Unit 1: Ne’er so well expressed
Activity 1: What is Literature?
1. Definitions from dictionaries
• (1) Literature is a body of written information.
• It is too broad as well as too narrow. It includes all documents existed, yet excludes all oral literary works.
• Informative feature is stressed.
• (2) Literature is a body of written words related by subject matter, by language, or by places of origin.
• It confines literature to its object, media and culture, yet as something on the surface, it does not penetrate into the nature of literature.
• (3) Literature is a body of work which deserves to be preserved.
• It emphasizes the value of literature, yet literature is not the only thing that is valuable. This definition is certainly too ambiguous.
2. Definition by Plato (the 5th century BC)
• The tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice (three times) removed from the king and from the truth(理念；.
• (1) Plato emphasizes the imitative feature of literature, which inaugurates mimetic theory of literary criticism.
• (2) Plato believes that literature is an imitation of the real world, while the world is an imitation of the truth. The following is an example.
• “Beds are of three kinds, and there are three artists who superintend them: God, the maker of the bed, and the painter.”
• God creates the truth, the maker builds the world according to the truth, and the painter creates the art according to the world and the truth. Art is three times away from the truth.
3. Definition from Aristotle
• “Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious , complete, and of a certain magnitude (importance, greatness).”
• (1) Aristotle breaks through the conventional theory “Art is an imitation of the truth and the nature” put forth by Plato. He further develops mimetic theory.
• (2) Aristotle believes that art is an imitation of the reality with human beings as the center.
• (3) Aristotle stresses that literary writing is a process of both “imitation” and
“representation”, in other words, literary works refines nature, it shows not what had
happened but what should have happened in a world.
4. Definition by Sir Philip Sidney (1585)
• Poesy therefore is an art of imitation…to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture: with this end, to teach and delight. (1585)
• (1) Sidney emphasizes the mimetic theory raised by Aristotle, and foregrounds imitative feature of literature.
• (2) Sidney points out that the end (function) of literature is to teach and to delight readers.
5. Definition by Alexander Pope (1711)
• What oft was thought, but ne‟er so well expressed.
• Alexander Pope, an English poet, points out our common impression of literature: something that is valuable and beyond description.
6. Definition by Samuel Johnson(1765)
• The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing.
• Johnson underlines the importance of both instructive and pleasing function of literature.
7. Definition by William Enfield(1796)
• …poetry (is) the immediate offspring of a vigorous imagination and quick sensibility …the language of fancy and passion.
• Unlike all the previous definitions , this statement foregrounds the importance of imagination and passion to literature, and regards literature as the product of imagination and emotion.
8. Definition by William Wordsworth (1802)
• Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.
• (1) This definition is always considered to be a declaration of romanticism. Human feelings, thoughts and perception are highly valued.
• (2) Poet‟s job is no longer to imitate the reality. They are required to treat things not as they are, but as they seem to exist to the senses and the passions.
• (3) It is obvious that the artist‟s vision is more inward than outward.
9. Definition by P. B. Shelley (1827)
• Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
• Shelley is one of the greatest romantic poets. He specifically emphasizes the importance of thoughts in writing.
10. Definition by S. T. Coleridge (1827)
• …prose; words in their best order;--- poetry; the best words in the best order.
• Coleridge highlights the perfection of artistic form, especially that of poetry.
11. Definition by Robert Frost
• Literature is a performance in words.
• It is a definition given by American poet Robert Frost. It has in it an element of entertaining display, revealing the fact that literature could bring us pleasure.
12. Definition by Roman Jakobson
• Literature is an organized violence committed on ordinary speech.
• Russian critic Roman Jakobson accentuates the fact that literature transforms and intensifies ordinary speech.
• Jakobson believes that what is specific to literary language, what distinguished it from other forms of discourse, is that it deforms ordinary language in various ways.
Words used to describe literature
• Artistic beautiful
• emotional expressive
• imitating imaginative
• informative instructive
• pleasing passionate
• reflective valuable
1. 1. The following five lectures will focus on the differences between literary language and
2. 2. Five excerpts related to London are collected, and detailed comparisons are to be made. 3. 3. We will find that the descriptions of the same object vary with genres. 4. 4. The purpose of intensive reading and comparison is to make sure the distinctions
between literary language and non-literary language.
Text Analysis (1)
Excerpt 1: Facts and Figures of London
London, population 6,770,000. Capital city of England and the United Kingdom, situated on the River Thames in Southeast England. Includes within its boundaries the City of London, the
sight of the original medieval city and present-day financial and business center; the City of
Westminster, the administrative center which contains the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace And government department; and the West End, the main shopping and entertainment area around Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. London is a leading cultural center, with many theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, opera houses, churches and cathedrals.
5. 5. Products include food and drink (especially brewing), instrument engineering, electrical
and electronic engineering, clothing, furniture and printing.
1. 1. How many people are there in London?
