My dear  students,

the assignment of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan has opened a lot of discussion on the essence of literature & poetry, which is exactly the subject matter of our lesson today.

I’m going to introduce our course on literature by asking you: Why do we study literature? Which is closely linked to the question What is literature? Why don’t we study the telephone directory? I guess you’ve dealt with literary texts for years now but every time I ask my students the above question I see, from their reactions, that somehow it comes as unexpected and it puzzles them. What is our teacher talking about? Of course we study Shakespeare and not the telephone directory but … WHY?

Well, I’m pasting here and on the walls some definitions of Literature and I would like you to choose ONE that suits you & you like best.

litertureis7 litertureis6 literatureis5 literatureis5 literatureis3 literatureis1

  3. The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive (prosperare) in a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.   Thomas Moore
  4. Literature is the exploitation (sfruttamento) of words (…) Music and literature have a great deal in common: they both use the temporal material of sounds” A. Burgess author of A Clockwork Orange
  5. If a nation’s LITERATURE declines, the nation atrophies and decays.
  6. Great Literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. Ezra Pound 1885-1972, American Poet, Critic
  7.  No two people read the same book. Edmund Wilson 1895-1972
  8. Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart  Salman Rushdie  (Indian born British Writer, b.1947)
  9.  Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become C.S. Lewis  (British Scholar and Novelist. 1898-1963)
  10.  What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote E. M. Forster  (English Novelist and Essayist, 1879-1970)
  11.  Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds (modella) it to its purpose. Oscar Wilde  (Irish Poet, Novelist, Dramatist and Critic, 1854-1900)
  12.  The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect (colpire) your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish. Robert Louis Stevenson
  13.  So you may ask what is the use of studying the world of imagination where anything is possible and anything can be assumed (immaginato), where there are no rights or wrongs and all arguments are equally good. One of the most obvious uses, I think, is the encouragement of tolerance. Northrop Frye, The Educated imagination.

Here’s a video I found you may like, created  by a student like you.

Now look at the following lines of a poem we’ll read in class without telling you who wrote it and when.

“ Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

  1. Who do you think is the writer? A contemporary poet? A poet from the past? A young man/woman or a mature one. Why?
  2. Does it communicate a universal truth to you?
  3. Can you consider it literature?

Like Dante who said “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,ché la diritta via era smarrita. (When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,I found myself within a shadowed forest,for I had lost the path that does not stray. Canto I, lines 1-3) couldn’t he just write When I was 35? Am I confusing you? I guess so because even today there’s a huge debate on what literature is. Since it is very difficult to define what literature is, critics speak of LITERARINESS: deviation from conventional daily language.

  • Daily language: life is not worth living. Literary language: Life’s but a walking shadow …
  • Daily language “when I was 35”. Literary :”nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita.”

Meaning is conveyed through Sounds and often has to be inferred.

That’s why you may sometimes  find it difficult to understand and decode it. Nevertheless the SOUND of poetry, like the music of a song, helps you grasp some meaning. Even if you don’t understand French I’m sure you will “feel” the atmosphere and the general tone of the following line.

Les sanglots long des violons de l’automme blessent mon coeur d’un languer monoton”    (P. Verlaine)

The same happens in music. For instance in rap music or ballads.

So, to cut the long story short, in literature



That’s why we’re going to study literature:

  • to master and understand the CODES of literariness;

  • to appreciate literary texts;  🙂

  • to be able to give your personal response; (in a creative way!)

  •  to acquire a certain knowledge of the social & historical context of some authors & be able to compare them to the Italian literature.

“So you may ask what is the use of studying the world of imagination where anything is possible and anything can be assumed, where there are no rights or wrongs and all arguments are equally good. One of the most obviuos uses, I think, is the encouragement of tolerance. “Northrop Frye, The Educated imagination.

Last but not least: why do you want to study literature and what are your expectations for our course on Literature in English? WRITE IT IN THIS PADLET: by 1) following link or 2) here in the embedded Padlet clicking + or 3) using the Qrcode. padletliteratureDon’t forget to write your name!

We started this post mentioning Bob Dylan and I want to end it with a video of the great American Poet of the Beat Generation Allen Ginsberg talking about Bob Dylan and poetry.

5CLIN S.T.Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Today we’re going to read the first part of a  beautiful long poem, a ballad by the romantic poet S.T.Coleridge who, as you already know, was Wordsworth’s best friend.

STEP 1: Introduction the author and his work. You’ve already watched the video presentation as home assignment.

STEP 2: We’ll watch a video of the ballad. You’ll find a translation of the first part of the Ballad by S.T.Coleridge. Look at the illustrations by GUSTAVE DORE’. (Trad. It. di Franco Buffoni). Music by King Crimson, ‘Sailor’s Tale’.

Here’s the complete Ballad in Englishcon traduzione in Italiano a fronte).

At home to revise it or if you’ve missed class, you can listen again to the poem while reading the text in Italian.


The second video is a version read by the famous actor Orson Wells. Part 1

If you want you can have a look at this video of the ballad with the soundtrack by Iron Maiden. 

