The Idea of Lyric: Sappho to Emily Dickinson and Beyond

Lee Behnke

Fridays, March 16 - April 27 (not March 30) 10:00 a.m. - noon 6 sessions
King's Chapel Parish House, 64 Beacon Street

Lyric poetry is a unique and universal form of expression. In many cultures, it is  a variation on musical performance. In the western world, we can trace our lyric impulse back to the poetess, Sappho, who lived on the island of Lesbos in the  seventh century B.C. She is pictured in later vase images as seated and playing  on a lyre. Thus, the origin of the form is intrinsically linked to music and melody.  Plato called Sappho “the tenth muse.”

In this course, we will explore some of the fragments of Sappho’s verse translated by Anne Carson. We will then go on to poems by well-known (and beloved) poets such as William Butler Yeats and Emily Dickinson. We may end with current lyric performers such as Bob Dylan. Participants in the class may bring favorite poems for discussion. Hearing the poems aloud often gives subliminal clues to the rhythm and melody of the plucked instrument in the background. Critics have noted a quality of ecstasy in high examples of lyric poetry. Join us for a possibly ecstatic  experience. 

Since this is a close reading seminar, a commitment to attendance is important.

Teaching Style: Seminar     Weekly Preparation: 1-2 hours


    Lee Behnke

    Lee Behnke has taught classics and English at Buckingham Browne & Nichols, the University of Chicago, and more recently Phillips Exeter Academy. She received a B.A. magna cum laude from Smith College in English, an M. Ed. from Harvard in language acquisition, and an M.A. from Tufts University in classics. She has taught ancient civilization courses for the University of Chicago in Rome, Barcelona, and Athens. She coordinated the great books stream of the humanities requirement and directed the undergraduate Latin program.  Her special interest is the classical tradition and its reception in later literature.