Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(18) Eighteenth-Century Poetry


- develops in several different genres parallelly

- the Graveyard School: preoccupied with images of decay, with medieval ruins and tombs

> Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)

> Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village (1770)

- medieval revival: cultivates archaic language and antique forms

> Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765)

> James McPherson's Ossianic poems (1760s)

> Thomas Chatterton's Rowley poems (1770s)

- personal poetry: uses a down-to-earth, humble, and intimate tone

> James Thomson's The Seasons (1726) develops the genre of a long blank verse meditative poem

> William Cowper's The Task (1785) resembles the accents of friendly conversation

> George Crabbe's The Village (1783) seeks to make poetry from and for the lives of common people

Satirical Poetry

John Gay (1685 - 1732)

- together with Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Arbuthnot founded the Scriblerus Club, a group of mostly Tory writers famous for their literary satires and practical jokes meant to debunk pretensions and false taste

> The Shepherd's Week (1714):

- a burlesque pastoral intermixing high Virgilian style and rustic humour

- exposes the discrepancy between high poetic expectations and the coarse reality of the way people live

> Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716):

- a mock georgic, an eclogue in an urban setting which shifts the rural conventions to the town

- the title refers to the pretended goddess of the highways, Trivia, who serves as a muse leading the narrator's walk

> Fables (1727):

- a financially successful collection of verse stories

> Three Hours after Marriage (1717):

- a collaborative satire written by Gay, Pope, and Arbuthnot

Graveyard School

Thomas Gray (1716 - 1771)

- the most enduringly famous and fluent representative of the Graveyard Poets

- educated at Eton, where he won influential friends, including e.g. Horace Walpole, the Prime Minister's son

- made a grand tour on the continent as Walpole's guest, visiting France and Italy, but later quarrelled with Walpole

- was by inclination withdrawn, vulnerable, and melancholic, which is manifested in the persona of his poetry

- adopted the persona of a solitary brooding speaker who contemplates and meditates rather than acts or celebrates

- employed at once a prophetic and intimate style, yet used a highly artificial diction and distorted word order

- wrote slowly and carefully and published very little

> "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1742):

- the overall effect of the poem is that of recalling the lost innocence of boyhood unaware of the troubles of adults

> "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat" (1748):

- a mock-heroic poem manifesting a gentle scholarly wit and an easy moving sophistication

> "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751):

- makes mood and landscape of the poem mutually sustain each other

- meditates on the obscure destinies of the unknown and undistinguished villagers buried in the churchyard

- culminates in the celebrated comment on unfulfilled potential greatness of the buried villagers

> "The Progress of Poesy" (1754):

- a Pindaric ode which experiments with the Greek poet's complex metric frameworks and elaborate prosody

- traces a patriotic genealogy of English verse by suggesting a tradition reaching back to ancient Rome and Greece

> "The Bard" (1757):

- a Pindaric ode considering the discontinuity of poetry where the "The Progress of Poesy" celebrated its continuity

- interfuses a Celtic tradition and an English inheritance within a classical framework

- draws on the tradition that King Edward I (1239 - 1307), having ordered the extinction of the Bards of Wales, was confronted with a venerable survivor of the order who prophesied him the end of the Plantagenets and the renewal of poetry under the Tudor dynasty, whose origins lay in Wales

Oliver Goldsmith (c. 1730 - 1774)

- an Irish novelist, poet, and playwright

- preoccupied with the themes of a rejection of male ambition and a desire for philosophic harmony of the mind

- frequently employs the character of an unworldly priest as a spiritual guide and moral arbiter (poem The Deserted Village, novels The Citizen of the World and The Vicar of Wakefield)

> The Traveller: or, A Prospect of Society (1764):

- a semi-autobiographical poem dedicated to his clergyman brother and praising his brother's choice of profession

- appreciates his brother's rejection of the searching of the external world for a bliss 'which only centres in the mind'

- retraces his journey on the continent, including France, Italy, and Switzerland, but presents a morally educational rather than a sentimental journey

- written in conservative couplets with an air of graceful simplicity

> The Deserted Village (1770):

- idealizes English rural life against the harsh reality of the difficulties attendant on the agricultural revolution

- indirectly attacks the enclosure system and protests against the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands

- opposes the 'luxury' in the increase of wealth, the growth of cities, and the costly country estates of noblemen and wealthy merchants, and the 'rural virtue' in the old agrarian economy that supported a class of independent peasants

- Enclosure Acts: common arable land was being enclosed, i.e. taken out of the hands of small proprietors for the sake of more profitable farming or to create vast private parks and gardens

