A History of British and Irish Poetry from Barrett Browning to Paul Muldoon


Have you ever wanted to know more about poetry but didn't know where to start? If so, this lively and accessible course is for you. Together, we will close read a selection of poetry from c.1850 to now, from Britain and Ireland, in relation to its wider contexts, considering formal issues such as word choice, rhyme, metre and metaphor alongside wider discussions of gender, politics, language and history. This course will demystify poetry, equipping you to talk confidently about form and content without the barriers to reading that are often placed upon it.

We will discuss the following poets, looking at a selection of their poetry from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Gerald Manley Hopkins, W. H. Auden, Edwin Morgan, Eavan Boland and Paul Muldoon. Some poets (and poems) will be more familiar than others, but the course will enable you to read all of them confidently. The course will offer these poets and their work as a springboard to reading further into the period, and exploring your own interests.

Programme details

Courses starts: 24 Apr 2024

Week 1: Introduction: demystifying poetry

Week 2: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, book I (1859): epic poetry

Week 3: Alfred Lord Tennyson, extracts from In Memoriam (1855): elegiac poetry

Week 4: Christina Rossetti (1830–1894), from Selected Poems: biography and poetry

Week 5: Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'Terrible Sonnets' (1880s): playing with form

Week 6: W. H. Auden (1907–1973), selections from Selected Poems: 'poetry makes nothing happen'

Week 7: Edwin Morgan, Sonnets from Scotland (1984): sci-fi and sonnets

Week 8: Eavan Boland (1944–2020), selections from Collected Poems: gender and nationality

Week 9: Paul Muldoon, 'Plaguey Hill' (2020): poetry and the present moment

Week 10: Presentations and conclusions

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Professor Tara Stubbs

Dr Tara Stubbs is an Associate Professor in English Literature and Creative Writing at OUDCE, and a Fellow of Kellogg College Oxford. For 2017–2020 she was the Academic Programme Director of the Rothermere American Institute, Oxford. Her first book was American Literature and Irish Culture, 1910–1955 (2013). Her interests include American and Irish literature, modernism, and poetry, and she has published widely in these fields. In 2017 she co-edited the essay collection Navigating the Transnational in Modern American Literature and Culture (2017), and her second monograph, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020, was The Modern Irish Sonnet: Revision and Rebellion. She is now working on a public engagement project (and associated book) on poetry and the reading public.

Course aims

To introduce students to a variety of poems, by men and women, from Britain and Ireland, written between c.1850 and the present day.

Course objectives:

  • To familiarise students with a variety of poetic forms, and with the language required to discuss these forms.
  • To enable students to read closely different poetic forms, and to be comfortable giving their own opinions of the poems.
  • To leave students with an understanding of how British and Irish poetry since 1850 has interacted with the wider world and its contexts.

Teaching methods

Seminars will usually include a brief introduction of the poet and poems under discussion, followed by a close reading of the poem or poems. In week 1 and week 10 the tutor will provide a more extensive handout to help think about wider contexts, as well as approaches to the poet or poems. There will be less emphasis on direct critical material on the poems themselves, as students will be encouraged to develop their own opinions on the poems, but we will of course discuss different possible critical approaches to the works.

In weeks 2–9 we will begin the class with a presentation by a student or student(s) on the poetry in question, following a brief introduction by the tutor. The tutor will give students advice on the kinds of things such presentations might contain.

Although it is ideal that students obtain a copy of the poems discussed, most are widely (and cheaply) available and most have copies available in the library at Rewley House. If necessary, the tutor can make copies if poems prove elusive to find.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • be confident in their abilities to express a viewpoint on a poem;
  • have a good understanding of the technical terms involved in close reading (rhyme, metrics, metaphor and so on);
  • understand some of the wider contexts of the poems under discussion;
  • have developed some of their own tastes in poetry from c.1850 to now, and be confident to read further.

Assessment methods

There will be an informal (formative) assessment of a presentation on a poem or a section of a poem. For each weekly seminar the tutor will ask a student or students to give a brief introduction (5 minutes) to some of the poetry discussed that week. Some students may choose to present on a different poem, and will have an opportunity to do so in week 10. Each student will receive oral feedback - from the tutor and from other students - on their presentation.

Early in the term the tutor will provide students with a list of prompts for their formal (summative) assessment, which will be an essay of 1,500 words to write up after the teaching weeks have finished. This will be a close reading of a poem or poems, considering wider contexts. Students will be able to choose from the prompts given or come up with a topic of their own, in consultation with the tutor.

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


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 enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

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.

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)