Schedule: Nature in Literature

We will try to stick to this plan as closely as possible, but we may get ahead or fall behind. If either situation arises, expect in-class and online announcements of schedule revisions. Develop habits, therefore, of bringing your copy of the syllabus to each class meeting and of checking this page.

Aug. 28 Tue.

Introductions, goals, interests.
Genesis 1-3.
“Cædmon’s Hymn” (online).


Today office hours will be at the coffee shop in Beck’s.

Aug. 30 Thu.

Pearl, IVII.


Textbook Update—Beck’s is unable to acquire sufficient copies of Nature and Literature (it’s out of print). If you’re one of the lucky few to have one of these “gems,” feel free to return it; Beck’s is willing to refund it. (If they give you any trouble, let me know.)

I’ve ordered a (mostly) sufficient replacement, Lorraine Anderson, et al., eds., Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture (Longman, 1999). I’ll be revising the schedule over the weekend—though we’re still working with Pearl next week.

The course feed now works—see the link in the far right column. Enjoy!

(Oh, and I’ll be away from the office from 10 until about 11.)

We will begin by discussing material from yesterday. In some ways, Pearl functions as a response to the curse(s) at the end of Genesis 3, although this connection is far from apparent. Some questions:

  • What role does nature play while the poet/narrator is awake?
  • How do the poet/narrator’s surroundings change after he has fallen asleep?

Once we get to Pearl, I’ll have a few introductory things to say about the poem, its structure, etc. Then we’ll attempt to parse the questions, above.

See also this handout.

Sept. 4 Tue.

Pearl, VIIIXV.


The debate between the narrator/dreamer and the Pearl Maiden is heavy in its scriptural references. Two of the more important passages come from the gospels: Matthew’s parable of the workers in the vineyard and the story of Jesus and the children (found in Mark and Luke).

Because the above passages in Mark & Luke tell essentially the same story, it might be fruitful to consider the differences in their accounts. What do you notice? Do these differences have any bearing in what the Pearl Maiden has to say?

Sept. 6 Thu.

Pearl, XVI - XX.
William Blake, “London” (handout).


Here’s line 905 of Pearl, which we discussed on Tuesday: “I am bot mokke and mul among” ‘I am only muck mixed with dust.’

Borroff translates this line as “I am of mire and mere mankind,” which is good enough, I suppose, but seems a bit lacking when the dreamer continues with a description of the pearl-maiden as a rose forever blooming. (This is because the dreamer is expressing his own insufficiency in line 905, since the pearl/rose didn’t flourish under his care.)

Sept. 11 Tue.

William Blake, “The Lamb” & “The Tyger” (online).
Barbara Kingsolver, “The Memory Place” (199-205).
Robert Frost, “A Brook in the City” (422-24).


In addition to the above material, I’ll talk a little more about Pearl, the transience of the moon, and the poem’s conceptual relation to Blake’s “London.” Don’t worry—I’ll be brief; we unfortunately need to move on to “new” material.

The Blake Archive has many images from Blake’s work. Reading Blake in something closer to the “original” can profoundly influence the way we interpret these texts. Here are links to their archived versions of “The Lamb”: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, & 12.

Notice that each of these images is different from the others, although only subtly, on occasion. The same goes for “The Tyger”: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10.

Office hours today are cancelled, sorry.

The essay requirements are online.

Sept. 13 Thu.

Ellen Meloy, “The Flora and Fauna of Las Vegas” (240-49).
William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us” (355-56).


The essay requirements are online. We’ll discuss them, if you have questions.

Ellen Meloy provides a rough account of her trip: see a Google Maps approximation.

To get an idea of the kind of landscapes that Meloy would regularly encounter, check out the DNR sites for Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. You might also be interested in a picture of the Grand Canyon.

If you’re interested in music or medieval studies (or both) make a point to attend the first medieval studies lecture of the term: “The Body as Instrument,” with Nancy Van Dreusen of Claremont Graduate University. Here are the vitals:

  • Monday, Sept. 17, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Crown Auditorium (on the 2nd floor of the Crown Center), LSC.
  • It’s free, and there’s often some sort of free food afterward.
Sept. 18 Tue. Jack London, “To Build a Fire” (31-41).


Class is cancelled today—use the extra time to brainstorm about your essay. (I’ll be traveling. But I’ll miss you!)

