In contrast to previous studies of eighteenth-century emotion focusing on prose narratives, this essay considers the affects of poetry and poetic rhythm. Using the eighteenth-century reception of the proem to Book 2 of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura as a case study, this essay stresses the limits of analyses that discuss represented emotions but largely ignore, as is typical in studies of novels and other prose writings, the "feel" of the verbal medium. Eighteenth-century readers in England were troubled by the Book 2 proem, known today as the "shipwreck with spectator" passage, because the feelings it depicted and inspired were in conflict: the feeling of the poem matched neither the pity, grief, or indifference that readers thought the spectator represented nor the myriad emotions assigned to the spectator in English translations and imitations. Such affective ambiguity challenged the Enlightenment doctrine of sympathy, which depended on obvious emotions as well as a mimetic theory of rhythm that led readers to ignore all responses to a poem that did not reduce to the emotions represented. As this episode of reception implies, modern studies privileging representation over the feelings inherent to the linguistic rhythms foregrounded by poetry continue a kind of sympathetic reading, in which the affects unleashed by the movements of language go overlooked except when they correspond to the emotions depicted.


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pp. 337-352
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