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  • General Materials1
  • Albert D. Pionke (bio)

Five books are featured in the general materials section. Three monographs reconnect Victorian lyric practices with various forms of musical thinking, the Scottish reception of MacPherson’s Ossian poems with environmental and psychic history, and long narrative poetry with the epic representation of everyday life, respectively. Also featured are a critical reader made up largely of reprinted pieces aimed at the student market and a four-volume encyclopedia of Victorian literature sure to be of use to general materials readers of all levels.

Working in opposition to the dominant nineteenth-century and subsequent critical assumption “that lyric poetry represents a speaking voice with all its attendant psychological complexities” (p. 34), Elizabeth Helsinger’s Poetry and the Thought of Song in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2015) attunes itself to a range of largely canonical nineteenth-century poets who “sought to align poetic with musical and cognitive motion” (p. 13). Not “a full history of verse-thinking through meter or melodies in the various subgenres of nineteenth-century poetic song,” the book is, rather, “explorative of the large field of lyric genres and verse practices modeled on song in the nineteenth century, examining poets’ fictions about song while suggesting some of the variety of lyric practices through which individual poets aspire to thinking like song” (p. 18). Such thinking, Helsinger explains, recognizes “potentially cognizing motions of the mind other than discursive reasoning” (p. 3), motions grounded in the alternative temporality, potential impersonality, and suprarationality activated by song’s reliance on repetitive refrains, choral voices, and phonetic and rhythmic chains of association. The seven chapters making up the main text of Poetry and the Thought of Song in Nineteenth-Century Britain are grouped into two parts. Part 1, consisting of chapters 1 through 3, provides a genealogical and conceptual overview of nineteenth-century song poetry. Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley provide later Victorian [End Page 325] poets like Tennyson, Swinburne, Hopkins, and Christina Rossetti with “figures of lyrical possibility” and “an amplified sense of song’s alien otherness in their own time” (p. 28). Tennyson and Swinburne foreground such otherness in song poems used to interrupt the narrative progress of longer, narrative works like The Princess, Maud, Lesbia Brandon, and Tristam of Lyonnesse, whereas Hopkins and Rossetti deploy “the metaphor-making powers of rhyme” (p. 61), broadly defined to include alliteration and assonance, to produce surprising associative connections, even “a form of enchantment” (p. 64), in “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,” “A Pause for Thought,” “Winter: My Secret,” and other poems. Part 2, made up of chapters 4 through 7, engages at length with four individual poets and their varied figures of song and forms of musical thinking. Helsinger first traces Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s repeated representations, in a broad range of both poems and paintings, of musical scenes in which an intensity “of listening, looking, and touching … has passed over into distraction, daydream, and trance … under counter-normative conditions of freedom” intended to stimulate new forms of aesthetic experience (p. 80). Next returning to the work of Christina Rossetti, Helsinger reexamines numerous instances in which “the metrical, rhymed verse of her song poems becomes an occasion for taking liberties with time” (p. 117), and in so doing “materializing the spiritual in a daily practice that joined her to a spiritual community of believers, itself a type of the community of saints in the afterlife” (p. 144). A brief sixth chapter then attends to William Morris’s Chants for Socialists, along with the songs and other verse inserted within his prose romances in order to show song’s ability to constitute a plurality of singers aligned with Morris’s socialist collective. Finally, in “Visible Song,” Helsinger focuses on Swinburne’s unusual, seemingly excessive, uses of rhythm to immerse readers in a highly orchestrated movement of poetry as musical thought. Relying in the middle of the chapter upon an analogy between rhythmic virtuosity in poetry and the turn toward abstraction and self-conscious attention to the physical medium in painting, she also places a number of Swinburne’s poems in conversation with paintings by his close friend Edward...


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pp. 325-331
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