We’ll add London’s short story to Thursday’s discussion, so make sure to read it & be prepared to discuss it in class.

If you’re interested in music or medieval studies (or both) make a point to attend the first medieval studies lecture of the term: “The Body as Instrument,” with Nancy Van Dreusen of Claremont Graduate University. Here are the vitals:

  • Monday, Sept. 17, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Crown Auditorium (on the 2nd floor of the Crown Center), LSC.
  • It’s free, and there’s often some sort of free food afterward.
Sept. 20 Thu.

Jack London, “To Build a Fire” (31-41).
Galway Kinnell, “Blackberry Eating” (online).
Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” & Walter Ralegh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” (online).
Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California” (380-81).


London’s story seems to be awfully nihilistic. Is there any hope in it? Think also about the concepts of hubris and nemesis.

With the poetry, pay close attention to the poets’ use of sound, especially with Kinnell and Ginsberg. The Marlowe & Ralegh poems are thought of as a pair, although they weren’t initially construed as such. What does Ralegh do to respond to Marlowe’s poem?

A brief note on Wordsworth, from last Thursday, and also (I suppose) on Meloy: We talked about detachment from the world around us, especially as it relates to the interactions between urban and “undeveloped” landscapes. But we should also think about the fine distinction between abundance and excess.

If we recall Genesis from our first class meetings, God offers “enough” to Adam and Eve in Eden. But “enough” isn’t enough for them; we see this desire for “more” in many of our readings. Think especially of Pearl, Meloy, Kingsolver, and Wordsworth, though also Kinnell, London, and Ginsberg from today. One of the questions we face is what happens when we become dissatisfied with the abundance around us. Thus, for Wordsworth, the world becomes “too much with us,” i.e., we attempt to make the world more than it needs to be (or perhaps even can be).

Office hours? They’re at Beck’s!

Sept. 25 Tue.

Piers the Ploughman, prologue & passus VVI.


Passus” is Latin for ‘step’ (singular and plural appear identical). In the case of Piers, think about the stages of a pilgrimmage or some other holy journey. More practically, note that “passus” also functions as a stand-in for “book.” So for today, you need to read books 5 & 6, in addition to the prologue.

Wikipedia has a decent entry about the Malvern Hills area; see also this Google Map of Malvern, England.

Office hours are canceled today; if you gave me a response paper last Thursday, you can expect it back on Thursday. (I typically need a 1-week turnaround for assignments.)

Sept. 27 Thu.

Piers the Ploughman, passus XVIXVIII.


If you’re interested in seeing representations of Hunger and the Sins from Passus V - VI, check out Kathleen L. Scott, “The Illustrations of Piers Plowman in Bodleian Library MS Douce 104,” The Yearbook of Langland Studies 4 (1990): 1-86.

Oct. 2 Tue.

Piers the Ploughman, passus XIX - XX.
Exam review.


Class is canceled today. Sorry—I’m very sick; you don’t want what I have! We’ll cover the rest of Piers after the break. There will be changes to the schedule, naturally, though I don’t intend to remove anything at this point.

The midterm is still scheduled for Thursday.

If you’ve studied the assigned readings & schedule notes and taken your own notes in class, you can expect to do well on the midterm.

The exam will cover material from Genesis 1.1-3 through Piers Plowman, Passus VI. (You’re welcome to bring Passus XVI - XX into play, if you wish, though I won’t expect you to do so.

You’ll need to be aware of key terms that we’ve discussed in class; those terms include concatenation, hubris, nemesis, allegory, & personification. You’ll also want to pay attention to such things as the function of dreams & prophetic vision and idealization & vilification, since these concepts appear in many of the texts we’ve covered.

You will be asked a series of questions that will require a very brief response. In addition, you will be expected to answer one or two short essay questions; you will have some choice about which essays to write.

If you missed class and are concerned about what you missed, please talk with your classmates; they may have taken notes that they might be willing to share with you. If you have any urgent questions or concerns about the exam, please e-mail me at <evorhes[at]gmail[dot]com>; I’ll try to get back to you no later than noon tomorrow. I’ll also be holding virtual office hours tomorrow morning, 11 a.m. - noon, via AIM; my username is j0hnb4ll (you might remember that person—he is real—from last Thursday’s class).

Oct. 4 Thu.

Midterm exam, 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., in the classroom.


See Tuesday’s class notes for information about the midterm.