Medieval Revival

Thomas Percy (1729 - 1811)

- a scholarly bishop, but did not feel pressurised to concentrate his energies on theology only

- educated to appreciate classical principles, but reflected the shift towards a new and receptive poetic sensibility

- interested in literary outside narrowly defined canons, pioneered the explorations of alternative literary traditions

> Five Pieces of Runic Poetry Translated from the Islandic Language (1763):

- translations from the Icelandic, improved by the translator

- aimed for the market for 'ancient poetry' newly opened by James Macpherson's Ossian

> Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765):

- a three-volume collection of ballad poetry based on a various 17th century manuscript collection now know as 'The Percy Folio', which he saved from destruction when he discovered it 'being used by the maids to light the fire'

- edited and improved the original ballads, but with an alertness to the virtues of a plain mode of expression

- foreshadowed the ballad revival in English poetry characteristic of the Romantic movement (William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads)

> The Hermit of Warkworth (1771):

- his original ballad on the Warkworth castle which combines the vogue for the Churchyard Poets and the ballad vogue he himself set in motion

- a subject to three satires by Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) on the simplicity of the ballad verse form, suggesting that there is a narrow line between the beautiful simplicity and simple mindedness

James Macpherson (1736 - 1796)

- his vicarious contribution to literature is based on his having pretended to have discovered and translated the manuscripts of the 3rd century Scottish Gaelic bard 'Ossian, the son of Fingal'

- some Gaelic ballad poetry is truly attributed to one 'Oisean', son of the warrior Fionn, but he cleverly adapted, re-created, and expanded mere fragments of surviving verse

- confounded stories belonging to different cycles to give a Homeric coherence and classical solemnity to the disparate ballad accounts of ancient Scottish feuds

- the authenticity of Ossian was immediately challenged by Samuel Johnson who realized that Macpherson had found fragments of ancient poems and stories and woven them into a romance of his own composition

- Ossian was admired by the Romantics, including Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 - 1803), Friedrich Schiller (1759 - 1805), and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 - 1832) who incorporated his translation of a part of the work into his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)

> Fingal: An Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books (1762) and Temora: An Ancient Epic Poem in Eight Books (1763):

- manifests his appreciation of natural beauty, includes the emotive associations of wild landscape, and treats the ancient legend of primitive heroism with a melancholy tenderness


Thomas Chatterton (1752 - 1770)

- wayward from his earliest youth, uninterested in the games of other children, liable to fits of abstraction when sitting for hours as if in trance or crying for no reason, considered educationally backward

- fascinated with the Middle Ages, lived in an ideal medieval world of his own creation supported by his voracious reading of Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Percy's Reliques, and James Macpherson's Ossian

- his uncle held an office in a church, so he was familiar with the altar tombs commemorating the dead knights and ecclesiastics, and with ancient legal documents laying there forgotten

- from the age of eleven contributed religious poems to a local journal, later political satires to London periodicals, his contributions were accepted but paid for little or not at all

- did not have to suffer the dire poverty but was too proud to accept help, finally the financial distress and lack of literary success led him to suicide when he was not yet eighteen

- came to be admired by the Romantics as a suffering unacknowledged genius, Keats dedicated him his Endymion (1818), Wordsworth addressed him as the 'marvellous Boy' in his 'Resolution and Independence' (1807), etc.

- forged the so-called 'Rowley Poems', mock medieval poems by the imaginary 15th century priest Thomas Rowley

> "Elinoure and Juga":

- an eclogue and the only of the Rowley poems published during his lifetime

- wrote the poem at the age of eleven and claimed it to be a transcription of Rowley's work

- contains obvious borrowings, deliberate use of archaic words picked out of dictionaries, and anachronistic use of Elizabethan verse forms

> "An Excelente Balade of Charitie":

- another of the Rowley poems

> Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley and others, in the Fifteenth Century (1777):

- a posthumous collection edited by a Chaucerian scholar who then believed them to be genuine medieval works

- the authenticity of the poems was challenged shortly thereafter and they were proved to be fakes

Personal Poetry

James Thomson (1700 - 1748)

> To the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton (1727):

- an elegy on the death of Newton confirming Thomson's interest in Newtonian science, his own delight in physics and optics, and his drift from a Presbyterian background towards Deism

> The Seasons (first part published in 1726, last edition 1746):

- a blank verse narrative poem, grew in size and scope over twenty years due to Thomson's changing attitudes

- the systematic revisions and enlargements of the poem reflect his search for an all-inclusive natural order

