Victorian Metaphors for Poetry

By Gibson, Mary Ellis | Nineteenth-Century Prose, Winter 1988 | Go to article overview

Victorian Metaphors for Poetry


Gibson, Mary Ellis, Nineteenth-Century Prose


W. David Shaw. The Lucid Veil: Poetic Truth in the Victorian Age. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. 311 pp.

Taking his title from Tennyson's In Memoriam, David Shaw focuses his examination of Victorian poetics and philosophy on a series of epistemological metaphors. Shaw's work in his influential studies of Tennyson's Style and Browning's Dialectical Temper gives him a detailed and allusive command of the standard Victorian poetic canon. In this more comprehensive study, Shaw discusses various Victorian metaphors for poetry beginning with poetry as a mirror of nature. This understanding of poetry, Shaw argues, quickly gave way to metaphors likening poetry first to a darkening glass, then to a lucid veil through which some higher reality is glimpsed. In the mid to late Victorian period poetry was characterized as a lucid veil concealing at least as much as it reveals, and finally as a "kaleidoscope of presentational forms."

In his examination of these and other metaphors, Shaw groups critical, philosophical and poetic texts, reading them against each other, sometimes to trace influences, more often to suggest analogous approaches to questions of language, knowledge, and art. As the dominant metaphor of the study suggests, Shaw is most keenly interested in poetry's transcendent claims. He explores in Victorian poetics the aspiration toward spiritual truth that Tennyson even in his deepest doubt believed to be "behind the veil, behind the veil." Shaw declares at the outset a certain sympathy with an idealist tradition in Victorian aesthetics deeply influenced by Hegel and represented in its culmination by F. H. Bradley.

Like many of the poets he discusses, Shaw himself sees poetry as the most significant compensation for Bradley's sense of loss, his feeling that "the sensuous curtain is a deception and a cheat" (46). Shaw quotes Bradley's view of scientific explanation, atomic theory in particular, as a dance of "bloodless categories" that cannot "make that Whole which commands our devotion" (46). Shaw's effort is to show how Victorian poetics makes possible an understanding of poetry as a means of evoking some Bradleyan "Whole." This, it seems to me, is the crucial subtext of Shaw's analysis. Through analyzing Victorian poetics Shaw would argue that poetry and the criticism of poetry can "continue science or philosophy by other means. This is why poetry can illuminate the mysterious trouble spots of knowledge" (284).

Poetry, Shaw argues, is knowledge, and specifically it is a knowledge of transcendence. Having reflected initially on literature and science in Victorian Britain and having noted that scientists like John Tyndall, T. H. Huxley, and Karl Pearson recognized the fictional or poetic character of scientific language, Shaw argues at last for an "immanent teleology" which is good poetry but "bad science." Implicitly Shaw enrolls himself as a descendant of Matthew Arnold in defending the centrality of poetry to liberal education and to the spiritual needs of modern society. His search for transcendent meaning in poetry leads Shaw to argue further that "there can be no interpretation of physical nature, because physical objects are never an experience as such. They are always the mere objects of experience. In order to be an object of poetic knowledge, natural events must be viewed as the actions of some spirit or god immanent in nature" (283). For Shaw, then, both poetry and its criticism is a hermeneutic by definition theological.

In this definition of poetry and its critical interpretation Shaw defies even while recognizing the dramatically skeptical bent of much contemporary criticism. The skeptical positionings of post-structuralism enter almost exclusively in Shaw's treatment of Victorian agnosticism, particularly in his discussion of Pater's "deconstructed Platonism."

The Lucid Veil, then, has more in common with the history of ideas and with theological hermeneutics than with post-structuralism or with overtly social or political criticism. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Victorian Metaphors for Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.