Oct. 9 Tue.

Mid-semester break: no class.

Oct. 11 Thu.

Piers Plowman, passus XVI - XX. (This is probably as far as we’ll get today.)
Mary Oliver, “The Honey Tree” (3-4).
Meridel LeSueur, “Harvest” (381-89).
Wendell Berry, “A Good Scythe” (389-92).


You might be interested in Jesus’ “harvest” parables, from Matthew 13.1-43.

Oct. 16 Tue.

Mary Oliver, “The Honey Tree” (3-4).
Wendell Berry, “A Good Scythe” (389-92).
Essay proposal & annotated bibliography due.


Office hours today: Noon - 2:00 PM, at Beck’s; no office hours Thursday.

Oct. 18 Thu.

Meridel LeSueur, “Harvest” (381-89).
Wendell Berry, “Stay Home” (222-23).


IMPORTANT: If you are dissatisfied with the grade of one of your response papers from the first half of the semester, you have the option of writing a third response for the second half of the semester (or a fifth response paper, overall). If you do this, the last response paper that you turn in will count as 75% of the grade for the response paper with the lower grade (from the first half of the semester). The original response paper will count as the remaining 25% of that grade. Note that if your fifth (overall) response paper has a lower grade than your original response paper, it won’t lower that grade. (This is a no-risk opportunity for you to improve your course grade!)

I’ll be returning your exams and handing out your mid-semester grades. There will be no scheduled office hours today.

About “literature”: The question, “What is literature?” is an important one. An aspect about the course reading assignments that I didn’t consider this morning (but should have!) is this: If you don’t consider essays like Berry’s “A Good Scythe” to be “literature,” at least think of them as “supplemental” literature, that is, material that can help us frame some of the issues & ideas that come up in the “real” literature of the course.

For the curious among you, the average midterm exam grade was B+. Have a great weekend!

Oct. 23 Tue.

The Wife’s Lament” (online).
Margaret Walker, “Sorrow Home” (321-22).
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, “Exile. El Paso, Texas” (309-16).
Jamaica Kincaid, “Alien Soil” (327-32).


We’ll begin with “Harvest” (from last time).

You might be interested in “One of Our 50 Is Missing,” from New Mexico Magazine.

NB: I’ve tweaked the weight of the proposal & annotated bibliography to be 12.5% (instead of 25%) of the essay grade: see the revised assignment. The remaining 12.5% will be part of the “final” essay.

I need to be downtown after class & in the early afternoon, so office hours are canceled. I’ll be having extended office hours (at Beck’s) on Thursday, 11:00-2:00.

Oct. 25 Thu.

Jamaica Kincaid, “Alien Soil” (327-32).
James Dickey, “A Dog Sleeping on My Feet” (115-17).
Wintu Tribe, “The Willingness of a Deer to Die” (117-19).
Joyce Carol Oates, “The Buck” (130-40).


A reminder: Office hours are 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM today, at Beck’s.

Oct. 30 Tue.

John Updike, “The Crow in the Woods” (68-70).
Susan Griffin, “The Hunt” (146-48).


We’ll begin with James Dickey, “A Dog Sleeping on My Feet” (115-17), Wintu Tribe, “The Willingness of a Deer to Die” (117-19), and Joyce Carol Oates, “The Buck” (130-40)—and see where that leaves us. Anything that we don’t cover today will be postponed until after the Thanksgiving break, so that we won’t compress Gawain any more or interrupt Macbeth.

Regarding invasive species from last class: It turns out that goldfish are part of the “carp” family. The current environmental threat in the US, however, is with the grass, silver, bighead, and black carp.

Regarding the wild fire: I was thinking of the “Milford Flat” fire that started in July 2007, due to a lightning strike in “cheat grass.” I’ll add a link to the report I heard if I find it.

Office hours: 11:30 AM 12:45(ish) - 2:00 PM, at Beck’s. (Sorry—running late!)

Nov. 1 Thu.

Susan Griffin, “The Hunt” (146-48).
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, fitt I.


Note that “fitt” refers to the part, or book, of Gawain.

(We’ll begin with Griffin’s prose-poem, which should set things up for SGGK quite nicely.)

A few thoughts on SGGK:

The poem begins with a reference to the Trojan War, especially to Vergil’s Aeneid. See Borroff’s first note for one perspective on the so-called “Troy frame” of the poem. (I’ll give you another in class.) How might this opening influence our reception/interpretation of the poem main plot/narrative?

