The poet Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992; Seamus Heaney, in 1995. This semester, we will read a good selection of their shorter poetry, their critical prose, and their longer work: Walcott's epic Omeros and Heaney's translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. Both poets write in English; for both, coming as they do from former British colonies, writing in English is a far from neutral choice. The poet's job of finding a language for what needs to be said thus takes on historical and political dimensions which underscore both its complexity and its necessity. Heaney and Walcott speak to the global audiences of the 21st century about how to write where you're from, without losing yourself either to the local or to the universal.

This 6-unit subject forms part of the Literature section's "Samplings" tier; it is focused on reading and discussion, with less assigned writing.


With the exception of Beowulf, we'll work through each poet's work chronologically. Although we'll be using collections of "selected works," titles on the syllabus indicate the original volumes in which poems appeared.

Quizzes (one on each poet)

Identifications, along with a space to propose questions for the take-home exam. These should be challenging but not painful, and are aimed not only at checking, but also developing and rewarding the close knowledge of a poet's work which is necessary for doing interesting analysis.


Your engagement with the material in class discussion will be essential both to the success of the class and to your success in it. You should count on reading the poems assigned at least three times before class, taking notes, looking things up, and underlining as necessary. I will probably ask each person in the class to memorize some manageable portion of a poem which they would like to see discussed in class.

Take-home Exams (one on each poet)

Three short essay questions (2-3 pages each).


30% participation; 50% take home exams; 20% quizzes.