Chapter 44

Mythological Themes in Poetry

This chapter represents the beginning of Part 8, "Literature and Myth." Found just before this chapter, the introduction to this part can help orient you with respect to what you can learn from the upcoming series of chapters.

In this chapter, you will find poetry selections from the mid-seventeenth century to the late twentieth century, including a variety of recognized poetic forms, from pastoral and sonnet to blank verse and experimental form.

Like the other chapters in Part 8, this one aims to illustrate the richness that mythological references bring to literature. The poems reflect the stylistic and philosophical concerns of their time and place. Although poets do not usually direct their works to a specific audience or practical goal, they most likely use current stylistic forms and vocabulary. Therefore, these poems show us predominant forms and styles of various periods while dealing with personal, existential, historical, or political issues.

This leads to a timeless quality that allows readers of poetry to enjoy works that were written centuries ago, as well as those from our own age. (In this context, think, for example, of the enduring power of Gilgamesh, the Bible, and traditional folktales.) The poet W.H. Auden explains the reason for this: history tells us what happened, while literature tells us what happens. (See Chapter 46, p. 725).

As you read these poems, notice how concise they are—each word and its placement are influential to our understanding and enjoyment. Notice also that they often evoke emotions through words, descriptions, and references—not by telling us directly how we should feel.

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