1 s entimentali s m, Exotici s m, andMy s ticis m



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    1 S e n t i m e n t a l i s m , E x o t i c i s m , a n d M y s t i c i s m

i n P o e t r y o f t h e 2 nd H a l f o f t h e 1 8 th C e n t u r y

(R. Burns, W. Blake, T. Percy, J. Macpherson, and T. Chatterton)
R o b e r t B u r n s ( 1 7 5 9 – 9 6 )

L i f e :



  • democratic sympathies: admirer of the republican rev. in Am. and Fr.

  • opponent of the strict Calvinism (father of a number of illegitimate children)

W o r k :

  • = consid. a natural genius, a poet by instinct; styled a ‘heaven-taught ploughman’, or a ‘Caledonia’s Bard’ x but: well-read, though largely self-educated

  • < (a) the oral tradition of Scott. folklore and folk song

  • < (b) the lit. tradition of poems in the Scots dialect of E

  • > revived the lyric and the legends of folk culture, and wrote in the language really spoken by the common people > anticipated William Wordsworth

  • F o l k  S o n g s :

  • coll., ed., restored, and imitated traditional songs, also wrote new verses to traditional dance tunes

  • keen ear for Scots vocabulary, idiom, and rhythm

  • author of over 300 songs on love, drink, work, friendship, patriotism, and bawdry

  • hearty, generous, and tender in tone, with a sympathy to all humans

The Scots Musical Museum (1787 – 1803):

  • as a co-ed. of James Johnson’s anthology of Scott. songs

Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1793 – 1811):

  • as a co-ed. of George Thomson’s (1757 – 1821, a collector) coll.

  • P o e t r y :

  • (a) in Scots, the northern dialect of E spoken by rural people: his best poetry (“To a Mouse”)

  • (b) in standard E: poetry in the genteel poetic tradition, with few exceptions (“Afton Water”) conventional

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, the Kilmarnock ed. (1786):

  • his 1st publ. vol., an immediate success

Tam o’Shanter:

  • a mock-heroic verse narrative

  • also wrote: satire, incl. devastating satires against the rigid relig.; and verse epistles to friends


W i l l i a m B l a k e ( 1 7 5 7 – 1 8 2 7 )

L i f e :



  • apprenticed as an engraver x but: followed his ‘divine vision’  a life of isolation, misunderstanding, and poverty

W o r k :

  • author of paintings, engravings, and illustr. for works of oth. poets & his own

  • illustr. for his poems = an integral and mutually enlightening combination of words and design

  • ‘illuminated printing’ = his own method of relief etching, used to produce most of his books of poems (hand-coloured, or printed in colour)

  • P o e t r y :

  • subtle, symbolic, and allusive x but: the ambiguous style veils radical relig., moral, and political opinions

Poetical Sketches (1783):

  • his 1st vol., dissatisfied with the reigning poetic tradition  sought new forms and techniques

Songs of Innocence (1789) > Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794):

  • = visions of the world by ‘two contrary states of the human soul’

  • (1) Songs of Innocence: a hymn-like simplicity, use of nursery-rhyme

  • (2) Songs of Experience: compressed metaphor and symbol of multiple references (“The Tyger”, “London”, & oth.)

  • interrelates the poems of both vol. as a series of shifting perceptions = (1) a falling away from the Edenic innocence to experience > (2) the possibility of progress twd a Christ-inspired ‘higher’ innocence

  • (1): challenges the innocent state

  • > “Holy Thursday”, celebrates the infant joy of the charity-children march x condemns the exploitation of ‘the aged men’

  • (2): equates the ‘wisdom’ of the old with oppression  satirical, even sarcastic

  • > “The Sick Rose”, suggests the mental, spiritual, and intellectual distortion by the “invisible worm” destroying the beauty of the rose

  • > “The Poison Tree” (= orig. “Christian Forbearance”), on the destructive force of repression; the tree = (a) the forbidden tree of knowledge, or (b) a metaphor of repressed emotion > (c) the negative Christian hypocrisy, and/or (d) the positive Christian forgiveness

  • > “The Garden of Love”, ironically wrecked by the ‘thou shalt nots’ of the priests

  • (1): introd. by the piper > (2): introd. by the ‘voice of the bard who present, past, and future sees’ = (1): a shift beyond the innocence… > (2): …into an awareness of the Fall

