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Second Person Singular

Second Person Singular: Late Victorian Women Poets and the Bonds of Verse

Emily Harrington
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zwd9f
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    Second Person Singular
    Book Description:

    Emily Harrington offers a new history of women's poetry at the turn of the century that breaks from conventional ideas of nineteenth-century lyric, which focus on individual subjectivity. She argues that women poets conceived of lyric as an intersubjective genre, one that seeks to establish relations between subjects rather than to constitute a subject in isolation.

    Moving away from canonical texts that contribute to the commonly held notion that lyric poetry is an utterance made in solitude, Harrington explores the work of Christina Rossetti, Augusta Webster, A. Mary F. Robinson, Alice Meynell, and Dollie Radford to show how nineteenth-century poetic conventions shaped and were shaped by concepts of intimacy. Writing about relationships that are familial, divine, sexual, literary, and musical, these poets reconsidered the dynamics of absence and presence, and subject and object, that are at the heart of the lyric enterprise.

    Harrington locates these poets' theories of intimacy not only in their formal poetic practice but also in diverse prose works such as prefaces, literary and devotional essays, and unpublished letters and diaries. By analyzing various patterns of versification and modes of address, she articulates new ways of thinking about the bonds of verse and enlarges our understanding of verse culture in the late nineteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3613-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    With the 1898 publication of her essay “Second Person Singular,” Alice Meynell put “thou” instead of “I” at the center of poetic diction. Meynell’s essay pays homage to this antiquated pronoun, comparing the “literary Genius” to a gardener that keeps “for us a plot of language apart for the phrase of piety and poetry.” Familiar from biblical diction and poetic tradition, “thou” calls only to a specific, individual “you,” and in doing so establishes a bond between a singular voice and its distinct addressee. For Meynell, then, this pronoun marks poetry as an explicitly relational genre, one that enacts a...

  5. 1 “I, for Thou Callest Such”: CHRISTINA ROSSETTI’S HEAVENLY INTIMACY
    (pp. 13-46)

    In the first sonnet of “The Thread of Life” (A Pageant and Other Poems,1881), a series of three, Christina Rossetti institutes a poetic reversal whereby inanimate objects talk to the poet. This reverse apostrophe emphasizes the importance of listening for Rossetti, while also leading to a question that haunts her poetry:

    The irresponsive silence of the land,

    The irresponsive sounding of the sea,

    Speak both one message of one sense to me:

    Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand

    Thou too aloof bound with the flawless band

    Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;

    But who from thy self-chain...

  6. 2 “Appraise Love and Divide”: MEASURING LOVE IN AUGUSTA WEBSTER’S MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
    (pp. 47-76)

    The measurement of love in sonnets, particularly Victorian sonnets, is a familiar, if underexamined, trope. In chapter 1, I argued that anxiety about “counting up the cost” of erotic love animates Christina Rossetti’s poetics of intimacy in her sonnet sequence “Monna Innominata.” For her, the solution is to perform a divine calculus whereby lyric selves retain limited individuality in order to reflect and enact God’s all-encompassing love. In contrast, Dante Gabriel Rossetti raises only to dismiss the impulse to measure love: “I love you, sweet: how can you ever learn /How much I love you?” a lover asks his beloved...

  7. 3 The Strain of Sympathy: A. MARY F. ROBINSON, THE NEW ARCADIA, AND VERNON LEE
    (pp. 77-109)

    In her third volume of poetry,The New Arcadia and Other Poems(1884), A. Mary F. Robinson aimed to test how poetry might ethically bind its readers. Writing about rural poverty, she strove to compel readers to feel the same outrage she felt at the conditions she witnessed. To do so meant stretching the formal bonds of verse, writing in meters meant to strain the ears of her readers. The poetic strains in which she wrote embodied the conflict she felt between the aesthetically appealing qualities of lyric poetry and the dire needs she observed in the poor. Robinson wrote...

  8. 4 “Be Loved through Thoughts of Mine”: ALICE MEYNELL’S INTIMATE DISTANCE
    (pp. 110-139)

    To many, Alice Meynell’s writing seems impersonal, detached, and restrained. The formally careful, abstract, sometimes precious qualities of her writing both in poetry and in prose seem for critics to constitute a world apart. Her praise of silence in her poetry and of “so many significant negatives” in “A Remembrance,” a tribute to her father, seems to refuse the need for emotional and linguistic expression. Her most famous poem, “Renouncement,” about restraining thoughts of the beloved, seems to denounce passion. Her devotion to the Catholic Church and her fascination with the laws of verse are seen as part of her...

  9. 5 “So I Can Wait and Sing”: DOLLIE RADFORD’S POETICS OF WAITING
    (pp. 140-176)

    In the preceding chapters, I have examined fin de siècle women poets’ attempts to make lyric intimacy work, to represent as well as to enact a relational dynamic in their poems. In this final chapter, I explore how Dollie Radford questions the idea that poems construed as songs can establish intimacy. Radford frequently describes songs’ failures to communicate in lines like these: “How I wished my love could hear,” or “All the music would die,” or “I have no voice now you have come.”¹ She repeatedly calls attention to instances of songs’ incompleteness, or even deception. Radford emphasizes that poems...

  10. Conclusion: MARY E. COLERIDGE AND THE SECOND PERSON PLURAL
    (pp. 177-188)

    The previous chapters have explored the role that the concept of intimacy plays in the poetics of women writing in the fin de siècle. These poets have constructed a paradoxically impersonal intimacy, in which readers can see a dynamics of interaction at work, without positioning that dynamics within the specific circumstances of the lives of people or characters. I have argued that in their use of short lyric forms, primarily songs and sonnets, these poets have questioned the nature of poetic voice, whether and how it is heard, and what kinds of presence and absence it might signify. These poets...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 189-206)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-232)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)