Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Animal Poems


Animals have always appealed to the human imagination. This course provides a basic rubric for analyzing a variety of animal poems in order (1) to make you a better reader of poetry and (2) to examine some of the most pressing philosophical questions that have been raised in the growing field of animal studies. The animals that will concern us here are not allegorical--the serpent as evil, the fox as cunning, the dove as a figure for love. Rather, they are creatures that, in their stubborn animality, provoke the imagination of the poet.

We'll look at song birds (nightingales, skylarks) and birds of prey (eagle, hawk, cormorant, kingfisher); fish and other sea life (starfish, crocodile, shark); ground creatures that burrow (mice, moles, badgers) and scavenge (skunk, armadillo); cats that climb and stretch; and animals that hunt and are hunted (fox, hare, deer, moose). On the theoretical side of things, we will examine the concept of the autobiographical animal (a creature that provides the poet with an opportunity for self-reflection), the ontology of nonhuman animals (which remain opaque to the questioning, curious human), and animal aesthetics (the sublime, beautiful, grotesque, ugly). We'll consider the nature of pathos and sympathy in the relation between human and non-human animals and the ethics of animality. We'll aim to deepen our consciousness of animals and bestial forms of subjectivity.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Denise Gigante

"Over the past twenty years, I have been teaching a range of English literature classes at Stanford, from Shakespeare to Modern Poetry, such as Poetry & Poetics, Modern Poetry, Romantic Poetry, and the illuminated poetry of William Blake. I have a cat named Christabel (the title of a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge) and had another named Percy (after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) until he met his fate in the form of a hungry coyote last year.

"I have published a number of books, most recently a biography of the poet John Keats and his brother George, titled The Keats Brothers. I am currently completing The Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America and The Mental Traveller: William Blake, which studies the poet in the context of late-medieval and Renaissance iconography. I am also writing a book on animal poems and look forward to teaching this class."