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Chapter 6 - Night Lights: The 1890s Nocturne

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Dustin Friedman
Affiliation:
American University, Washington DC
Kristin Mahoney
Affiliation:
Michigan State University
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Summary

This chapter argues that the nocturne poem, a quintessential genre of the 1890s, attunes itself to the decade’s changing relationship between the human and the natural, the aesthetic and the artificial, with some poets representing an urban, bright, smoky night sky and others presenting visions that blur city lights and starlight, or surreal representations of forests. This chapter approaches the nocturne as a transnational genre, treating British poets Mathilde Blind and Arthur Symons, alongside E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), an Indigenous Canadian poet, and Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet who launched his career writing poetry in English in San Francisco in the 1890s. Noguchi and Johnson both play into European stereotypes that writers of color offer a premodern mystique; yet both also resist that stereotype by fully engaging with the artistic and poetic trends of the 1890s in their nocturnes and by offering alternative visions of modernity. The nocturne illuminates how transnational poets understood the night sky in the wake of industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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