The essay concerns some of the paradoxes of Robert Southey’s career, which stretched from the French Revolution through to the early Victorian era, in particular continuities between his early revolutionary enthusiasm and the relentless energy of his professional life as a writer. His presence in anthologies is surveyed, and a range of critical responses is discussed. Finally, by way of identifying a more personal formative circumstance that may have shaped and impelled his life and writings, the essay explores the significance of a memory from Southey’s early boyhood.
Marilyn Butler wrote in her Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries (1981) that “In the long run the classic riposte to The Excursion was Byron’s Don Juan, which gaily substituted a sexual ethic for Wordsworth’s solemn asceticism.” Taking the hint from this comment, I have made a comparison of these two poems. The essay’s main objective is to show how ‘sketchy’ and ‘detailed’ these poems are in their own ways. Byron talks about The Excursion in Don Juan and finds it too long, and unintelligible. He makes use of certain ideas and stylistic traits of The Excursion in Don Juan, when he describes parodistically a love-sick Juan in Canto I. Since both poems claim to be epic, the essay probes their respective epic pretentions. On feature of the epic conventions, catalogue, is discussed in both poems, since it ties in with the topic of ‘sketchy’ and ‘detailed’. While Byron gives a detailed account of the love stories of such colourful ladies as Julia and Haidee in Don Juan, Wordsworth’s poem is lacking in sexual connotation. When the Wanderer talks about Margaret, he mainly deals with her sorrow caused by the desertion of her husband. Wordsworth is sketchy in this respect. Yet he describes the Wanderer’s repeated visits with Margaret in a detailed way, with respect to the lapse of time with its seasonal changes. Byron and Wordsworth are both ‘detailed’ and ‘sketchy’ in their own respective ways. In the words of Jerome McGann, for Byron “every detail fascinates”, and Wordsworth is interested in “transnatural referents”.
William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Ruined Cottage’ portrays the tragedy of Margaret, who lost her family in the economic plight caused by failed harvest and ‘the plague of war’. The most memorable image in this poem is that of Margaret’s garden, which gradually becomes overgrown due to neglect. Although this gradual collapse eventually stands as a poetic symbol of nature’s enduring care and governance, it may also imply Wordsworth’s discontent at some forms of poor relief at the time. In the late eighteenth century, cottage gardens were associated with domestic comfort and protection. And in the context of the cottage improvement for the poor, they were considered to be spaces that improved the morality of the poor and instilled industry in them by providing comfort and a pleasurable pursuit. Industriousness was often considered the prime virtue of the labouring poor. In their pamphlets, advocates of cottage improvement repeatedly described clean, neat cottages and cheerful, industrious dwellers to advertise their propaganda that claimed industriousness as the primary virtue of the poor and hard work as resulting in happiness and comfort. Conversely, the advocates described wretched, shattered cottages as symbols of dwellers’ indolence, abandonment of housework and social vice. However, such an ideology ignored the reality that dwellers’ sufferings were caused by the desolation of their dwellings. Reflecting on Wordsworth’s discontent at the ignorance of the poor’s feelings, Margaret’s garden sets such well-meaning social schemes against the deeper human tragedy of her situation; as the narrator says, both ‘poverty and grief / Were now come nearer to her’. The garden is gradually destroyed by her poverty and pain, and the ensuing desolation ironically — and all the more powerfully — reflects upon the grievous ruins of cottage dwellers’ lives. In this essay, I attempt to interpret the significance of Margaret’s desolating garden by considering its image as a symbol of Wordsworth’s revolt against the ideology of social improvement in the eighteenth century.
The purpose of this paper is to investigate how Coleridge read Donne’s poetry, with particular attention paid to “passion” and “wit,” to both of which Coleridge frequently refers when he considers Donne’s poetry. As for Donne’s passion, Coleridge stresses that it is inextricably intertwined with the metre and the language of his poetry. As for his wit, some expressions in his poetry come from <good> wit, others from <bad> wit, though Coleridge’s remarks on it are sometimes seemingly contradictory.
Coleridge was an enthusiastic reader of Donne’s poetry. Considering that his poetry had been nearly ignored during the 18th century, we may feel all the more curious why Donne appealed to Coleridge. It was Charles Lamb who aroused Coleridge’s interest in the metaphysical poets first. Coleridge borrowed from him a copy of Donne’s poetry published in 1669, and interpolated comments in it. Coleridge also borrowed from Gillman an anthology of English poetry, which includes Donne’s poetry, and in this book too, Coleridge wrote some notes. These marginal notes give us valuable clues for understanding how Coleridge read Donne, in what respects his critical acumen led him to esteem, and in what respects to criticize, Donne’s poetry. However, for all their worth, only few attempts have so far been made to analyze them. In this paper, I examine what they are intended to convey, with Coleridge’s other related writings taken into consideration, because they are often laconic, reserved, fragmentary, seemingly contradictory and disorganized owing to the limited space on the pages.
