Poetry Analysis via Literary Theory
Poetry & Literary Theory Essay Prompt
For this essay, you will write a short analysis on “The War Against the Trees” by Stanley Kunitz and will do so VIA LITERARY THEORY. As with previous essays, you should use evidence from the text and push yourself to provide “close readings” of text, particularly descriptive language or symbolic resonances that you feel underscore the poem’s overall meaning. However, your “close readings” should specifically connect to the framework of the Ecocriticism literary theory. I will be providing the poem and also an excerpt from Perter Barry’s Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory explaining ecocriticism.
As always, though you can mention plot points, please do not summarize the poem’s plot (you can assume your reader knows the poem); rather, analyze the text to offer an interpretation. Your paper should also highlight those aspects of the literary theory that will become relevant for your argument. As we discussed in class in regard to poetry, it’s best to break the poem’s “argument” into sections (possibly 1 page per stanza). As always in poetry, attempt to discover the speaker (& the speaker’s progression), the conflict/problem, and how the writer uses language to deepen the poem’s meaning.
What do I mean by that? Example: First, as you start your essay analyze the first few lines as though you have not read anything else in the poem. Even if later in the poem it tells you the answer to the conflict, don’t draw on that yet. As your essay’s analysis progresses through the poem you can discover that answer. In a sense, analyze the poem in a chronological order. If you are on line 5, you can’t see the future and talk about something from line 15. But when you are on line 15, you can remember the past and draw a correlation to something back on line 5. Second, poems are much denser then the short stories you are used to doing. Authors actively choose what words they say. In one of Basho’s haikus,he says, “azaleas in a bucket.” Why azaleas and not roses or just flowers in general. Do azaleas have a cultural significance where Basho is from? Is there something important about itbeing a flower that grows in clusters? Can we determine when the poem is taking place based on when azaleas bloom? Basho chooses azaleas to represent certain things to the reader without actually saying them. You need to address the literal meanings of these symbols first and then find the figurative interpretation after.
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Lastly, refer back to Purdue OWL’s website on how to quote poetry properly in MLA format.
Good luck and have fun with it!
The poem you will be analyzing is on the next page.
“The War Against the Trees” by Stanley Kunitz
The man who sold his lawn to standard oil
Joked with his neighbors come to watch the show
While the bulldozers, drunk with gasoline,
Tested the virtue of the soil
Under the branchy sky 5
By overthowing first the privet-row.
Forsythia-forays and hydrangea-raids
Were but preliminaries to a war
Against the great-grandfathers of the town,
So freshly lopped and maimed. 10
They struck and struck again,
And with each elm a century went down.
All day the hireling engines charged the trees,
Subverting them by hacking underground
In grub-dominions, where dark summer’s mole 15
Rampages through his halls,
Till a northern seizure shook
Those crowns, forcing the giants to their knees.
I saw the ghosts of children at their games
Racing beyond their childhood in the shade, 20
And while the green world turned its death-foxed page
And a red wagon wheeled,
I watched them disappear
Into the suburbs of their grievous age.
Ripped from the craters much too big for hearts 25
The club-roots bared their amputated coils,
Raw gorgons matted blind, whose pocks and scars
Cried Moon! On a corner lot
One witness-moment, caught
In the rear-view mirrors of the passing cars. 30
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