Introduction to Literary Interpretation

AP English 12 focuses largely on the interpretation of literature.  In addition to analyzing poetry and prose on the multiple choice section, you’ll also have to write three essays, one of which is analyzing a poem, another of which is analyzing prose.

Check out this PowerPoint and/or this video for an introduction and some review on how to do that.

If I lose you, don’t worry, there are other ways to think about this approach and we’ll be practicing it a lot.

The prompt and poems used in the presentation can be found here: Icarus Prompt or after the page break:

Icarus Poetry Prompt

Below are two pieces of poetry about Icarus, the boy in Greek mythology who, when learning to fly in order to escape the Minotaur’s maze, flew too close to the sun and fell to his death in the sea, despite his father’s warning against flying too high. Write an essay in which you compare the way the poems present the story of Icarus. You may want to consider the parts of the story each poem emphasizes. You might consider specific elements such as selection of detail, diction, tone, imagery, and structure. Whatever elements you choose to discuss, quote from the poems to provide evidence for your assertions about the attitudes of the poets toward Icarus.

The Death of Icarus
. . . with melting wax and loosened strings
Sunk hapless Icarus on unfaithful wings;
Headlong he rushed through the affrighted air,
With limbs distorted and disheveled hair;
His scattered plumage danced upon the wave,
And sorrowing Nereids decked his watery grave;
O’er his pale corpse their pearly sea-flowers shed;
And strewed with crimson moss his marble bed;
Struck in their coral towers the passing bell,
And wide in ocean tolled his echoing knell.

—Erasmus Darwin 1731-1802

To My Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,
testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn of
the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!
There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;
and here are the shocked starlings pumping past
and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well:

larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast
of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!
Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually
he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling
into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into the town.

—Anne Sexton 1928-1974




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