Although Donne’s poetry is ostensibly intellectual, Coleridge was sensitively aware of the need, when reading it, to become unified with Donne, and thereby to capture the passion latent in his poetry, and running with its metre. Coleridge’s way of reading Donne is just like a “dialogue of one,” which the lovers in “The Extasie” have. Coleridge as the reader has a dialogue with Donne as the poet in his “well wrought urn,” i.e. his poetry, but their dialogue is a dialogue of not two, but one, as Coleridge becomes Donne with the help of imagination and feels his passion, in order to appreciate the vast richness of Donne’s poetry. His is a way of reading which sacrifices neither heart nor head.
Frederick Jones suggested in his notes to Shelley’s letter to John Gisborne that the poet’s own description of Epipsychidion as a mysterious poem written only for the Synetoi, the initiated, was an intentional mystification. In spite of critics who agree with Jones’s view considering either Shelley’s anxiety about finding an audience for the poem or the need to protect himself from attacks based on misconstrued relationships, it seems worthwhile to see the poem as indeed an “esoteric” poem.
Shelley always felt like a Synetoi as part of an intellectual minority carrying, like Prometheus, secret wisdom as their only weapon against the powerful and repressive establishment. Shelley’s increasing sense of disappointment in finding audience in his later years led him to the idea of poetic tradition in which the best poetic spirit is disseminated across time as he eloquently argued in A Defence of Poetry. He saw himself as participating in that great tradition. Epipsychidion has characteristics as an esoteric text with its assumed distinction between the initiated and the uninitiated. Reading the poem as an exoteric text with ritualistic elements answers a number of questions, including the issues of its elaborate Renaissance style, the ambiguous identity of the “Sweet Spirit,” the relevance of the philosophic statement on love to the idealized history of the poet, its concern with poetry and language, the reason for the apparently escapist message of the envoi to get away from the ignorant mass, and finally, the political implications this poem may possibly have. The ideal esoteric audience for Shelley would appreciate the imaginative poetic language of the poem, understand the poetic tradition that celebrates love as exemplified by Dante, and share Shelley’s view that the social institution of marriage sustains the sexual discrimination, the property system, and inequality. The poem is supposed to provide a ritual for the purpose of inspiring visionaries to unite and follow the imagination and the love principle so that, despite the adverse time, the tradition of imaginative poetry can be transmitted to future generations.
The title of my essay, “The Unanxious Influence of Spenser for Keats” is an allusion to Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence, which argues that major poets inevitably swerve away from their main predecessors. I attempt to show here that the opposite is clearly true in the case of Spenser for Keats. Spenser’s influence continued from the beginning of his poetic carrier till the end of his life. In section 1, “Keats’s Spenser,” I present biographical details about the role of Spenser in Keats’s poetic development, focusing on the stylistic elements, the sonorities, that reared his ears. In section 2, “Spenser’s Roman à clef,” I discuss The Shepheardes Calender, a landmark in English pastoral poetry. Spenser models it primarily on Virgil’s Eclogues, but he swerves from the melancholy and nostalgia that are the mainstays of traditional pastorals and deals with topical political and religious issues of the Elizabethan Age. I discuss the work in the context of the pastoral tradition and besides point out its importance for Keats and others. In section 3, “Keats’s Endymion,” I discuss this ambitious work, a pastoral poem in heroic couplets. While he was writing it, Keats took Spenser as his guiding light. Though he swerves from Spenser in thematic focus, avoiding political and religious topicality, he yet clearly imbues his lines with Spenserian sonorities, as he pursues ideal beauty. The character Endymion is himself idealized, not an ordinary shepherd, but the prince of shepherds, riding “a fair-wrought car” in pursuit of the supernal, the goddess Diana or her cynosure Cynthia. And while he is portrayed as achieving this otherworldly goal, what stays with us, I maintain, is the earthly beauty of Keats’s language.
This essay explores when and how the ‘Bright star’ sonnet, which has two significantly different versions, was originally written, considering the interrelationship between Keats’s Fanny poems and his Vauxhallwoman verses as well as Keats’s relationship with Wordsworh.
