The Ecological Imagination: Syllabus

English 330
Prof. Walter Reed
Fall, 2003

Romanticism: The Ecological Imagination

Course Description:

This course offers an introduction to the Romantic movement in Britain, with special emphasis on the Romantic engagement with nature. We will concentrate on literary texts, primarily poetry, from six major writers: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. But we will also consider poetry, fiction, natural history, visual art and music from this period that respond to the natural environment of the less cultivated or undeveloped parts of England and other regions that were of particular interest to the British Romantics: the Lake District of NW England, Scotland, Ireland, and the European Alps. The concept of an “ecological imagination” will give us a lens for looking at the artistic achievement of Romanticism, the European cultural movement of the late 18 th and early 19 th c. in which the power of art to represent the otherness of the world--in its natural, human, and supernatural dimensions--was considered important.

Course Goal:

[excerpt from Walter Reed's "Teaching a Sheep":]

Romanticism is the artistic exploration of otherness discerned in different places: otherness discerned in a natural world beyond human civilization, in a supernatural that lurks in and around nature, in a folkish historical past, in a revolutionary future of the working classes, in the alienated unconscious of the self, or in the unalienated power of the imagination. But if the "created space" of my own classroom (to return to Palmer's formulation) does not allow the otherness of the Romantic writers to loom as an obstacle to our understanding, we will not have submitted ourselves to the spiritual truth of our subject. Similarly, if my students and I do not acknowledge the strangeness of each other's thinking and feeling and believing, along with the strangeness of the texts we are trying to read together, we will have lost in the transaction a great deal of what is truly, though elusively, Romantic.


August 28 Introduction: Realms of Romanticism (A Conceptual Ecology); “The Tyger” as specimen.

Sept. 2 William Blake: Songs of Innocence (selections in Wolfson & Manning, pp. 119-24), plus Color Plates 6 & 7.

Sept. 4 Blake: Songs of Experience (sel.) (W&M, 126-35), plus Color Plates 8 & 9; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (135-48). (Go to the Blake Archive)

Sept. 9 William Wordsworth: Lyrical Ballads (337-56) [“Simon Lee”–“Tintern Abbey”]; “Preface” to LB (sel.) (356-62).

Sept. 11 W. Wordsworth: “Strange fits of passion,” “Song,” “Three years she grew,” “Song,” “Lucy Gray,” “Poor Susan,” “Nutting” (363-68); “The world is too much with us,” “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” (386); “Resolution and Independence,” “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” “My heart leaps up,” “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (450-60).

Sept. 16 W. Wordsworth, The Prelude (388-450): Book First; Books Second, Fifth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth (selections).

Sept. 18 Romantic nature (the ecology of the Lake District) (I):

William Wordsworth, A Guide through the Lake District (sel.) (Electronic Reserve); Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journals and Letters (sel.) (W&M, 478-91); Thomas De Quincey, Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets (sel.) (Electronic Reserve and W&M, 492-95 ); W. H. Pearsall and W. Pennington, The Lake District: A Landscape History, chap. 1 (Electronic Reserve);

Sept 23 Romantic nature (II):

William Wordsworth: “There Was a Boy” and “Michael” (W&M, 362-63, 369-80; David McCracken, Wordsworth and the Lake District (sel.) (Electronic Reserve); Charlotte Smith, “Beachy Head” (Electronic Reserve); John Clare, selected poems (W&M, 841-51). William Bartram, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida (sel.) (Electronic Reserve).

Sept. 25 Romantic nature (III):

John Constable, sketches and paintings; J. M. W. Turner, sketches and paintings; John Ruskin, from “Of the Turnerian Picturesque” (W&M, 516-20) Hunter Davies, A Walk Around the Lakes (sel.) (Electronic Reserve)

Sept. 30 Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Sonnet to the River Otter” [ + William Lisle Bowles, “To the River Itchin, Near Winton”] (522), “The Eolian Harp” (522-24), “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” (524-26), “Frost at Midnight” (562-63), “Dejection: An Ode” (563-66).

Oct. 2 Coleridge: “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, Part 1 (526-28), “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (528-42), “Kubla Khan” (545-47) [+ Mary Robinson, “To the Poet Coleridge” (225-27)], Biographia Literaria, chaps. 13, 14, 17 (selections) (573-82).

Oct. 7 Romantic sublimity (the spectacle of the Alps) (I):

Coleridge, “Hymn Before Sun-Rise, in the Vale of Chamouni” (Electronic Reserve) W. Wordsworth, selections from Book Sixth of The Prelude (W&M, 414-20); “Wordsworth’s Route Over the Simplon Pass in 1790"

Oct. 9 Romantic sublimity (II):

J. M. W. Turner, sketches and paintings; John Ruskin, selections from Modern Painters: Vol.1, ch. 7; Vol. 3, ch. 11; Vol. 3, ch. 17 (Electronic Reserve)

Natural history journal entry due.

Oct. 14 Fall Break

Oct. 16 Romantic sublimity (III):

Percy Shelley, “Mont Blanc” (W&M, 754-58); Byron, selections from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto the Third (W&M, 654-60); Mary Shelley, selections from Frankenstein (Electronic Reserve).

Mont Blanc Assignment

Oct. 21 George Gordon, Lord Byron: “She walks in beauty” (602), “So, we’ll go no more a-roving” (603), Manfred (608-38).

