Red-capped Robin

My Thesis

Unpublished PhD Thesis: ‘Lyric and Modernity’, (U of Queensland, 1995).

Click the links to view a PDF of each chapter, or this Zip file (1 Mb) contains all the PDFs.

(Prelims PDF 51K & Introduction PDF 66K) With Romanticism all poetic genres lose their traditional associations and modes of operation and become lyricised, that is, they are judged by their degree of intensity, not by their poetic kind. Poetry and poetics subsequent to this are all, strictly speaking, lyrical, and an index of this is the increasing shortness of poems through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the abandonment of longer forms. This thesis concentrates mainly on criticism and poetry which explicitly endorse the lyric, and uses it to demonstrate the extent to which all poetry and poetics of this period are lyrical. However, as a way of delimiting a convenient field of study it concentrates mainly on British poetry and poetics.

(Chapter One PDF 162K) In the Biographia Literaria Coleridge’s definitions of the literary object are a form of Burkean proprietorial conservatism. But they also demonstrate a new, dynamic lyrical unity, which Coleridge uses to oppose the societal upheaval caused by early capitalism; and the Biographia itself, ‘the fragments of the winding stair of an old ruined tower’, is a demonstration of a lyric, not a generic unity. This lyrical unity Coleridge uses to collapse the Lockean chain of association into Romantic epiphany, with the aid of an apocalyptic temporality borrowed from Biblical Higher Criticism. (Chapter Two PDF 162K) For one of the conditions of possibility for the emergence of a lyrical poetics is the existence of an eighteenth-century protestant cultural field; protestant hymnody, for example, in the eighteenth century was often a tool for private devotion, not congregational worship. Robert Lowth’s Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews show an early abandonment of generic considerations in favour of a poetic which stresses inspiration.

(Chapter Three PDF 362K) The way in which lyric poetry was published in the eighteenth century implies a set of generic and social conventions which are not the characteristics which Romantic poetics attributed to it. In particular lyrics were used as a leavening, interspersed with poems of other genres and other works, to provide variety. In the nineteenth century, however, anthologies of poetry became wholly lyrical, and Francis Turner Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury (1861) set the seal on this generic shift. Anthologies since The Golden Treasury have often continued its concern with lyrical unity, lyrical history and for the lyrical intensity and value of the poems included.

(Chapter Four PDF 152K) Higher Criticism continued to influence later poets and critics; it predisposed them to a transcendent Romanticism (Emerson) and this was frequently reflected in poetic criticism (Poe and J.S.Mill). After 1860 longer forms of poetry were replaced as the typical forms by shorter, lyric ones and, under the influence of Romantic aesthetics and historiography, lyrical criticism began to invent a lyric history for English poetry. (Chapter Five PDF 270K) Part of this process was the reinterpretation of the works of earlier poets in a lyric light; thus when the poetry of John Clare was criticised the lyric aspects of his work were celebrated at the expense of its other aspects, and his life was reinterpreted to make it a lyrical biography. This type of Clare criticism begins in the 1890s and has continued to the present day.

(Chapter Six PDF 302K) Imagism began the twentieth century with a call to renew poetry, but its poetics are in fact mostly lyrical. This lyricism then carried on into modernism and can be detected in postmodern criticism. Twentieth-century poetry and criticism are largely lyrical, and this is true not only of obvious champions of the lyric and lyrists, but of poets and poetic movements which were ostensibly anti-lyrical, such as the Movement.

(Conclusion PDF 50K) The lyric is the temporality of modernity, and as such it is hardly surprising that the best illustration of this is in the field of poetry and poetics. But it would be a mistake to celebrate this aspect of poetry; the best antidote to modernity is an impassioned practice of history—to demonstrate its historicity.

(Bibliography PDF 151K)

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© John Leonard 2002