- shows his debt to the model of Virgil's Georgics in intertwining the pastoral, the patriotic, and the philosophical

- also suggest his indebtedness to the 17th and 18th century science, e.g. some of his periphrasis (the 'wanderers of heaven' and 'household feathery people' for wild and domesticated birds) not only reflect the Latinate convention but also attempt to place each creature in the natural system

- his digressions into the extremes of climate of Africa and Asia in Summer or to the Russian snows in Winter serve as contrasts pointing up the blessings of the temperate climate of north-western Europe

- his response to the landscape is informed by his vision of the harmonious interaction of man and nature, and the balanced interrelationship between the interests of the country and the town, agrarian productivity and urban trade

- recognizes that national prosperity is dependent on agricultural production

William Cowper (1731 - 1800)

- a subject to fits clinical depression and to the Calvinist conviction of his sinful nature and inevitable damnation

- focused his life on diverting his mind from numb despair by gardening, keeping pets, walking, writing letters, etc.

- did not equate his retirement with a dissociation from secular concerns, frequently wrote on sin and the corruption of the world, expressed his anger at abuses and offences, and denunciated colonisation and slavery

> "The Negro's Complaint":

- the poem turns arguments about civilization on their heads and demands proof of slave-traders that their human feelings are in any way superior to those of the Africans they exploit

> The Task (1785):

- began as a mock-heroic poem on the suggestion of Lady Austen that he write a poem about the sofa in his parlour

- eventually grew into a long meditative poem of more than five thousand lines

- contemplates his small world of country, village, garden, and parlour, glances beyond these only to condemn cities and worldliness, war and slavery, luxury and corruption

- uses the active contemplation of nature as a basis from which he develops other meditations

- employs an introspective muted tone, a delicate sensibility, and a precise and clear language

- the choice of blank verse enabled him to achieve an easy, comfortable, refined but relaxed rhythms of speech

> Olney Hymns (1779):

- short religious lyrics written together with the Evangelical clergyman John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace"


George Crabbe (1754 - 1832)

- his life spanned through the Romantic period, but his own poetry is rooted in the eighteenth-century literature

- born to poverty in a small decayed seaport, sought for a patron or a literary employment in London, and finally received help by Edmund Burke and the position of an ordained priest of the Anglican Church

- his literary mentors were Alexander Pope, Oliver Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson

- his poetry continued to use the conservative rhymed couplet, which allowed for both antithesis and qualification and for a variable use of the caesura to approximate to the rhythms of speech

- wrote in the vein of realism with great accuracy of details, developed his powers for narrative and characterization

> The Village (1783):

- an anti-pastoral poem starkly contrasting with Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village (1770) and with the long tradition of natural description from James Thomson to William Cowper

- its unrelieved realism and gloom make an angry and scornful reply to the pastoral convention and the sentimental cult of rural simplicity, innocence, and happiness

- knew from his own experience the degrading effects of hopeless poverty, the rural vice, and the gulf separating the landed gentry from their labouring tenants

- seeks to present 'the real picture of the poor', represents the village life as 'a life of pain' haunted by human and architectural wreckage, the shadows of rejection, the poor house, and pauper burial

> The Parish Register (1807):

- introduces as a narrator a country parson who explores 'the simple annals' of his parish poor, leafing through and commenting on the entries in his register of births, marriages, and deaths

- like his Romantic poet contemporaries also examines the interconnections between character and environment

>> "Sir Eustace Grey":

- analyses the obsessed psyche of a hallucinating dreamer troubled both by past guilt and present religious mania

- manifests his skill in creating a poetry of mood with dislocated images and details suggesting the disordered mind

> The Borough (1810):

- contains an impressive story of the outsider Peter Grimes, an unhappy rebel against his rigid father and an abuser of the apprentices placed in his charge, who is gradually driven out of his community to live in a boat

> The Tales (1812):

- unlike the story of Peter Grimes focuses mostly on the insiders fostering conventional moral and religious values

- presents unremarkable parish priests and their equally unremarkable curates and magistrates, as e.g. Justice Bolt

- despite occasional religious and social questioning Crabbe's moral sensibility as manifested in his poetry is derived from a loyally Anglican understanding of the nature of society, its ranks, relationships, and responsibilities

> Tales of the Hall (1819)

Základní údaje

  • Předmět

    Britská literatura 3.
  • Semestr

    Zimní semestr 2008/09.
  • Přednášející

    Ema Jelínková.
  • Status

    Povinná přednáška pro III. blok.


Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.


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