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The Challenges of Orpheus

Lyric Poetry and Early Modern England

Heather Dubrow

Publication Year: 2007

As a literary mode "lyric" is difficult to define precisely. While the term has conventionally been applied to brief, songlike poems expressing the speaker's interior thoughts critics have questioned many of the assumptions underlying this definition, calling into doubt the very possibility of self-expression in language. Whereas much recent scholarship on lyric has centered on the Romantic era, Heather Dubrow turns instead to the poetry of early modern England. The Challenges of Orpheus confronts widespread assumptions about lyric, exploring such topics as its relationship to its audiences, the impact of material conditions of production and other cultural pressures, lyric's negotiations of gender, and the interactions and tensions between lyric and narrative. Offering fresh perspectives on major texts of the period—from Wyatt's "My lute awake" to Milton's Nativity Ode—as well as poems by lesser-known figures, Dubrow extends her critical conclusions to poetry in other historical periods and to the relationship between creative writers and critics, recommending new directions for the study of lyric and of genre.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

The norms of lyric often—though, I will argue, not invariably—generate short poems. The debts I incurred while writing about lyric generate a long list. My work on this book has been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Graduate School Research Committee of the University...

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pp. 1-14

Despite the problems posed by defining and describing lyric, the term appears with telling frequency in contexts ranging from the scholarship of many disciplines to the seductions of Madison Avenue to the stanzas of lyric poets themselves. Northrop Frye, characteristically no less acerbic than acute, remarks that “there is a popular tendency...

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1 The Rhetoric of Lyric: Definitions, Descriptions, Disputations

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pp. 15-53

Annotated exhaustively, imitated widely, disseminated in editions that not coincidentally look very like Bibles, Francesco Petrarch’s Rime sparse is prototype and progenitor of the English early modern lyric, and, indeed, it might offer a credible model for those who attempt a transhistorical definition of that mode. But the confession..

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2 The Domain of Echo: Lyric Audiences

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pp. 54-105

Technological advances in the use of glass have facilitated compelling architectural experiments that transform the relationship between a building and its audiences, complicating the latter’s perceptions of the edifice and representations of their own presence within it. In particular, in so-called curtain wall design, the exterior enclosure...

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3 The Craft of Pygmalion: Immediacy and Distancing

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pp. 106-155

Poetry, Paul Celan declares, is a handshake.1 Or, following William Waters’s acute and suggestively revisionist translation of this poet who so often resists translation, the phrase becomes a “pressing of hands,” an expression that, Waters demonstrates, deploys the double meanings of the German “Handwerk” to suggest both craft and the...

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4 The Predilections of Proteus: Size and Structure

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pp. 156-188

Lyric poems, unlike lyric poets, seldom wander lonely as a cloud. Typically neither solitary not unitary, they variously and sometimes simultaneously establish and resist links with other texts around them, while similarly binding and loosening subdivided...

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5 The Myth of Janus: Lyric and/or Narrative

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pp. 189-227

Even when representing other issues with the precise detail and complex coloration of Mughal painting at its best, many literary studies adopt the bold gestural strokes of Franz Kline to discuss the relationship between lyric and narrative: lyric is static and narrative committed to change, lyric is internalized whereas narrative evokes an externally realized...

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6 The Rhetorics of Lyric: Conclusions and New Perspectives

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pp. 228-242

Beneficent spirit of the Severn’s ominous borderlands, Milton’s Sabrina harbors odd companions on her own borders.1 So significant for the purposes of this conclusion is the song invoking her that its latter section...


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pp. 243-282


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pp. 283-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896132
E-ISBN-10: 0801896134
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400426
Print-ISBN-10: 1421400421

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2007