The Columbia History of British Poetry

By Carl Woodring; James Shapiro | Go to book overview

The Victorian Era

T HE Victorian age was a time of extraordinarily rapid change and of often heady confidence in the seemingly inexorable progress of civilization, but also of bewilderment and anxiety as traditional social and religious faiths and structures were displaced. It was also an age of impressive achievements in poetry, even though many Victorians believed that the most striking characteristics of their age rendered it peculiarly unpoetical. As England achieved ever greater wealth and international power, as railroads and telegraph wires crisscrossed England and the Empire spread around the world, and as science and technology produced ever new wonders, few doubted the overall benefits of progress and advanced civilization, but such progress itself seemed antithetical to poetry. At the start of the Victorian period Thomas Babington Macaulay, a poet himself as well as one of the age's most tireless celebrants of material advance, offered the increasingly common argument that "as civilization advances, poetry almost necessarily declines."

Not only did knowledge seem to limit the range of imagination, but as scientific and historical discoveries began to undermine traditional religious faith, knowledge paradoxically produced uncertainty in the form of religious doubt--a "damnèd vacillating state," as Tennyson called it, that was considered utterly incompatible with inherited Romantic notions of the poet as an inspired seer, and as a moral teacher and guide. Religious doubt was in part produced by new scientific discoveries and discourses that incontrovertibly disproved the Biblical account of creation. Discoveries in geology, especially, disproved the

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The Columbia History of British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Old English Poetry 1
  • Middle English Poetry 23
  • Chaucer 55
  • Poetry in Scots: Barbour to Burns 81
  • From Ballads to Betjeman 110
  • Printing and Distribution of Poetry 132
  • Varieties of Sixteenth-Century Narrative Poetry 156
  • Sixteenth-Century Lyric Poetry 179
  • Spenser, Sidney, Jonson 203
  • Lyric Poetry from Donne to Philips 229
  • Milton 254
  • Dryden and Pope 274
  • Poetry in the Eighteenth Century 301
  • Blake 327
  • Coleridge 341
  • Poetry, 1785-1832 353
  • Byron, Shelley, and Keats 381
  • Wordsworth and Tennyson 405
  • The Victorian Era 425
  • Victorian Religious Poetry 452
  • Pre-Raphaelite Poetry 478
  • The 1890s 505
  • 1898-1945: Hardy to Auden 532
  • Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot 554
  • Poetry in England, 1945-1990 577
  • Problems and Cleavages 605
  • Brief Biographies of the Poets 643
  • Editions 671
  • Notes on Contributors 678
  • Index 683
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