Apocalypse and Millenium in English Romantic Poetry

Apocalypse and Millenium in English Romantic Poetry

Apocalypse and Millenium in English Romantic Poetry

Apocalypse and Millenium in English Romantic Poetry

Synopsis

The interrelationship of the ideas of apocalypse and millennium is a dominant concern of British Romanticism. The Book of Revelation provides a model of history in which apocalypse is followed by millennium, but in their various ways the major Romantic poets - Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley - question and even at times undermine the possibility of a successful secularization of this model. No matter how confidently the sequence of apocalypse and millennium seems to be affirmed in some of the major works of the period, the issue is always in doubt: the fear that millennium may not ensue emerges as a significant, if often repressed, theme in the great works of the period. Related to it is the tension in Romantic poetry between conflicting models of history itself: history as teleology, developing towards end time and millennium, and history as purposeless cycle. This subject-matter is traced through a selection of works by the major poets, partly through an exposition of their underlying intellectual traditions, and partly through a close examination of the poems themselves.

Excerpt

A major topos in English Romantic poetry is the imminence of an apocalypse that will be succeeded by a millennium. William Blake made this the central concern of the prophetic poems he wrote in the 1790s, and, after he recognized that this sequence could not be realized through the energy embodied in his revolutionary hero Orc, he established it in a very different way in the three long poems of his later career. in a series of poems written during the 1790s Samuel Taylor Coleridge also postulated a transformation of life through a revolution that would fulfil Old and New Testament prophecies. Coleridge too found himself prevented by historical events from supplying the millennial sequel to the apocalypse of revolution; but, unlike Blake, Coleridge ceased to make either component part of his poetry after the 1790s. William Wordsworth in The Prelude opened windows into various aspects of apocalypse and millennium, sometimes viewing each in isolation, but always with the plan of bringing them together in the end. Lord Byron artfully played upon his readers' familiarity with the prototype in order to tease, disappoint, frighten, and even antagonize his public by creating apocalypse without millennium. For Percy Bysshe Shelley the succession of apocalypse by millennium, in the broadest sense political, remained a crucial subject throughout his poetic career. John Keats's last attempt at epic narrative, incorporating a memorable scene of apocalypse, was left unfinished at the threshold of millennium. in all, despite some powerful attempts to create poetic narratives of apocalypse and millennium during the Romantic period, the issue remains problematic. This is only in part because no historical narrative, however mythologized, could successfully unite two historical moments that had refused to become a sequence. One way to escape this dilemma was to transfer the absent millennium to the natural world as Coleridge does in France: An Ode, but at the cost of an ablation of meaning that will be discussed in Chapter 2. Another recourse is the Wordsworthian process of internalization celebrated by M. H. Abrams as 'an act of unaided vision, in which the Lamb and the New Jerusalem are replaced by man's mind as the bridegroom and nature as the . . .

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