This essay argues that Keats passed on to Dickinson a wariness about the lyric’s capacity to become a powerful conduit for an assertive and possessive affect associated with what Keats called the “wordsworthian or egotistical sublime.” This shared, ethical concern offers an opportunity to consider whether Keats and Dickinson not only recognized a lyricization process near its beginning but diagnosed its cause. The essay starts by examining Keats’s and Dickinson’s critiques of lyric egotism. Until nearly the end of his short career, Keats grounds his lyric practice on the hope that the egotism he increasingly sees in the lyrics of his contemporaries could be rejected due to the fact that individuals are essentially disinterested and even other-focused. Dickinson offers similar critiques of lyric egotism but, unlike Keats, believes that a selfish, possessive tendency lurks within human subjectivity. The essay goes on to explain how this difference helped Dickinson to formulate alternatives to the “egotistical sublime” that more successfully avoid its problematically assertive or submissive stances as well as its consequent tendency to generate unjust socialities. Recognizing the centrality of these ethical concerns in Keats’s and Dickinson’s poetry may help us further historicize lyricization and recover an approach to conceptualizing a more generous model of lyric personhood, a task that remains relevant today.


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pp. 55-73
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