What Does the Poem Think? Poetry, Thought and Language


In this course I want to view the poem as disengaged from the poet: the poem as a piece of language which relates to thought in multiple and intriguing ways. For the ancient Greeks, poetry came via the Muse, as inspiration. Plato mistrusted the poetic claim to divinity. Later writers (Lorca, Graves  and Koestler, among many) echo this in different ways; however the Muse is now a contested, gendered figure. The lyric poem presents language at its most subjective, but the identity of the lyric speaker remains mysterious or ambiguous.  Some modern approaches to writing poetry encourage bypassing the superego or the 'inner policeman' in various ways, but does this lead us any closer to thought itself? T S Eliot saw the Metaphysical poets as the last poets to embody sensibility in poetry, after which thought and feeling became dissociated. Coleridge engaged  with poetry and philosophy, and posited a distinction between fancy and imagination which has become essential to interpretations of romantic poetry. More recently, post-structuralist ideas have allowed us to disengage from thinking what the author intended to say: we can interpret what the poem itself is saying by a close reading of syntax and words themselves, not just their surface meanings but their sounds and etymologies, as if poems have an unconscious.  Other modern approaches consider the act of creation itself, encouraging ways to gain access to our subconscious through automatic and other techniques. Finally, we shall look at some of Heidegger's writings, and how they have influenced modern poetry. 

Programme details

Courses starts: 20 Jan 2022

Week 0:  An Introduction to Teams

Week 1:  Classical ideas of poetry: Plato, inspiration, the Muse. 

Week 2:  Lyric poetry as thought: the lyric self.  

Week 3:  Ideas of poetry as immediacy: First thought best thought. The poetry notebook.

Week 4:  Metaphysical poetry as embodied thought. T S Eliot.

Week 5:  Coleridge and idealism. Fancy and Imagination.  Wit or Wisdom. 

Week 6:  The poem after the intentional fallacy and the death of the author. Freudian and post-structural  views of the lyric. 

Week 7:  Syntax as embodied thought. Language as thought's body. Bronk, Dickinson.

Week 8:  The nuts-and-bolts school of thinking and making a poem: Ted Hughes. 

Week 9:  The gendered 'I' in lyric poetry. Denise Riley, Jan Zwicky, Lyn Hejinian.

Week 10:  The poem writes you. Heidegger and W S Graham. 


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £229.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Giles Goodland

Giles Goodland has published several books of poetry, and has taught for the OUDCE for several years. He also  works as an editor and researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary.  He gained a Doctorate (D.Phil) at Oxford for his thesis on Modernist Poetry in Britain in the 1940s. 

Course aims

To show the relations between language, thought, and poetry, from both a philosophical and practical, writerly perspective.

Course Objectives

This course is intended for readers and writers of poetry, and people interested in the relation between thought, language, and expression.  I aim to give an overview of various interpretations of the nature of poetic thought, and how these can be applied both in analysing poetry and in writing poems.  I aim to encourage students to participate in these discussions and create some of their own poetic thinking by the end of the course. 

Teaching methods

Teaching will be a mixture of lecturing, discussion, and close reading of texts.  In the first hour of each class, I will summarise the important themes and give examples. The second hour will be in a seminar or discussion format as we engage with poems and texts that will have been sent to students in advance. 

The course will consist of a weekly, one-hour pre-recorded lecture, to be viewed by students in preparation for the weekly, live online seminar at the time advertised. The live online seminars will take the form of guided discussions based on the course reading. Student participation is expected and welcomed. At times during the live online seminars, students will be divided into smaller groups or pairs to study particular poems or critical material, and then will report back to the class as the basis for further group discussion. These activities are intended to foster an active, participatory approach to learning that will allow students to sharpen their critical faculties, test out new ideas, and develop their oral skills. Shortly after each class, the tutor will send additional material , incorporating ideas that emerged, and identifying sources for further study. Prior to submitting the main assessment, students will also have the opportunity to discuss the topics in class, and contact the tutor individually, should they require further guidance.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to: be knowledgeable about the relations between thought, language, and poetry. To be able to discuss some of the difficulties that poets face in presenting or representing thought in poems, and some of the interpretational challenges that result in reading poems as instances of thinking. 

Assessment methods

I will encourage students to engage with discussions and make short presentations.  I will expect students to produce a piece of written work of around 1,500 words to pass. 'Creative' coursework may be shorter. 

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


Each course will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Although it is not necessary to have studied philosophy or poetry at university level, students should be ready to read and engage with some quite difficult and challenging texts. By the time we get to Week 10 we should be ready to discuss Heidegger. 

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)