By Jacqueline M. Labbe (auth.)
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Additional info for Writing Romanticism: Charlotte Smith and William Wordsworth, 1784–1807
Taking another look at the funerary elements of the sonnets, it becomes clear that when Newbery mentions the elegy’s “funeral lamentations” it means exactly that: lamentations uttered at the death of a loved one. For Smith to substitute for this lamentations at the death of hopes, dreams, desires, and aspirations means that the outward, other-focused trajectory of the elegy becomes an inward and circular spiral of grief that enlarges the subjectivities created in each sonnet. The unceasing woe associated with Smith’s sonnets is by no means always her own, but the ease with which readers have assumed it is speaks to their successful creation of an elegiac modality, dependent, here, on the apparently Writing the Lyrical Ballad 33 confined and restrictive space afforded by the genre Smith chose to exploit: the sonnet.
127–8). This poem, with its pastoral/tragic narration; its gestures to grand events that are here rendered as destructive; its mixture of the wonderful (the fairy-tale forest setting, the “figure unknown”), the pleasing (Phoebe’s relationships with the mother and Will), and the probable (Will’s impressment, the effects on the others) functions as a miniature epic, fulfilling Newbery’s precepts while reconfiguring them through poetic narration. The final stanza brings in the heretofore invisible narrator, but without the personalizing force of the previous poems; this narrator wants only to make sure that the tragic elements of this pastoral mini-epic are plain: Ah!
As I suggest in my Introduction, this view of Smith makes it harder to situate her as a philosophical writer and poet functioning within her literary culture. At any rate, it is instructive to return to Newbery and Blair, since each asks the same question that occupies Smith and Wordsworth in their “experimental” volumes: What is poetry? What forms a poem? For each, both the questions they pose and the forms they choose to compose in their collections interrogate – dispute – Poetry as well as write it.