When you’ve studied the text, try to TAKE the QUIZ.

In editions where it is included, the LATIN EPIGRAPH serves as a semi-thesis for the poem. It is a Latin quote from Burnet’s “Archaeologiae Philosophicae (1692), which Coleridge translates as follows:  “I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family of all these beings, and the ranks and relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What do they do? What places do they inhabit? The human mind has always sought the knowledge of these things, but never attained it. Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night.”

As regards the ALBATROSS:

  1. There’s a reference to the Albatross also in the Pink Floyd ‘Echoes:

“Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air

And deep beneath the rolling waves, in labyrinths of coral caves,

The echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand,

And everything is green and submarine.”

2. In Mary Shelley’s “Frankestein” the doctor promises his sister he shan’t kill any albatross.

“[…] I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to “the lend of mist and snow;” but I shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety. […]” .

3. During the nineteenth century, in the maritime folklore sailors believed that their old mates who died at sea were reborn as albatrosses.

4. Finally to the Maori, the albatross was a spiritual symbol of peace, beauty and power. Its feathers and bones get a break and people who wear pendants made of feathers or bones were the same qualities as albatross’ ones. Garlands of feathers sometimes adorned the prow of waka taua (war canoes).

5. In Hawaiian mythology the albatross appears in stories as intercessors come from the heaven.

Here’s what I found about the albatross in music. You may know some of the groups 🙂 (source WIKIPEDIA

La band Indie-Rock Guided by Voices cita un albatros nella canzone “Peep Hole”, inclusa nell’album Bee Thousand del 1994. Il testo è il seguente:« give me the cost of the albatross and wear it ’round your neck for size don’t let it get you down » « dimmi quanto costa l’albatros e indossalo avvolgendotelo al collo per provarne la misura non lasciarti abbattere »  (Bee Thousand, “Peep Hole”)

La band post-Punk Public Image Ltd ha inciso una canzone chiamata “Albatross” nell’album “Metal Box”. Il testo include i seguenti versi:

(EN)« getting rid of the albatross sowing the seeds of discontent riding along on the crest of a wave » « liberarsi dell’albatros piantare i semi del malcontento cavalcando la cresta dell’onda » (Public Image Ltd, “Albatross”)

La canzone “Echoes”, della band psychedelic rock/progressive rock Pink Floyd, contenuta nell’album Meddle del 1971, riprende il tema del sublime e dell’incomprensibilità della natura, espresso anche nella ballata di Coleridge. Viene messa in evidenza la solitudine dell’uomo di fronte alle grandiose bellezze della natura, e la sua incapacità di trovare in essa un qualsivoglia scopo. Il testo inizia così:

« Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air/And deep beneath the rolling waves, in labyrinths of coral caves,/The echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand,/And everything is green and submarine. »

« Sopra la mia testa l’albatros è sospeso immobile in aria/e in profondità sotto il rollìo delle onde, nel labirinto di grotte coralline/giunge l’eco di una lontana marea, sfilacciandosi tra la sabbia,/ e tutto è verde e sottomarino. »(Pink Floyd, “Echoes”)

(Il musicista sperimentale Momus (Nick Currie), inglese di origini scozzesi, allude a questa metafora nella sua canzone del 1988 “The Charm of Innocence.” Il ritornello è:

« :I was born with the charm of innocence/On my back like a cross/Thorns upon my forehead/Round my neck I wore it/Sometimes a rabbit’s claw/Sometimes an albatross »

Anche  Rickie Lee Jones si riferisce a questa metafora nella sua canzone ‘The Albatross’

“There, there is my ship/Finally come in/I see the mast rolling on the steps/Over the garden wall/I hear the sailor’s call/I see the albatross/And I never want to lose their inspiration”

Anche il gruppo rock punk Bad Religion si riferisce all’albatross nella sua canzone “It’s a Long Way to the Promised Land.” Il testo starts out: “It’s a long way/To the promised land/So you better well know your way/There’s a ship on the ocean/And an albatross who is trying to lead you astray”

Anche Brave Saint Saturn ha una canzone dal titolo “Albatross” in cui si paragona l’albatross con la croce cristiana.”Around my neck there is an albatross./Some people think it looks, looks like a cross,/But it’s not, it’s – well it’s an albatross./There to remind me of who I’ll never be, never be, never be.”

Nella canzone Rebels of the Sacred Heart del gruppo “punk” irlandese/californiano Flogging Molly il cantante Dave King canta:”the albatross hanging round your neck, is the cross you bear for he sins he bleeds”…paragonando l’albatross alla croce Cattolica, essendo la canzone riferita alla vita di un giovanotto ribelle di scuola Cattolica irlandese

La band hardcore/progressive Converge ha scritto una canzone dal titolo “Albatross,” che usa la metafora per descrivere il dispiacere e il senso di colpa provato dopo la morte di cinque amici. Il termine albatross era usato anche nel poema “Snake” di D. H. Lawrence. (fonte Wikipedia)

  •  Has this post helped you study and appreciate Coleridge’s ballad?
  • Do you know any other references to the Albatross in music or literature?