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John Wulsin approaches the English language not as a conventional linguist, but as a poet interested in the spirit and evolution of our language. To show “how sound works in English and American poetry,” the author traces the many changes, both subtle and radical, in how English has sounded over the past thirteen centuries, while also showing how those changes are related to the evolution of human consciousness in Western, English-speaking peoples.
The Spirit of the English Language is never dry but filled with the textures of the lives and works of the great English-language poets. Wulsin describes the evolving activity of poetry in the biography of each poet, beginning with the Old Anglo–Saxon in Beowulf and the later works of Chaucer, and following the spirit of the English language through to the nineteenth century’s “primal/modern” language of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dickinson’s diamond-distilled language. Along the way, we discover how the very sounds of English have changed the ways in which not only poets think and express themselves, but, more important, how sound works and changes our human consciousness. The author also discusses specifically how, in teaching poetics, stages of the developing English language quicken corresponding stages of thinking in maturing adolescents.
Twelve years in the making, The Spirit of the English Language is the fruit of John Wulsin’s thirty years of teaching language and literature to adolescents. The book is further informed and fructified by the author’s fifteen years of teaching poetics to adults, as well as decades of writing poetry and participating in numerous poetry workshops.
This practical guide will become a classic for all poets, teachers of poetry and language, and students. It is a truly valuable resource for anyone interested in English, its development, its effects on consciousness, and how sound works in poetry.
“John Wulsin’s collection will inspire High School English teachers, new or seasoned, and will charm poetry lovers of any age. Starting with his subtle, engaging introduction to the sounds of poetry, readers will find abundant riches here. Biographical sketches show how poets help to create the culture and consciousness of their particular historical times. A mix of approaches to the poems themselves shows how the ‘spirit of language’ dwells in the ‘lyrical activity’ of various groups of poets—the Rosicrucian and Neo-Platonic ‘metaphysical’ poets, the British Romantics with their supernatural capacities for perceiving nature, and finally the American Romantics with their insistence on newness and singularity. To open Wulsin’s book is to open the door of a lively classroom.” —Gertrude Hughes, Professor Emerita, Wesleyan University, author of Emerson’s Demanding Optimism
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