Three main dates have been suggested for ‘Bright star’: October 1818, July 1819, and October-November 1819. This essay proposes that at the earliest the date could be around September-October 1818 and at the latest in January or February 1819. The date of ‘Bright star’ is closely related to that of his first meeting with Fanny Brawne because evidence suggests that Keats almost instantly fell in love with her when they first met. Before meeting Fanny, Keats had had an experience of love at first sight with the Vauxhall woman in August 1814: this led to the writing of three love poems, one written in 1814 and two in 1818. The affinity between ‘Bright star’ and the Vauxhall-woman poems hints that this unknown woman, celebrated in Keats’s first two Shakespearian sonnets, was afterwards replaced by Fanny in another Shakespearian sonnet, ‘Bright star’.
Keats’s swing from Wordsworth to Fanny in ‘Bright star’ is not so straightforward as it seems. We see in ‘Bright star’ Keats’s respect for, and attachment to, Wordsworth on the one hand and his disappointment at, and detachment from, Wordsworth on the other, as well as Keats’s adoration and suspicion of Fanny: hence the multi-layered oxymoron of “a sweet unrest” in the poem’s sestet.
We see Keats’s “Negative Capability” working at its best in ‘Bright star’. ‘Bright star’, especially its original, is a different poem from the rest of the Fanny poems composed between October-November 1819 and February 1820 where Keats’s negative capability is stopped from functioning properly due to his uncontrollable love for Fanny. Seeing that almost all of Keats’s masterpieces in his 1820 volume (mostly written in 1819) mirror the poet’s “sweet unrest” concerning the duality of ‘poetry’, ‘love’, and ‘death’, we anticipate from the Fanny poems as a whole the death of Keats as a negatively capable poet. In this sense the original and the final version of ‘Bright star’ serve as landmarks pointing respectively to the beginning and to the end of Keats’s annus mirabilis.
This paper examines the progress of Keats’s early career in terms of the eighteenth-century vogue for retreating from the noisy world to tranquil countryside, focusing on the sonnet “O Solitude” and Endymion. The solitude sonnet, his first appearance in print, attempts to negotiate between two types of retirement, solitary, or Wordsworthian, and sociable, or Huntian, culminating in two kindred spirits’ flight into the haunts of Solitude. This solution accords with the optimistic, or middle-class, notion of solitude spread among neoclassicists, but, on the other hand, as a relevant epistle suggests, the poem anticipates Keats’s personal struggle on the road to fame, with the image of solitary vigils supposedly taken from a stock character in medieval romances, the forest hermit. An interest in rural retirement and its poetic implications are increasingly evident in the development of Endymion, and in the author’s life. Far from establishing a religion of love, in fact, the story moves towards exploring the potential of solitude and sorrow, as represented by the concepts of the bower, which shift from the sensual bower of love, through the Indian Maid’s lonely bower, to the Cave of Quietude. This reflects the poet’s experience of being alone in the countryside of the Isle of Wight, an experience intended to improve the mind. His sentiments on solitude show striking similarities to those found in J. G. Zimmermann’s then-celebrated Solitude Considered (1791), especially in relation to solitude as a remedy for the broken-hearted and the importance of occasional retirement for the young mind. During his efforts to conclude Endymion at Box Hill, Keats’s detached frame of mind seems to have been perfectly tuned to the surroundings of a resort known for its solitary landscape. His pursuit of solitude as the muse, beginning with the solitude sonnet, is thus crystallised into the solitary existence of a hermit-poet which Endymion finally decides to lead.
The legendary leap of Sappho because of unrequited love for Phaon has inspired various fictional accounts from ancient times to the present. In this essay, I consider the early nineteenth-century fiction of Sappho through a focus upon the poems of Letitia Elizabeth Landon. Landon, who achieved commercial success in the 1820s and 1830s, was presented as the “English Sappho” by William Jerdan, the editor of the Literary Gazette and Landon’s publisher. Moreover, he was the father of Landon’s three illegitimate children and their relationship lasted from 1822 to at least 1834. Although the rumor concerning these two individuals circulated in 1826, Landon publicly denied the relationship during her lifetime, and it was not until Cynthia Lawford discovered hard evidence in 2000 that the affair turned out to be true. I pay attention therefore to the way Landon weaved her affair with the married editor twenty years her senior into her story of Sappho in “Sappho” (1822) and “Sappho’s Song” in The Improvisatrice (1824), which were published before the rumor began. Transforming her real passion to fictional passion, Landon creates a Sappho who is, unlike Ovid’s, always heterosexual and modest, therefore blameless, and who always laments the loss of love, considering love more important than fame. No doubt Landon knew that her Sappho conformed to the time’s tastes. Even after the rumor, Landon kept publishing many poems on the same theme of unrequited love and death in her volumes and literary annuals. Thus she succeeded in turning her own and Sappho’s love into a commodity to satisfy readers’ demands.