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Cosmopoetics: Renaissance Science and Poetry - ENG00153M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Kevin Killeen
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This module will explore early modern ideas about the soul, world and cosmos, in the era's sometimes wildly unpredictable conceptions of poetry, what it could do that prose could not, its imaginative scope and cacophonous purpose. It will address the vertiginous scope of its sub-mundane, sub-marine, and pre-creation natural philosophy, how poetry seemed like some kind of repost to the entropy and formlessness of the broken world. The delirious ambition of the era's versified science, its outsized scale and its theological remit will be read in the context of classical and biblical cosmologies that, as often as not, just did not fit and did not sufficiently explain, but which nevertheless provided a model of ambitious scale for thinking with. Paying substantial attention to women's scientific poetry, and to works that barely if ever make it into any canon of renaissance poetry, the module constructs a picture of the era's anti-disciplinary, in whose intellectual tumult, any field of thought was liable to spill into another.

We will look, for example, at the strife-poetry of the world's under-structure, the chaotic, atomic and disputatious elemental forces in the work of Anne Bradstreet and Margaret Cavendish; at what may be the first work of dolpho-poetics - what it felt like to be a melancholy colonial dolphin, in Thomas Heyrick's Submarine voyage; a poetry of cosmo-nationalism and medico-theology, in Phineas Fletcher's sprawling strange epic The Purple Island; the 'Lunatick' Lucretius, in Lucy Hutchinson's formative translation of Roman atheism; the dissolution poetics of John Donne's Anniversaries and the rotten cosmic body; the poetry of the soul and cosmos in, for instance, Hester Pulter, Henry More and John Davies; the plant world and the teeming animality of the earth in Abraham Cowley, Plantarum Libri Sex (1662) and Samuel Pordage, Mundorum Explicatio. Along this all, as something of a spine to the course, will feature Milton's forays in Paradise Lost into the encyclopaedic universe, with its architecture of the exo-cosmos, its teeming Lucretian creation and its monist under-philosophy of all things.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The broad aim of this module is to develop and convey a sense of cosmological thought in the early modern era, and to show how far the scientific and poetic were intertwined in the minds of many thinkers. The course will look at the disciplinary range of early modern poetic and philosophical thought, and produce a picture of early modernity that includes, at its centre, women's role in its vibrant intellectual and literary culture. In addition, the module aims to show you how to research and write high quality academic work and to create literary-historical arguments.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the disciplinary range of early modern poetic and philosophical and cosmological thought
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with interdisciplinary and anti-disciplinary thought, exploring the ways in which science and poetics are fused in the period.
  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with the scientific revolution, renaissance poetry and early modern women's writing.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
4,500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules




Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours.

Indicative reading

Many of the course texts are to be found on Early English Books Online (EEBO), or sometimes in more modern editions. Authors may include:

  • Anne Bradstreet, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650)
  • Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Fancies (1653)
  • Abraham Cowley, Plantarum Libri Sex (1662)
  • John Davies, Nosce te Ipsum (1599)
  • John Donne's Anniversaries (1611)
  • Phineas Fletcher, The Purple Island (c. 1611/1633)
  • Thomas Heyrick, Submarine voyage (1694)
  • Lucy Hutchinson's De Rerum Natura (Lucretius) (c. 1649-60)
  • Lucy Hutchinson, Order and Disorder (c. 1660s / 1679)
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)
  • Henry More, Philosophical Poems (1647
  • Samuel Pordage, Mundorum Explicatio (1661).
  • Hester Pulter, MS Poems (mid 17th century)
  • René Rapin, Hortorum libri IV (1665)

Secondary Texts (indicative)
Frédérique Aït-Touati's Fictions of the Cosmos (2011)
Tita Chico Experimental Imagination (2020)
Cassandra Gorman, The Atom in Seventeenth-Century Poetry (2021)
Clare Preston, The Poetics of Scientific Investigation (2015)
Debapriya Sarkar, Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science (2023)
Alexander Wragge-Morley, Aesthetic Science (2020)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.