  • (2): the vol. opens with a daybreak > darkened by the following poems > closes by another morning in the concl. poem, “The Voice of the Ancient Bard” = a regeneration, a new age of spiritual liberty

  • P r o p h e c i e s :

  • insisted he had been granted visions by God which he could transl. and interpret by interfusing picture and word (B.: ‘the nature of my work is visionary or imaginative’)

  • yearned for a faith free of dogmatic assertion > a visionary poetry based on a complete mythology of his own

  • < infl. by the Bible, the Bible-derived epic structures of Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321, [author of the epic poem The Divine Comedy]) and John Milton (1608 – 74, [author of the epic poem Paradise Lost]), and the hymnological tradition in E verse

  • < the eccentric Swedish visionary and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) > redefined his cosmology > close to the Ger. theosophist Jacob Boehme (1575 – 1624): God the Father = neither good nor evil x but: contains the germs of both > the necessity of merging heaven with the creative energy of hell  celebrated the contraries

  • > infl. W(illiam) B(utler) Yeats

The French Revolution (1791), America: A Prophecy (1793), sequel Europe: A Prophecy (1794), and the prophetic satire The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790 – 93):

  • wrote while supporting the Fr. Rev.: rev. = a purifying violence leading to the redemption of humanity

  • x but: his later poetry shifted from an apocalypse by rev. to an apocalypse by imagination (Orc = the fiery spirit of violent rev., gave way to Los)

The First Book of Urizen (1794), and The Book of Los (1795):

  • = prophetic books

  • Urizen = oppressor and the negative God of “thou shalt nots” x embodiment of reason and law

  • Los = rebel against Urizen

  • Orc = both rebel and oppressor

The Four Zoas (an unfinished manuscript), Milton (1804), and Jerusalem (1820):

  • = major prophetic books

  • conc. with the overall biblical plot interpreted in the ‘spiritual sense’: incl. the Creation, the Fall, the humanity in the fallen world, and redemption and the promise of a New Jerusalem

  • written in the persona, or ‘voice’, of ‘the Bard’, going back to Edmund Spenser (c. 1952 – 99, [author of the epic poem Faerie Queene]) > J. Milton > and the prophets of the Bible

  • the Four Zoas = Urizen + Tharmas + Luvah + Los = the results of the fall and division of the primeval man = Albion (= orig. an ancient mythological name for the Br. Isles)

  • the demonic characters in Jerusalem < the incident of his altercation with a private, haunting his imagination (B. pushed the soldier to the inn where he was quartered after he had refused to leave his garden and answered with threads and curses)

  • also wrote: A Vision of the Last Judgement (1810), a prose book


T h o m a s  P e r c y ( 1 7 2 9 – 1 8 1 1 )

L i f e :



  • a scholarly bishop x but: did not feel pressurised to concentrate his energies on theology only

  • educated to appreciate classical principles x but: reflected the shift twd a new and receptive poetic sensibility

W o r k :

  • interested in lit. outside narrowly defined canons  pioneered the explorations of alternative lit. traditions

  • T r a n s l a t i o n s :

  • author of transl. of relig. / secular writings: transl. of the “Song of Solomon”, author of a key to the New Testament, & oth.

Hau Kiou Choaan, or The Pleasing History (1761):

  • = a Chinese novel transl. from the Portug.

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

  • transl. from the Icelandic and ‘improved’ by the transl.

  • aimed for the market for ‘ancient poetry’ newly opened by James MacPherson’s Ossian

Northern Antiquities (1770):

  • transl. from the French

  • B a l l a d s :

Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765):

  • = a 3-vol. coll. of ballad poetry

  • < based on a various 17th c. manuscript coll. now known as ‘The Percy Folio’ (saved it from destruction when he discovered it ‘being used by the maids to light the fire’)

  • ed. and ‘improved’ x but: with an alertness to the virtues of a plain mode of expression, in spite of the ‘polished age, like the present’

  • also visually pleasing: vignettes on the title pages, and a copperplate engraving in each of the 3 parts of the 3 vol.

  • > greatly successful x but: did not secure him an adequate living

  • > foreshadowed the ballad revival in E poetry, characteristic of the Romantic movement: W. Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, & oth.

