A Moment's Monument: Revisionary Poetics and the Nineteenth-century English Sonnet
A Moment's Monument: Revisionary Poetics and the Nineteenth-Century English Sonnet argues that the history of the sonnet in the last century is more than a decorative strand in its literary fabric. To a large extent, this book is about Wordsworth, who discovers, through Milton, that at the heart of the sonnet's power as a form is the trope of synecdoche, which he connects up with the very moment and act of representation - thereby "inventing" the visionary Romantic sonnet. The authority he gains by this discovery immediately reflects not only on his work, which until that moment had rarely included the sonnet, but also on the work of many major poets after him. The book also discusses Wordsworth's rejection of a sentimental mode of sonnet writing popularized by female poets of his day; instead Wordsworth insists on a "manly" (his word) employment of the form that transforms the voice of private sentiment into the voice of public, bardic authority.
Seven chapters take up readings of sonnets by Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, D. G. Rossetti, Hopkins, and, to draw out the implications of this study into our own century, Robert Frost. Close readings of individual Wordsworth sonnets in chapter 1 sketch out a constellation of themes and tropes, as well as a fundamental, revisionary poetic that the very form of the sonnet tropes. Both those tropes and that procedure are problematized and, in some cases, deconstructed by subsequent poets. Far from accepting Wordsworth's visionary claim for the sonnet, this study goes on to show how profoundly those claims were critiqued.
For all their admiration, the post-Wordsworth poets reveal in their own sonnet writing an exploration of the powerful metaphorics and self-reflexive authority that characterize the primary mode of Wordsworth's sonnets. Furthermore, each poet confronts philosophical and imaginative dilemmas that Wordsworth himself either evades, or what may be the same thing, simply does not perceive as problems. And each poet's resistance to Wordsworth is primarily registered through his troping of the revisionary structure of the sonnet that Wordsworth invested with such power. The readings demonstrate that the obsession with the form throughout the nineteenth century is the record of these poets' engagement with the relationship of poetic form to temporality and historicity, and with the century's deepening aestheticism.
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