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Scott the Rhymer

Scott the Rhymer

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 264
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    Scott the Rhymer
    Book Description:

    Renewed arguments over the definition of Romanticism warrant a new look at the narrative poetry of Sir Walter Scott. Nancy Moore Goslee's study, the first full treatment of Scott's poems in many years, will do for his poetry what Judith Wilt's book has done for his novels. Already a subtle reader of the high Romantics and their celebrations of the visionary imagination, Goslee draws upon several recent critical developments for this study of Scott: a growing tendency among critics of his novels to see romance as a positive strength, the broader development of narrative theory, and feminist theory.

    Like Thomas the Rhymer, the half-historical, half- mythic minstrel who rides off with the elfin queen, Scott's poems repeatedly accept the world of romance and yet challenge it, often wittily, with an array of hermeneutic perspectives upon its function. The perspectives Goslee considers most fully are the development of poetry from a communal, oral performance to a written, published document; the larger, more violent development of Scottish and British history from feudal to modern cultures; and the repeated contrast, in that succession of cultures, between the limited, passive role of most actual women and their active, powerful role as elfin queen or enchantress in the romance.

    As if drawn toward yet simultaneously repelled by such women, Scott alternates between poems in which enchantresses seem to control their worlds and those in which women are only pawns, desirable for the land they inherit. The poems of the latter group are more realistically historical in plot, turning upon major battles; those of the former are more romantic and magical. Yet both follow similar narrative patterns derived from medieval and especially Renaissance romance. Both, too, show a wandering in more primitive, violent societies which delays the rational, gradual progress seen as cultural salvation by Enlightenment historians.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6320-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
    (pp. 1-17)

    TO DISTINGUISH this book from much recent writing on his novels,Scott the Poetwould make a satisfactory enough title—but a prosaic one. Further, its flat claim is too restricted, as if he were the only poet worthy of the name. Though readers in 1810, at the peak of his poetic reputation, might well have agreed upon such a claim, his absence from the modern canon of Romantic poets strongly refutes it. My aim is to recall his presence. Giving this book, and thus Scott, the title “Rhymer” recalls a specific element of his poetry, its closeness to the...

  6. ONE The Lay of the Last Minstrel: PAGE AND BOOK
    (pp. 18-40)

    THE BORDER LEGEND of the mischievous goblin-page Gilpin Homer is not the genesis of Scott’s first fully original book, though he so claimed a quarter of a century later in his 1830 introduction toThe Lay (PW,52). Nor does that local goblin even appear inThe Layuntil the end of canto 2, almost a third of the way through the poem. Yet his first action is to open a book. He thus claims a role in opening Scott’s own book for interpretation; and a part of that interpretation, in tum, leads to a discovery of the ambiguous power...

    (pp. 41-66)

    PROBABLY THE MOST famous lines inMarmioncome toward the end of the poem. In canto 6 that ambiguous hero recognizes not only that his rival de Wilton lives, but also that the forgery Marmion practiced to disgrace him has become public knowledge and will in turn disgrace Marmion. “O what a tangled web we weave,” he says ruefully, “When first we practise to deceive”(M,6: 17). Though Marmion describes his own snarled pattern of plots, counterplots, and betrayals, his words also betray a significant metaphorical pattern in Scott’s poem—a pattern of ambiguous metaphors for fictions that claim...

    (pp. 67-94)

    IN THE FIRST CANTO of Scott’sThe Lady of the Lake,the disguised King James V of Scotland has become lost while following a stag into the highlands near Loch Katrine. As he blows his bugle with the hope of calling up one of his attendants, a strange girl appears, rowing a skiff toward the shore. Cautiously “the Hunter left his stand, / And stood conceal’d amid the brake, / To view this Lady of the Lake”(LL,1: 17). From this epithet, sounding almost as if it were suggested by the rhyme and not occurring again in the narrative,...

    (pp. 95-128)

    INEnglish Bards and Scotch Reviewers,first published in 1809, Byron satirizes both of Scott’s narratives then in print. Claiming with gleeful cacophony that “lays of minstrels . . . / On half-strung harps whine mournful to the blast,” his criticism ofThe Layskips as lightly as the “goblin brats” he mocks in Scott’s poem. His attack onMarmionproved more savage. Criticizing Murray’s prepublication agreement to pay “half-a-crown per line” for “a stale romance,” Byron chides Scott for “descend[ing] to trade”: only “sere” bays and faded laurel are the reward “of prostituted Muse and hireling bard!” (ll. 175-82).¹...

  10. FIVE The Bridal of Triermain: “FRAGMENTS OF . . . “RIFTED STONE”
    (pp. 129-154)

    SCOTT’S DECISION to publishHarold the Dauntlessin 1817 not as a separate poem but as the second volume of the still-anonymousBridal of Triermainestablishes more than a material bond between the two poems. Each of Scott’s other poems first appeared in a magnificent four hundred- to five hundred-page quarto volume. In contrast, the volumes first ofTriermainin 1813 and then ofTriermainandHaroldin 1817 are octavos, and each contains only about two hundred pages.¹ Almost pocket size, the lightweight volumes seem more appropriate for an individual, private reading. Lockhart conjectures that in this lessexpensive format...

    (pp. 155-176)

    CRITICS OFThe Lord of the Isles,Scott’s sixth major narrative poem, have long argued that the poem is dangerously split in focus. Against the largely historical treatment of Robert the Bruce, the fictional portrayal of a thwarted romance between two of his followers has appeared both frivolous and strained.¹ Increasing the uneasiness of “the minstrel’s strain” or song is a split between fact and fiction in the narrative representation of Scott’s characteristic minstrel figure—a woman disguised with minstrel’s clothes and harp. She alo pretends to be mute and thus seems doubly powerless to shape events. In another split...

  12. SEVEN Harold the Dauntless: PLUNDERING A NAME
    (pp. 177-205)

    APPROPRIATE ENOUGH for the hero of Scott’s last long narrative poem, “dauntless” seems all too appropriate an epithet for the poem itself. Although begun as a playful experiment, this relatively short poem became a burden that he labored to complete. To conclude a study of Scott’s major narrative poems by discussing it may seem to show the same dauntless but misguided persistence.Haroldall too easily falls victim to Scott’s own shifting attitudes toward the problem of how seriously we should take his poetry. Instead of finding release from the responsibilities of cultural and national definition in the anonymity of...

    (pp. 206-215)

    Gillian Beer quotes this passage from Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Tho pas to show how self-conscious criticism and satire accompany quest romance even at the height of its medieval development. Scott, too, knows and uses the passage. Because Chaucer’s narrator reels off the names of the same romance heroes whose adventures are gathered in the Auchinleck Manuscript, scholars have argued that he probably used that manuscript or a version of it for his comical fragment of a quest romance. This manuscript provided Scott with the basis for his 1804 edition ofSir Tristremand for his belief that its redactor’s...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 216-242)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 243-252)