Mid-course Turns

As Jerry Harp discusses in his essay “The Mid-course Turn” in Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, a poem that employs a mid-course turn is one that employs a particularly sharp, radical turn.  Below are supplemental poems and discussion.

Holy Sonnets VII (“At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow…”), by John Donne

A massive shift occurs in this poem after the octave (which imagines the end times) to request, or to, in fact, pray: “Wait.  Before that occurs, give me time to learn to repent…”  According to the entry “Volta” (by T. V. F. Brogan) in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, “One can hardly imagine any stronger v. [that is, volta] than that between the octave and sestet in Donne’s Holy Sonnet VII. which marks a momentous shift from the imagined scene of Judgment Day, cosmic in scale, to the quiet immediacy of the here and now, the narrator deep in thought.”

“Oklahoma,” by Landon Godfrey

“A Felicitous Life,” by Czeslaw Milosz

“Last Wedding Attended by the Gods,” by Alan Shapiro (in Old War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008): 20-1.

“From My Window,” by C. K. Williams

“A slumber did my spirit seal,” by William Wordsworth

“Old Man Travelling,” by William Wordsworth

The mid-course turn occurs in line 15–that is, after the poem’s completed blank verse sonnet–at which point the old man, who is (so far) merely the object of the projections of the poem’s (so far only) speaker, is called upon and allowed to speak, and what he says radically overturns the projections of the poem’s first 14 lines.  A wonderful, and wonderfully succinct, reading of “Old Man Travelling” can be found in Geoffrey Hartman’s “The Sympathy Paradox: Poetry, Feeling, and Modern Cultural Morality,” an essay collected in his The Fateful Question of Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 141-64.

“Thoughts of a Solitary Farmhouse,” by Franz Wright

“Fromereville: War in Heaven,” by John Allan Wyeth

Everything changes in this poem at the cry of Air raid!  For supplemental reading on “Fromereville: War in Heaven,” click here.

More to come…

3 responses

15 03 2012
bj omanson
15 03 2012
Mike Theune

This is terrific supplemental material–thank you for drawing my attention to it!

20 07 2022

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