Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon

Synopsis

John Lucas has remarked that, We cannot hope to understand that historical period which is habitually called Romanticism if we do not pay attention to the works of Robert Bloomfield. This collection includes essays that consider how Bloomfield's poetry contributes to an understanding of the predominant issues, forms, and themes of literary Romanticism. Incorporating essays written by established scholars as well as emerging voices in the field, individual chapters provide readings of Bloomfield in the several contexts within which he wrote: political, aesthetic, religious, social, and scientific. In addition, several essays discuss Bloomfield's important contributions to the era's predominant genres: pastoral, georgic, topographical, and narrative, among others. The collection opens with a major overview of Bloomfield's critical history, and includes an extensive bibliographic appendix detailing works by and about the poet.

Excerpt

John Barrell

IT WAS IN 1964 AS AN UNDERGRADUATE THAT I FIRST CAME ACROSS ROBert Bloomfield, when my supervisor, Donald Davie, set me to read The Farmer’s Boy. I was delighted to find a poem and a poet who seemed to belong more or less half-way between James Thomson and John Clare, whom I had already cast as the central characters in the PhD thesis that I would begin to research two years later. He was also cheap to collect, even on a student grant, and within a few years I had managed to get hold of one edition or another of all Bloomfield’s main publications. None of his later volumes, however, excited me as much as The Farmer’s Boy had done, and on an impulse I have regretted ever since, when I found myself short of money in the 1970s I sold them all. In retrospect, I realize that I had been approaching Bloomfield on terms that would never have allowed me to enjoy his other poems. They seemed too relaxed, too anecdotal; and when he tackled subjects not directly tied to rural life, he seemed, to borrow from one of the essays in this collection that warns against this view, to give up his “cultural grounding,” and to enter “a poetic vacuum of derivativeness and conventionality.” In short, I wanted Bloomfield to remain the farmer’s boy of my first acquaintance, negotiating under pressure with Thomson on behalf of the laboring class. I didn’t want him to develop intellectually, still less to be upwardly mobile in the subjects he wrote about. I expect I thought of him as “selling out” (as the phrase then was), though the most profitable way for him to do that would probably have been to continue to pass himself off as the farmer’s boy that he hadn’t been since the age of fourteen.

These are mistakes that won’t be made by readers who approach Bloomfield through this collection of essays, a collection that reveals and explores the fascinating variety of Bloomfield’s poetry and intellectual interests, and attempts to establish him as a major poet on the basis of the range as well as the quality of his writing. The essays in this book examine Bloomfield as a religious poet influ-

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