248. (James Thomson)

Among the reasons Thomson’s “The City of Dreadful Night” can be enjoyed is that it is a second-rate poem that mimics one of the greatest of all poems that came before it, and that can be heard as lightly anticipating, through the by-ways of adolescent influence, one of the great poets that appears after. In its romance-quest structure, the poem owes as much to Shelley’s … Continue reading 248. (James Thomson)

227. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

The Victorians, who were much taken with “progress,” were also, unsurprisingly, devoted to imagining its opposite: being left behind. In Tennyson’s poetry, abandonment recurs as the occasion for utterance: Oenone, Mariana and Angelo, Tithonus and Aurora, The Lotos Eaters (who would like to be left behind), Tennyson and Hallam, the speaker of Locksley Hall and Amy, the speaker of Maud…these are poems about people who … Continue reading 227. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

141. (Robert Browning)

In most lyric poems of the nineteenth century, the pressure exerted on the language derive from the intense self-consciousness of the speaker: self-accusation, self-awareness, self-doubt, self-affirmation, but almost always occurring with the assumption that the speaker is alone with his or her words, and a solitary encounter with language. Even in the conversation poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge, though another is present, it is not … Continue reading 141. (Robert Browning)

139. (Matthew Arnold)

Showing, earlier this week, some poems I’d written to a critic I admire and trust, I received back some critical suggestions that struck at a peculiar blind-spot: the first-person singular, where it is needed and where not, how it shifts the weight of a poem, dragging a great deal in with it, and excluding a great deal also. To write, for instance, “I would say” … Continue reading 139. (Matthew Arnold)

125. (Christina G. Rossetti)

Patience is the activity and end of Christina G. Rossetti’s poetry: patience for the time of God, for death, for the second coming, and patience with her fleeting passions. As a consequence, the volume of her output, the 800-odd pages in the Penguin Complete Poems, edited by R.W. Crump, is less surprising than it seems: patience must be repeatedly mastered and renewed; it cannot be … Continue reading 125. (Christina G. Rossetti)

112. (Lewis Carroll)

“The shadow of an amputated limb”–I’ve thrown out that phrase as a description of queerness in literature: the amputated limb is the body, its desires lopped off (repressed) by a society seeking to reproduce itself (humans being, the anthropologist Maurice Godelier writes, the only animals that not only live and reproduce in society, but need and reproduce society in order to live), and its shadow … Continue reading 112. (Lewis Carroll)

107. (Algernon Charles Swinburne)

Though Wilde mocked his pronouncements of sexual deviance,  Swinburne quarried queer desire for a reinvention of the metaphysical tradition. Even among Victorianists, Swinburne is not written on or read much nowadays, but looking back nearly one hundred years, to the critics who were weaned on the poet of Putney (Swinburne in his later years) and who weaned off him into the dazzle of Donne, may … Continue reading 107. (Algernon Charles Swinburne)