A+.

So here, without further ado, is Sue's final exam, followed by my poetic answer.



EN 316, Neo-Classical Poetry
Final Examination


Write a clear, coherent, concrete, grammatically and rhetorically correct essay on both topics.

1. (60%) NOT TO EXCEED 600 WORDS

Satire and irony are central terms in the Neo-Classic Age. After defining each and describing the types of each, disuss MacFleknoe, Absalom and Achitophel, Rape of the Lock, "Satirical Elegy," and "The Vanity of Human Wishes" as satires. Include in your poem-by-poem discussion the kind of satire each is, the ethos of its speaker, the targets of its satire, at least two satiri conventions in each, and the function of irony in each.

2. (40%) NOT TO EXCEED 400 WORDS

After defining the sublime and explaining each of its five sources, discuss "Winter," "Eton...," "Elegy ... Church-Yard," "Deserted Village," and two Blake poems in terms of manifestations of sublimity in a poem-by-poem analysis. Then BRIEFLY theorize about the function of the sublime in the shift of sensibility ocurring in English literature from the Neo-Classic to the Romantic aesthetic.




Oh Muse, the time is passed when I may cram;
I must now start upon this last exam.
For deepest thoughts and proper words I pray,
And with your help perhaps I'll get an "A."

The First Question

A poet writing in satiric style
Diminishes a subject; all the while
The purpose of reform must be his goal
And his must be a strictly moral soul.
The kinds of satire come from two main sources:
The type of Juvenal's, and that of Horace's.
The first is bitter, deals in human vice;
The last with folly, in diction that is nice.
Although the use in verse of irony
Can make the dullest poem sound Byron-y,
It's a device used by all satirists
When gulf between what's said and is exists.
Three kinds there are: of voice, and fate, and place
Let us examine every one apace.
The irony that's verbal is the kind
Where speaker's words are not what's in his mind.
The speaker in dramatic irony
Believes that what he says will someday be;
But audience, they know that wrong is he.
And fin'lly situation irony:
The gulf between what is and seems to be.

MacFlecknoe -- this is Juevenalian
The diction's not at all Hegelian. [1]
The target who is in this poem attacked
Is Shadwell, and this is a well-known fact.
The speaker's ethos is the vir bonus,
Shading into hero when he must.
Satirical conventions here include
The ending's total travesty of good
And the scatalogic'lly described mood.
The irony: that Dryden's diction high
Should sing so well of Shadwell's dull and dry.

In A and A we find satiric mode
More like to Horace (satire, not his ode).
Vir bonus is the speaker in this poem,
And Shaftesbury, his satiric target's nom.
Raillery is found in portraits here
Achitophel, indeed, must lampoon fear.
Verbal irony is chiefly used
To show that David's friends have wisely mused
And to leave the audience amused.

Pope's masterpiece is a burlesque most clear
We have Horatian mocking epic here.
Besides burlesque, conventions of satire
Include contrasting lower with the higher:
Sylphs, heroes, maiden, even doggy Shock
Are all concerned with this Rape of the Lock.
The irony dramatic is the joke,
Which makes a family quarrel okey-doke. [2]
The target of this poem's hero's pen
Is women in society of men.

And now we must discuss the Dunciad
Book Four -- the one that always ends so sad.
It's Juvenalian, the tone is clear
The pedants, liars, dullards attacked here:
But most of all, that famous dunce and fibber
Fore'er be cursed the name of Colley Cibber.
The speaker cannot help but be a hero;
Emotional, his diction makes us tear-o. [3]
Irony upon itself compounds
When words that Dunces speak are nought but sounds
Revealing them as worse than senseless hounds.
Satirical convention is this irony,
Another is the final travesty.

Marlborough's Duke is satirized by Swift
His Grace's sons had cause to be quite miffed.
This travesty of elegaic form
Uses macabre imagery by the swarm.
Juvenalian this satire is
The speaker eiron gives the poem its fizz.
Comparison between the Duke and dirt:
From this the irony gains strength to hurt.

The Vanity of Human Wishes, now
Is the final poem through which we two must plow.
Vir bonus, once again, relates the tale,
The satire is the type of Juvenal. [4]
Doctor Johnson's pen, it tracks and springs,
Attacking faith in all the worldly things.
Satirical conventions that we see
Include, upon old age, a travesty;
Scatology steps in and gives us woe
When Swift expires a driveler and a show.
The irony's stirred in like heavy leaven
And makes us long much more for peace in heaven.

I now draw near to end this first essay
Five hundred ninety-six words long, I say!

The Second Question

Time now to turn my thought to the sublime
And hope I find the words I need to rhyme
And do analysis of poems by herds
And all in less than four hundred little words. [5]

Greatness is the keynote of sublime:
Great thoughts, great feelings, and great space and time.
The poet must respond subjectively
To transcendental experience, and he
Must couch his thoughts in noble poetry.
Longinus wrote and showed us all the means
To wrest sublimity from nature's scenes.
Deeper into the subject we now dive;
Let us look at sublimity's sources five.

From nature stem deep feelings and great thought
The poet must be in profoundness caught.
But nature's not enough, arrangement counts;
To art we turn, upon this depth to pounce.
The figures of the poet's thought are key,
And he must use them quite appropriately.
The composition of his poem must suit
The dignity of subject for his lute.
The diction of his piece let him bethink;
From wells of noble words he should drink deep.

Thomson's Winter tends to leave us cold
The swain, he dies, although his spirit's bold.
The raging storm and Winter's fury e'er
Evokes in us sublimity of terror.

A distant prospect of the Eton scene
Leads to the condition of the Human being. [6]
Deep thoughts upon Man's life and final course
Are present in this ode that's based on Horace.

Likewise, a simple graveyard gives to Gray
Occasion to reflect in sublime way
Upon the place of man and Gray's poor verse
In all the vastness of this Universe
And how Man justifies himself post-death
And how he vindicates his every breath.

Eternal stillness and a brooding town,
Deserted Village's hemmed with sublime around.

The fire of the Tyger's awful eyes,
Or bitter loneliness of infant's cries, [7]
Evoke the evil all of us do fear;
Sublimity of terror practiced here.
The human mind, it cannot comprehend
The evil that Blake says we must amend.

Aesthetic shift in the Augustan Age
Yields words upon the Romantic poet's page.
Sublimity, with focus on response,
Leads thought to dwell on self, and for the nonce
Must this hypothesis for us suffice;
Though Wordsworth might not think it very nice.

The Apologia

And now, dear Muse, I'm finished; still I live
I only hope my teacher will forgive.



[1] Of course, some sacrifices must be made to preserve rhyme scheme.

[2] See note #1.

[3] What would this verse paragraph be without at least one such rhyme?

[4] Even Byron uses approximate rhyme.

[5] Yes, that's anaphora.

[6] Obviously, for full effect this couplet should be read by a Baltimorean.

[7] The Chimney Sweeper, II


copyright © 1980, Don Sakers