Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt, General Editors, Robert Southey: Later Poetical Works, 1811-1838

By Speck, W. A. | Wordsworth Circle, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt, General Editors, Robert Southey: Later Poetical Works, 1811-1838


Speck, W. A., Wordsworth Circle


Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt, General Editors, Robert Southey: Later Poetical Works, 1811-1838

(Pickering and Chatto, 2012) 4 vols. 2086 pp. $725.00.

Volume 1 Shorter Poems ed. Lynda Pratt, Ian Packer and Carol Bolton

Volume 2 Roderick, The Last of the Goths ed. Diego Saglia

Volume 3 Poems from the Laureate Period 1813-23 ed Lynda Pratt, Daniel E. White, Ian Packer, Tim Fulford and Carol

Bolton

Volume 4 Fragments and Romances ed. Tim Fulford and Rachel Crawford

Robert Southey: Later Poetical Works 1811-1838 is the first edition of Southey's later poems with scholarship to match, and even to exceed, that devoted to his Romantic contemporaries. As the general editors rightly claim "by recuperating, editing, collating and annotating the texts of Southey's mid--late career poetry [this edition] restores him to his rightful prominence as poet and allows a fresh assessment of his achievements." Indeed these four volumes, together with Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793-1810 (Pickering and Chatto, 2004, 5 vols), Lynda Pratt general editor, provide at last an opportunity to assess his complete poetic output. For although not all of Southey's poems written between 1793 and 1810 were included in the initial five volumes "for reasons of space" those omitted from them are published in the first volume of this edition.

That Southey's poetic output required nine substantial volumes to encompass its entirety indicates how prolific it was. His career as poet extended over forty years, his first published poem appearing in 1794 and the last in his lifetime in 1738. The poetic forms he employed included the ballad, the epic, the inscription, the ode, the romance and the vision. Generalisations about their content must be at a discount. However, some genres are more significant in the formation of his reputation than others. In particular his name was associated with "epic" poems that he preferred to call narrative romances. These take up no fewer than five of the nine volumes in the complete series. Four appeared in the earlier edition: Joan of Arc, Madoc, Thalaba the Destroyer and The Curse of Kehama leaving just one, Roderick the last of the Goths. It appears here in volume two edited by Diego Saglia. Southey himself thought it "the best which I have done, & probably the best that I shall do." Even Byron opined that it was "as near perfection as poetry can be," though he thought his opinion was odd "considering how I dislike that school," by which he presumably alluded to the Lake Poets (or "pond poets" as he disparagingly dismissed them). Yet Southey himself protested that the school did not exist. He insisted that Roderick should be compared, not with the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, but with that of Walter Savage Landor and Sir Walter Scott. Landor and Scott also published works on the struggle between Christians and Moors in early eighth-century Spain. Landor wrote a five-act play, Count Julian: A Tragedy, and Scott a poem in Spenserian stanzas, The Vision of Don Roderick. All three were political, Landor and Southey implicitly drawing parallels between the Spanish resistance to the Moorish invaders and that to Napoleon, while Scott explicitly published his as a contribution to the Peninsular War.

Long before he became Poet Laureate in 1813, largely in recognition of his support of that war too, Southey was much more of a political poet than the other so-called Lake Poets. His first "epic," Joan of Arc, was also written to support resistance to invasion, in this case that of the French against the English. …

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