2. 2. Where is London situated?
3. 3. What are the major parts of London?
4. 4. Why is London considered as a leading cultural center of England?
5. 5. What are the main products of London?
Brief answers to the questions:
1. There are 6,770,000 people in London.
2. 2. It is located in the Southeast England.
3. 3. The major parts include The City of London, the City of Westminster, and the West End. 4. 4. Because it possesses many well-known theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, opera
houses, churches and cathedrals.
5. 5. The main products include food and drink, instrument engineering, etc.
1. 1. What is the purpose of writing?
2. 2. What is the lexical feature of this excerpt?
3. 3. How is this excerpt structured?
4. 4. For whom is it written?
5. 5. What is it‟s style like?
6. 6. What is the genre of this excerpt?
Brief answers to the questions
1. 1. It is written to introduce London generally in a systematic way.
2. 2. Most words adopted are nouns, proper nouns and noun phrases, for the purpose of
offering accurate facts and figures.
3. 3. The structure is well-generated, systematic, coherent and informative. It is suitable to
depict all cities on earth by replacing some specific proper nouns and figures. 4. 4. It is written for the public.
5. 5. It is a matter-of-fact description, with an impersonal narrative tone, an overall body of
information, and a coherent and formal structure.
6. 6. It is an excerpt from an encyclopedia.
Activity 3 A Splendid Place
••London is a splendid place to visit, whether for several weeks or just a day-trip. There are innumerable delights to uncover. Simple wandering the streets can be a joy, discovering quaint
alleyways, stumbling across old markets or suddenly finding yourself in the leafy greenness of one
of the many parks. When tried of walking one can view the sights from the top of a red double decker. Try number 28. This passes through the bustling crowds shopping in Oxford Street, carries
on past Buckingham Palace, home of the Royal Family, to finish opposite the House of Parliament, a stone‟s throw from Big Ben. From here you can walk across Westminster Bridge to enjoy the magnificent view along the river.
••1. What is the purpose of writing?
••2. What is the lexical feature of this excerpt?
••3. How is this excerpt structured?
••4. For whom is it written?
••5. What is it‟s style like?
••6. What is the genre of this excerpt?
••1. It is written in a friendly and persuasive way, aiming to display the enchantment of London as a tourist city.
••2. With exception of nouns and verbs, a great deal of adjectives are used for the purpose of impressing readers deeply and favorably.
••3. The structure is generated less formally than the previous one, but still well-organized. It is composed of four parts: a subjective comment, a topic sentence, supporting detail and several suggestions.
••4. It is written for the public, especially for the potential tourists whom are likely to be interested in London, and will visit London some day or those who are staying in London now.. ••5. It is an enthusiastic, persuasive and helpful description of London. The positive and vivid
diction creates a friendly tourist city, while the causal writing style shortens the distance between the readers and the city. (especially the use of the pronoun “you”)
••6. It is an excerpt from a guidebook.
Activity 4 Just a Few Words about London
I tell you, getting around London nowadays is absolute murder. Everywhere you go there are crowds of tourists pushing you off the pavement and making walking anywhere a real headache. Taking the bus is not much better. Took me over an hour yesterday to cover the three miles from Oxford Street back to my place, the traffic was so bad. Guess I‟ll have to get a bike like you.
Anyway, enough moaning. London does have its compensations. Tonight Bob is treating me to an evening out to see the latest Emma Thompson film which has just opened at the Leicester square Odeon. Then on to Poon‟s in Lisle Street for dinner. Can‟t wait!
How to interpret the follow phrases
It is an exaggerated expression which simply indicates “terrible”.
2. 2. A real headache
It suggests writer‟s complaint about the crowded city. He considers travelling in London as a
3. 3. enough moaning
too many complaints, I must stop grumbling
4. 4. compensations
5. 5. can‟t wait
showing writer‟s impatient feelings
1. 1. What is the purpose of writing?
It is something written to a friend for a purpose of expressing his own impression of London. It is certainly an exaggerated description of busy London.
2. 2. What is the lexical feature of this excerpt?
Exaggerated idioms and phrases, colloquial diction and patterns are used frequently. It is an overwhelmingly strong expression of one‟s subjective feelings on London.
3. 3. For whom is it written?
It is written to the writer‟s friend only.
4. 4. What is it‟s style like?
It is written in an informal way, an emotional expression.
5. 5. What is the genre of this excerpt?
It must be a letter.
1. What is the excerpt about?
It is a detailed description of the writer‟s personal experience as a guide showing a visiting
delegation around London.
2. What is the purpose of writing?
It is written simply to record a whole day‟s trip in London without any specific intention.
3. How is this excerpt structured?
It is written chronologically (accordance to natural time sequence), and is composed of three parts: this morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. Each part offers us what was done( ACTION) and what was thought( COMMENT, including writer‟s feelings, impressions and views).
4. For whom is it written?
It is something recorded for himself only.
