What is love, and why do we feel so irresistibly impelled to sing about it? How do we use poetic language to express and navigate the difficult paradoxes of erotic feeling? How does erotic feeling, in turn, serve us as a vehicle for thinking about the existential problems of self and other, individual and society, human and divine? Does love blind us (and if so, to what, exactly?), or does it, as so many of its champions have insisted, open our eyes to truths about ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit that we had previously failed to recognize? And lastly, what do we hope to gain from having captured our sensations and thoughts in a song or poem and placed them before the public or the beloved’s eyes?
Although far from comprehensive (as if that could even be done with such an inexhaustible topic!), this seminar will explore some of the rhetorical strategies employed and central problems posed, dissected, and potentially answered by love lyrics, from the fragmentary remains of Sappho’s verses composed around 600 BC, through selected works by some of the major poets of the English tradition (Mary Wroth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats, and Hart Crane, to name a few), to contemporary songs by musical artists including Regina Spektor, Bruce Springsteen, Fiona Apple, Father John Misty, and Lana Del Rey.
Instructor: Thomas Casalaspi
Free and open to all Harvard students.
No prior knowledge of poetry required.
Dates: January 8, 10, 12, 17, and 19
Time: 2:00 — 4:00 PM