There are plenty of intriguing events and descriptions in the first fitt; take particular note of the following:

  • the description of King Arthur
  • the way people are dressed (especially the Green Knight & his horse)
  • Arthur’s and Gawain’s response(s) to the Green Knight’s challenge and the result

Office Hours: 10:45 - 1:30, in Cudahy library. (I’ll be working on some of my own research, but please feel free to find me. I’ll either be in the big study room with the high ceiling or meeting with another student by the vending machines.)

Nov. 6 Tue.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, fitt II.


Office hours are in the Library until noon. I’ll be in the high-ceilinged study room; if I’m not there, I’m probably in the vending area & meeting with another student.

Nov. 8 Thu.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, fitts III-IV.


Regular office hours—but in the library. We’ll try to finish Gawain today. It will be OK, though, to turn in a response paper on fitt IV next Tuesday—but only so long as you don’t merely repeat what we discuss in class. (There should still be plenty of room for you to work, though!)

Nov. 13 Tue.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, acts 1-2.


We’ll begin with a wrap-up of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but we will get to Macbeth—so make sure to prepare that as well.

Office hours, etc., will be in the Library: look for me at the tables by the new periodicals!

Nov. 15 Thu.

Shakespeare, Macbeth, acts 3-4.


We’ll be covering Macbeth, acts 1-3 today. Also read J. Guillimeau, from Childbirth, or the Happy Delivery of Women, which can be found on pages 366-68 of the required edition of Macbeth.

Also note: the due date for the essay draft has changed to Tues., Nov. 27 (the first class after the Thanksgiving holiday). Give thanks, if you wish!

Remember: Office hours are in the library.

Nov. 20 Tue.

Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5.


Remember also to read the following, in the 2nd half of our edition of Macbeth:

  • William Harrison, from The Description of Scotland (280-86)
  • Fynes Moryson, from An Itinerary (290-92)

I’ve added a PDF that addresses some common issues with formatting, quotation, and citation, when it comes to a “research paper.”

Nov. 22 Thu.

Thanksgiving break: no class.


Enjoy your break! If you’re working on your paper draft, remember to check out my example PDF.

Nov. 27 Tue.

UPDATE: We’ll cover today’s material on Thursday and push everything back. I’ve included a few final thoughts on Macbeth as a handout. Note also that the final draft of your essay is now due on December 15, but try not to procrastinate on your revisions: you should be revising even before I return your drafts!

Essay (draft) due.


Note the addition of Updike’s “The Crow in the Woods.”

Make sure to bring Macbeth with you. (We’ll get as far in the assigned reading as we can.)

Office hours are canceled.

Nov. 29 Thu.

John Updike, “The Crow in the Woods” (68-70).
Dan O’Brien, “Eminent Domain: A Love Story” (332-38).
Louise Erdrich, “Line of Credit” (404-13).


Office hours @ Beck’s!

Dec. 4 Tue.

Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (168-69).
bell hooks, “Touching the Earth” (169-73).


I’ll be returning essay drafts on Thursday. Sorry for the delay.

Office hours: will be in my office (surprise!), but will only be the scheduled time—10-11:30 AM.

Dec. 6 Thu.

Pam Houston, “A Blizzard Under Blue Sky” (184-88).
Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man” (188-89).
James Wright, “A Blessing” (64-66).
Exam review, course evaluations.

Essay due at the exam.


For your writing, if you’re interested in revisions without many of the headaches, check out the free Writeboard service from 37 Signals.

Office hours are on an “emergency” basis today. Your papers will be available at my office, most likely in a manila (?) envelope attached on or near the door, after 2:00 PM.

See my main page—I’m running late and misplaced your phone numbers. I’ll be there in less than 10 minutes.

Dec. 15 Sat.

I’ve added the review documents! See the list of texts and an image of my humors table.

Final exam, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., in the classroom.


For your writing, if you’re interested in revisions without many of the headaches, check out the free Writeboard service from 37 Signals.

Essay options: You can choose one of the three following things:

  • I want this grade”: let me know that you want me to apply your draft grade as your final version grade.
  • Revise your essay, according to the requirements in step three of the assignment.
  • Write a “process essay,” which I’ve described here.

In all cases, you must turn in your draft at the exam.

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