5. What is it‟s style like?
It is written informally, emotionally and personally. It mostly focuses on the depiction of writer‟s activities, his personal feelings, impressions and comments.
6. What is the genre of this excerpt?
It is a diary.
7. What is the lexical feature of this excerpt?
Abbreviated proper nouns, colloquial diction and patterns are used frequently. It is an informal and casual expression of one‟s subjective feelings on his trip in London.
Quiet as the Grave
Excerpt 5 (1)
An hour before sunrise in the city there is an air of cold, solitary(lonely, isolated) desolation(emptiness, loneliness) about the noiseless streets, which we are accustomed to see thronged(crowded) at other times by a busy, eager crowd, and over the quiet, closely shut buildings which throughout the day are swarming with life.
Excerpt 5 (2)
The drunken, the dissipated(dispelled), and the criminal have disappeared; the more sober(serious, solemn) and orderly part of the population have not yet awakened to the labors of the day, and the stillness of death is over the streets; its very hue seems to be imparted to them, cold and lifeless as they look in the grey, sombre (dim) light of daybreak.
Excerpt 5 (3)
A partially opened bedroom window here and there bespeaks(indicates) the heat of the weather and the uneasy slumbers(sleep) of its occupant, and the dim scanty(insufficient) flicker(flash) of a light through the blinds of yonder windows denotes the chamber(room) of watching and sickness.
Excerpt 5 (4)
Save for that sad light, the streets present no signs of life, nor the houses of habitation.
Questions and brief answers:
1. 1. Who is the writer of this excerpt?
He is English novelist Charles Dickens.
How does Dickens describe London?
He delineates the streets and buildings, the windows and lights, the people and the daybreak of the city, but he does not directly denote which city it is.
2. What is the tone of the description?
From the majority of the adjectives and other descriptive phrases used, we can find that the tone is melancholy, sad, despairing and critical.
3. 3. What is the purpose of writing?
It is vivid picture of a sickly and desolated city, which is penetrating and thoughtful. Obviously, it is not a simple description of a personal impression of a city, nor a matter-of-fact introduction of a city, it is a profound insight into the city which is full of crimes, poverty and evils, and lacks signs of life. It gives information about the time, place and the atmosphere of the place. It is the setting of a novel.
4. 4. What is the lexical feature of this excerpt?
A large number of formal and descriptive words are used for a purpose of creating a certain atmosphere.
5. 5. For whom is it written?
It is written for general readers.
6. 6. What is it‟s style like?
It is formal in diction and syntax(sentence pattern) with a host of descriptive words and figurative expressions.
7. 7. How is the structure generated?
It is well-organized, including three parts : general description, illustrative details, and concluding remarks.
8. 8. What is the genre of this excerpt?
It is a paragraph from a novel.
9. What are the differences between literary language and non-literary language?
(1) Non-literary language is usually “denotative”(直指式的；, it aims at a one-to-one
correspondence between sign(符号)and referent(指称对象). (or between signifier(能指)and
signified(所指) . It aims to meet a practical need of communication, or provide information and findings accurately.
(2) While literary language is highly “connotative”(内涵的；. It is far from merely referential. It
is expressive, conveying writer‟s feelings, attitudes and tone between the lines; it is ambiguous(多
歧义的；, the interpretation varies with context and readers; it is intertextual (互文性的；，
(3) The text is full of historical events, memories, and associations; it emphasizes the sign itself, with all kinds of techniques invented to draw attention to the form itself, such as meter, rhythm, alliteration, imagery, metaphor, simile, contrast etc.
Upon the Bridge
1. Read and appreciate the poem by Wordsworth
2. Discuss and comment
3. Compare Wordsworth‟s poem with that of Xu Zhimo
4. Apprehend poetry
Poem by W. Wordsworth
Interpretation of some words:
1. 1. fair: beauty
2. 2. majesty: splendor,壮丽
3. 3. garment: beautiful clothes
4. 4. doth: does
5. 5. ne‟er: never
6. 6. steep:soak
7. 7. glideth: glides, flows
Standing on the Westminster Bridge, Wordsworth was deeply moved by the beautiful view of London early in the morning. He praised the touching sight of the peaceful and still city, and compared it to a garment wear. A host of silent architectures were listed, embodying the majesty and glory of the city. The images chosen are so attractive and impressive that it immediately press in our mind a vivid picture of a clean and bright city standing on earth and to the sky. There is no pollutant above it, and no noise within. Then a further comparison is made. The beauty of the city is compared to that of the natural splendor of sun-rising which is familiar to us. The similarity between the two is the deep stillness and calmness far away from the noisy and bustling world. Obviously, Wordsworth eulogized the natural, pure, and noble face of the city before it has been destroyed at daytime.
Something about poetry
1. 1. Edwin Robinson:
“Poetry is a language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that
cannot be said.”
2. 2. Carl Sandburg: