William Christie reviews 'The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet' edited by A.D. Cousins and Peter Howarth

The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet

edited by A.D. Cousins and Peter Howarth

Cambridge University Press, $34.95 pb, 290 pp, 9780521735537

It is a measure of the stature of William Wordsworth among his younger contemporaries that he would find himself subject to innumerable challenges over the early years of the nineteenth century. What upset the second generation of Romantic poets – Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and, to some extent, John Keats – was the contrast between Wordsworth’s middle-aged political conservatism and his earlier democratic beliefs, expressed in and through the bold poetic experiments in his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798). It was a contrast the younger generation took personally and publicly as a form of betrayal, and one such challenge was Shelley’s ‘To Wordsworth’:

POET of Nature, thou hast wept to
That things depart which never may
Childhood and youth, friendship and
love’s first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving
thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss
is mine
Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone
Thou wert as a lone star, whose light
did shine
On some frail bark in winter’s midnight
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honoured poverty thy voice did
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty, –
Deserting these, thou leavest me to
Thus having been, that thou shouldst
cease to be.

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William Christie

William Christie

William Christie is Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department at the University of Sydney, and president of the Romantic Studies Association of Australasia (RSAA). His publications include the play for voices, Under Mulga Wood (2004), Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Literary Life (2006) – awarded the NSW Premier’s Biennial Prize for Literary Scholarship in 2008 – and The Edinburgh Review in the Literary Culture of Romantic Britain (2009).

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