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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: November 2008

11 - Rethinking Romantic poetry and history: lyric resistance, lyric seduction


Now look around, and turn each trifling page, Survey the precious works that please the age; This truth at least let Satire's self allow, No dearth of Bards can be complained of now: The loaded Press beneath her labour groans, And Printer's devils shake their weary bones, While SOUTHEY's Epics cram the creaking shelves, And LITTLE's Lyrics shine in hot-pressed twelves.

Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

Lyric poetry was long accorded paradigmatic status within the cultural formations we call Romanticism. But for more than a decade now this paradigm has been the focus of intense, productive rethinking. The older consensus prioritized a poetry - and a poetics - of private subjectivity and reflexive interiority, with its formal achievements motivated primarily by a distinctive psychological and philosophical agenda and by a commitment to imaginative transcendence over social engagement. This consensus has now given way to more varied accounts that emphasize generic diversity, canonical openness, and historical determination.

Lyric's status within Romantic scholarship has shifted gradually but decisively since the 1980s. The historicist interventions of that decade by Jerome McGann, Marilyn Butler, Marjorie Levinson, Clifford Siskin, Alan Liu, James Chandler, and others established fresh possibilities for assessing the centrality of lyric in Romantic culture. More recently Chandler has shown that in the case of Shelley especially, lyric is constitutive of - not just constituted by or within - the historicity of Romantic discourse. Anne Janowitz has explored the powerful “communitarian” current in Romantic lyric poetry that developed alongside - sometimes in tension with, sometimes as an extension of - the traditionally privileged “individualist” current.

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