The Lost Travellers: A Romantic Theme with Variations

The Lost Travellers: A Romantic Theme with Variations

The Lost Travellers: A Romantic Theme with Variations

The Lost Travellers: A Romantic Theme with Variations

Excerpt

Romantic poetry has been so constantly discussed as almost anything but what it is, a literature of movement, that it seems worth while trying to fill the gap. This book is concerned with the analysis of various travel patterns in early-nineteenth-century verse. I believe that these patterns are basic to the poetry and that a study of them sheds light on meanings, relationships, and values. The visual and tactile data of hills, woods, streams, and caves lend themselves to concrete handling yet lead into an insubstantial landscape. By cross-reference from poet to poet a total panorama is 'expans'd' before us in all its rich variety. These are what Collins called 'the dim-discover'd Tracts of Mind': within them we cannot fail to encounter something of ourselves.

From each of the six poets discussed I have chosen a small number of pieces--not always masterpieces--to illustrate the main theme and its subsidiaries: the theme of wandering, in the first place, and then the topics of Time and Space, the archetypes, the travellers, the landscape, the land and sea journeys. I pay minimum attention to Keats because I have just had my say about him in a large book--also because he is a poet of growth, and growth is a matter of roots, and for Keats, like Custance, 'of viage is ther noon eleccioun'. Both he and Blake are 'Mental Travellers'. But Blake sets the pace and covers all the ground; what is more, his enormous œuvre is directional, supplying clues we should be foolish to ignore. I have built my thesis very largely on his framework.

I cannot claim any completeness for my treatment; to do that, I should have had to range very much further afield and bring in the prose writers as well. The pre-Romantics need consideration: in particular Thomson, Falconer, Beattie in verse, and in prose Ossian, the tales of terror, and the Scotch novels. Rasselas is of great importance: in a sense it explored and exploded the Romantic travel-myth in advance. Shelley might profitably have heeded its opening sentence: 'Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers . . .

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