Enduring vs Enjoying

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Fri Jan 21 09:59:05 EST 2005


Kyra wrote

>On Fri, 21 Jan 2005 minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:
>
>> I went to the Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse when I read that, to
>> see whether there was anything in it that made me want to say "oh oh oh but
>> how can you not like X?" and had a look, and I hadn't realised before but
>> you're right!
>>
>> I come up with Christopher Smart's Cat Jeoffrey (which isn't in that book,
>> they only include "A Song to David", eek wibble) and Samuel Taylor
>> Coleridge was just getting started but hadn't apparently done anything much
>> good before 1800.  There are people who would suggest that Burns ain't all
>> bad...  And I have a sneaking fondness for William Cowper, for one or two
>> lines and for John Gilpin.
>>
>> They don't include any Blake!  Gibber!  Surely some at least of his stuff
>> was written in the C18.  *Songs of Innocence* at least *must* have been!

(I was wrong.  They do, but not much, and I missed it through lack of a
decent contents-list.)


>Well, Jeoffrey is obviously the other main exception there - he's simply
>one of the best things EVER!  I love that poem so much.  Even as an
>atheist, I find the bit about purring when God tells him he's a good cat
>profoundly moving.  And Burns isn't bad, either - I'm going to a Burns
>Supper next week, in fact, although partly that's just because, yay,
>Scotland!  It's mainly that I find Pope excrutiatingly dull, and he
>strides over the era like a giant, striding, boring poet.

I'm fond of Pope because he's usually being so rude about people he didn't
like, and scathing about the mores and manners of his society, but I can
see that many people have no time for him and so I didn't put him in the
"oh oh oh but surely you must like this?" category.  It probably helps to
know who he was excoriating and why, really.  Some of his poems are a bit
like reading old copies of Private Eye: if you don't know who "Brenda" is
in those, the point is somewhat lost.  I have a lot of time for the Essay
on Criticism, though, even if I *don't* know all the work and the
identities of those he's extracting the urine from.

Sorry, I feel called to quotation:
"...While they ring round the same unvary'd chimes,
With sure returns of still-expected rhymes.
Where-e'er you find 'the cooling western breeze'.
In the next line, it 'whispers thro' the trees';
If 'crystal streams with pleasing murmurs creep',
The reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with 'sleep'.
Then, at the last, and only couplet fraught
With some unmeaning thing they call a Thought,
A needless alexandrine ends the song,
That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along."

Wouldn't that make you squirm if you were one of the poets he's mocking there?

In any case, he doesn't go on and on and on and on and on and on as much as
say Tennyson or Wordsworth, which endears him to me.  (But then I came to
him after Dryden, who also says things at great length.)

If you really want to gasp with horror at something C18, may I heartily
recommend Mark Akenside?  One of my tutors had a strange fascination with
the man's work, and I simply cannot grasp the attraction at all.  (Try the
first four lines of "England, Unprepared For War", in "An Ode to the
Country Gentlemen of England", 1758, for some very fine scansion.)  He
called him "one of our neglected geniuses", and I had great trouble not
explaining that I perfectly understood why anyone might neglect Akenside,
starting with the word "tosh".

>I don't know how Oxford does it, but, in Norton, the Romantic Era gets its
>own section.  So Coleridge and Blake do not count as eighteenth century,
>timing aside ;-).  Aren't divisions fun ;-)?

The Oxford Books Of are meant to be pretty strict about actual publication
date (which might explain why Smart's unfinished thing whose name I can't
remember but of which Jeoffrey is part didn't get in: I think it wasn't
published until 1939, or something), so you ought to get Coleridge's early
stuff in one book, and the later work in the next one along.  That's the
theory: in practice the bloke who edited the Nineteenth century one has put
in quite a lot from the 1780s, regardless.   I think maybe John Hayward,
who edited that volume, put in what he wanted to at each end of the century
he was meant to be doing.  He's bagged the Rime of the Ancient Mariner at
one end, and the two John Gray poems in it are from 1926, and of the six
Kiplings he's got in there, five were published after 1900.

Thinking of divisions being fun, where does the Norton put Gerard Manley
Hopkins?  He gets some strange classifications happening to him because
almost all his publication dates are posthumous; sometimes he gets included
into a movement that didn't exist during his lifetime, which sort of makes
me giggle a bit.  Oxford has him in C19 in spite of the publication date
being 1918.

Minnow


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