Monday, February 8, 2010

some kind of minor literary resurrection

Ah'hm --

I am looking at the conclusion of yesterday's post. It sounds scolding, and I do not want to scold. No one could argue that the Fleece deserves to take up the space of its entire length in this kind of anthology. The person who put Eighteenth Century Verse together, Roger Lonsdale is his name, has gone beyond the call of ordinary duty, which would be to slap a few well-known poets together and leave it at that. "After several years of reading the 'submerged' poets of the period," he writes in the Introduction

"I can only hope that this anthology succeeds to some extent in conveying my own conviction that the world of eighteenth-century poetry is at once less predictable and more familiar than we have been led to believe … If, inevitably, I would like to believe that this anthology is in various ways more representative of the full range of eighteenth-century verse than most collections, I have no desire that it should some to seem in any way definitive, aware as I am of the arbitrary decisions I have had to make, particularly among the poets so long buried beneath the debris of history."

He goes on to say that he regrets leaving out so much of Pope. "Pope will, however, survive my attentions.

I am more haunted by the lingering memory of some of the totally forgotten men and women whose literary bones I disturbed after they had slumbered peacefully for some two hundred years … and for whom I had envisaged some kind of minor literary resurrection, but who necessarily fell back into the darkness of the centuries, perhaps irretrievably, at the last stage of my selection."

He was able to relieve a little of that feeling later, when Oxford commissioned another book of eighteenth century verse, this one devoted to women's poetry. (I am going to use this as an opportunity to point out the existence of Charlotte Smith, an early Romantic with a fine taste for Gothic melancholy. She's represented in Eighteenth Century Verse by her Sonnet Written in the Church Yard at Middleton in Sussex.

Press'd by the Moon, mute arbitress of tides,
While the loud equinox its power combines,
The sea no more its swelling surge confines,
But o'er the shrinking land sublimely rides.
The wild blast, rising from the Western cave,
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed;
Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,
And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!
With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore
Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;
They hear the warring elements no more:
While I am doom'd—by life's long storm opprest,
To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest.

You can find links to examples of her work at the bottom of her Wikipedia page.)

I haven't been able to find a good copy of the fly poem online, only a Google Books scan of a collection so old that every ess looks like eff, but the one about St. Anthony and his pig can be read here.

Here is Grongar Hill.

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