The Prelude

Romantic Poets & the Poetic Problem of Representing London 12th Grade

Writing on nineteenth-century London poetry, William Sharpe comments that ‘Regardless of shared reference to sublimity, fog, of Babylonian blindness, each poet’s London is different. Each time we read ‘London’ we have to begin again.’ For poets in the late eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, London was a frustratingly difficult subject to capture, as it was a city that dealt in confusing excess and masses. Many of the Romantic poets of this period had a disdain for capitalism and its practices; something which London seemed corrupted by. As Michael Ferber comments, ‘The Romantics looked everywhere – to the guilds of the Middle Ages, to the cities of Ancient Greece, to the tribes of ‘noble savages’ in America of Tahiti, to the clans of Scotland, even to the mysterious Gypsies – for models uncorrupted by capitalism and cash.’ Yet for poets like Wordsworth and Blake, the city of London constituted a large part of their identity, and seemingly could not be dismissed or exiled from their poetry. If the distaste for capitalism and commercialism was not enough of a source of frustration in London, Sharpe also points out that not only did these poets experience a ‘mind forg’d aversion’ to the city, but also suffered from quite...

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