Friday, October 5, 2007

Farewell to minor early Victorian poet week

Well that was fun.

This cohort of minor poets (Browning and Tennyson as well), so different from each other, were all directly inspired by and in their earliest poems imitated either Keats or Shelley or both. It’s interesting that barely twenty years after the revolution of Lyrical Ballads both Wordsworth and Coleridge were already old fogies. And don’t even bother with Byron. These young geniuses wanted the new stuff.

It’s easy to overdo the “influence” business. Professional Readers have a sophisticated way of discussing the issue that I don’t really know how to use. In the case of these poets, though, it’s obvious how direct the Keats and Shelley influences were at the beginning of their careers. During his first 10 years as a poet, Browning wrote nothing but two long poems, “Paracelsus” and “Pauline”, that look like direct imitations of Shelley’s long poems, except that they’re even less comprehensible. And this is a poet who would later become one of the most original in the language.

Meanwhile, in Russia, in France, in Italy, the only British poets who counted were Scott and Byron. Especially Byron, always in French translation. For Pushkin and Lermontov, Byron was the early influence they had to shake off. Alfred de Musset actually wrote a poem replying to critics who had dismissed him as a Byron imitator. Again, all of these poets outgrew or overcame or escaped Byron’s influence. Any poet who did not is probably forgotten now.

Let’s have one more poem. Here is a poem about a mouse by John Clare, a major early Victorian poet. Maybe I’ll write more about him some other time:

I found a ball of grass among the hay
And proged it as I passed and went away
And when I looked I fancied somthing stirred
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheats
With all her young ones hanging at her teats.
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me
I ran and wondered what the thing could be
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood.
Then the mouse hurried from the crawling brood
The young ones squeaked and when I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water oer the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.


  1. Don't let any Scots read your referring to Sir Walter as an English poet!