Oct. 23 Byron: Don Juan, “Dedication,” Canto 1 (667-717).

Oct. 28 Byron: Don Juan, Cantos 2, 3, 7, 11 (selections) (717-45); Letters (747-51).

Oct. 30 Percy Shelley: “To Wordsworth” (754), “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” (758-59), Ozymandias” (760), “Sonnet: England in 1819" (761), “The Mask of Anarchy” (761-71), “Ode to the West Wind” (771-73), “To a Sky-Lark” (773-75).

Nov. 4 P. Shelley, “Adonais” and “Companion Readings” (776-92).

Nov. 6 P. Shelley: “The Cloud” (792-94), “from Hellas” (794-97), “With a Guitar, to Jane” (798-800), “To Jane” (800), “from A Defence of Poetry” (800-10).

Nov. 11 Romantic primitivism (tales of the Celtic Hinterlands) I:

Literary Ballads: “Sir Patrick Spence,” “Lord Randal” (W&M, 322-23, 333); Thomas Gray, “The Bard” (Electronic Reserve); Blake, illustration of Gray’s “The Bard”; John Martin, “The Bard” (W&M, Color Plate 1) James Macpherson, Fingal, Book I (Electronic Reserve); Robert Burns, poems (W&M, 323-333) and songs; Anon., “Griogal Cridhe”

Nov. 13 Romantic primitivism II:

Sir Walter Scott, selections from Waverley (Electronic Reserve); Scott, selections from The Lay of The Last Minstrel (Electronic Reserve); Wordsworth, “The Solitary Reaper” (W&M, 460-61).

Nature Writing Made Into Blank Verse Due

Nov. 18 Romantic primitivism III:

Thomas Moore, poems (W&M, 334-35) and songs; James Clarence Mangan, selected poems (Electronic Reserve); Samuel Ferguson, from “Hibernian Nights Entertainment” (Electronic Reserve).

Term paper prospectus due

Nov. 20 John Keats: “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” (854), “On the Grasshopper and Cricket” (856), “Sleep and Poetry (sel.) (857-59), “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles,” (864), “On sitting down to read King Lear once again” (864), “Sonnet: When I have fears” (865), “The Eve of St. Agnes” (865-75), “La Belle Dame sans Mercy” (875-76).

Nov. 20 Keats: “The Odes of 1819" (877-86).

Nov. 27 Thanksgiving Break

Dec. 2 Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, “Biographical Notice” and Vol I (Penguin Classics, pp. 1-111); Ann Radcliffe, selection from The Romance of the Forest (Electronic Reserve).

Dec. 4 Austen, Northanger Abbey, Vol. II (115-219).

Dec. 9 Conclusion: The Endurance of Romanticism and the Sustainability of the Ecological Imagination.


  1. Regular attendance in class and active participation in discussions.
  2. A five-page paper interpreting a poem or passage from one of the six major authors: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley or Keats. (You will be assigned an author and given a due date for the paper.)
  3. Three exercises in Romantic nature writing. The first, due on October 9, is to be a journal entry (in the manner of Dorothy Wordsworth, William Bartram or another author of the period) in which you report on a walk you have taken in one of the nature preserves on the Emory Campus. It should be a prose fragment of 250-300 words in which you observe and report on significant features of the landscape. The second, due on Oct. 16, requires working with Shelley's "Mont Blanc" visually. The third, due on Nov. 13, is to be a poetic meditation–25-30 lines of blank verse–reflecting on the same landscape or features in the manner of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge or another author of the period.
  4. EITHER a term paper (12-15 pages) on a topic related to the course but extending beyond the assigned readings OR a pair of take-home exam essays written in answer to general questions covering the assigned readings. I will meet with each of you individually before the Fall Break to discuss these possibilities and help you decide which one you want to pursue during the rest of the semester. If you choose to write the term paper, you must submit a 2-page prospectus by Nov. 18; otherwise you will be expected to write the exam essays. Questions for the exam essays will be given at a set time during the exam period.

Final grades will be calculated on a proportional basis, with attendance and participation counting for at least 20%.


Most of the readings are contained in The Romantics and Their Contemporaries, edited by Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning, Volume 2A of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Since the assignments refer to selections as well as page numbers in this anthology, it is important that you use this text, copies of which are available in the DUC Bookstore. You should read the brief introductory sections to each author or work as well as the texts themselves and pay attention to the footnotes and marginal glosses.

Copies of the Penguin Classics edition of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey are also available the Bookstore. Do read the introduction, by Marilyn Butler, as well as the notes at the back.

Many of the texts for the three topical sections of the course-- “Romantic Nature,” Romantic Sublimity” and “Romanticism Primitivism”--are available on the Electronic Reserves of Woodruff Library. But since the way this system works is less than perfect, in my experience, I will also make them available in photocopy packets as we go along. The visual and audio materials for these sections of the course–reproductions of paintings and recordings of songs--can be found through links, accessible here.

Contact information

My English office is N210 Callaway Center; this is where I will meet with you for conferences. You can call me (and leave a message if I’m not there) at 404-727-7968--or you can e-mail me at arrange a conference, ask a question about the course, or share some discovery you have made about the reading. I don’t keep regular office hours, having found them unprofitable for all concerned. But I am always glad to talk with you, my students, about anything that’s on your mind.