Essays in Romanticism

Romantic Hybridity and Historical Poetics: Lyricization and the Elegiac

Essays in Romanticism (2018), 25, (1), 11–29.


This essay engages Historical Poetics in two ways. First, it takes issue with the grand narrative of lyricization as expressed in The Princeton Encyclopedia entry on Lyric, suggesting that its authors project a bias of mid-twentieth century academic critics backwards in time so that it becomes, in their account, an inexorable, if unfortunate, development of the literary history of the last 250 years. This “development,” I show, fails to account for Romantic poetics’ characteristic embrace of hybridity; it also reinforces a divide between “lyric” as a high-culture form and lyric as part of the popular song tradition—neglecting its social and communal aspects. Against the narrative of “lyricization,” I put two instances: first Southey’s hybrid long poems, with their metrical and formal defamiliarization of the normal author/reader relationship; second Wordsworth’s late elegiac poems. What, I ask, does the lyrical tradition look like if we instead consider it as a retrospective elegization—seventeenth-century poems being effectively linked by their formal and verbal adaptation in Wordsworth’s poetry of mourning? It looks, I conclude, less like the subjective, inward confiding of feeling by speaker to listener than “lyricization” contends: elegization produces an imagistic poetic of distilled detachment that is more succinct and more social. Approaching Victorian and Modernist poetry as elegization, in Romanticism’s wake, allows us to focus on formal characteristics that “lyricization,” if accepted as historical fact, prevents us from seeking out. Thus, even the confessional lyrics of Tennyson, Housman and Hardy benefit from being viewed as post-Wordsworthian elegizations: their relationship to Romanticism better understood than by “lyricization.”

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Author details

Fulford, Tim