The Hermit of Warkworth (1771):

  • = his orig. ballad on the Warkworth castle

  • combined the vogue for the ‘Churchyard Poets’ + the ballad vogue he himself had set in motion

  • > Samuel Johnson’s (= Dr. Johnson, 1709 – 84, a poet, essayist, and biographer) 3 satires on the ‘simplicity’ of the ballad verse form: the narrow line btw the beautiful simplicity and simple mindedness


J a m e s  M a c p h e r s o n ( 1 7 3 6 – 9 6 )

  • = a vicarious contrib. to lit.: pretended to have discovered and transl. the works of the early Scott. Gaelic poet ‘Ossian, the son of Fingal’

  • > a widely received Romantic image of the primitive poet

  • > depicted parallel to Homer (8th c. BC, [author of epics Iliad and Odyssey]) as the Bard of the North on the proscenium arch of the rebuild Covent Garden Theatre (1858)

  • ‘ O s s i a n i c ’ F a k e s :

Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland (1760):

  • = supposedly a transl. of poetry from Scott. Gaelic

  • < based on the manuscripts he claimed to have discovered in the Highlands and Islands

Fingal: An Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books; Together with Several other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language (1762):

  • = supposedly a transl. of an epic by the 3rd c. bard Ossian

  • employed the musical measured prose he had used in his earlier vol.

  • (−) some Gaelic ballad poetry truly attributed to one ‘Oisean’, son of the warrior Fionn x but: 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 Scott. feuds

  • (+) appreciated natural beauty, incl. the emotive associations of wild landscape

  • (+) treated the ancient legend of primitive heroism with a melancholy tenderness

  • > the authenticity immediately challenged by Dr. Johnson, claiming M. had found fragments of ancient poems and stories and woven them into a romance of his own composition

  • > modern critics tend to agree with Johnson

  • > admired by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 – 1803), Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805), and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832) who incorporated his transl. of a part of the work into his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)

Temora: An Ancient Epic Poem in Eight Books; Together with Several other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal (1763):

  • = another epic

The Works of Ossian (1765):

  • = a coll. ed. of Fingal and Temora

  • also wrote: Iliad (1763), a stodgy prose version of Homer’s epic


T h o m a s  C h a t t e r t o n ( 1 7 5 2 – 7 0 )

L i f e :



  • wayward from his earliest y.: uninterested in the games of oth. children, liable to fits of abstraction when sitting for hours as if in trance or crying for no reason > consid. educationally backward

  • < his uncle held an office in a church > familiar with the altar tombs commemorating the dead knights and ecclesiastics, and with ancient legal documents laying there forgotten

  • < a voracious reader of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400), T. Percy’s Reliques, J. Macpherson’s Ossian, etc.

  • from the age of 11 contrib. relig. poems to a local journal > later political satires to London periodicals: his contrib. accepted x but: paid for little or not at all

  • did not have to suffer the dire poverty x but: too proud to accept help

  • financial distress + lack of lit. success  suicide (17+ y.) by drinking arsenic dissolved in water after tearing into fragments whatever lit. remains were at hand

  • > the Romantic image of the suffering of unacknowledged genius

  • > = the “marvellous Boy” in W. Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence” (1807)

  • > = the dedicatee of John Keats’s Endymion (1818)

  • > = the subject of Henry Wallis’s (1830 – 1916, pre-Raphaelite painter) painting (1856)

  • > commemorated in poems by S. T. Coleridge, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, & oth.

W o r k :

  • fascinated with the Middle Ages > lived in an ideal medieval world of his own creation  forged the so-called ‘Rowley Poems’ = mock medieval poems by the imaginary 15th c. priest Thomas Rowley

  • ‘ R o w l e y ’ F a k e s :

“Elinoure and Juga”:

  • = the only of the ‘Rowley’ poems publ. during his lifetime, an ‘eclogue’

  • written before he was 12 > claimed it to be a transcription of Rowley’s work

  • incl. 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, rejected for publ. in a periodical

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

  • = a posthum. coll. of the ‘Rowley’ poems

  • ed. by a Chaucerian scholar then believing them genuine medieval works

  • the authenticity challenged shortly thereafter > proved to be fakes

“Ode to Liberty”:

  • = a fragment of a larger unpreserved work = Tragedy of Goddwyn

  • may be counted among the finest martial lyrics in E

Ælla, a Tragical Interlude:

  • inc. passages of rare lyrical beauty

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