- The Collected Poetry of Mary Tighe ed. by Paula R. Feldman and Brian C. Cooney
That there is a new edition of Mary Tighe's work is cause to celebrate, not only for her devotees but for anyone with an interest in Romantic-era poetry. It is not every day that one's understanding of an author can shift and expand quite so dramatically as the study of Tighe does with the recent discovery of dozens of her previously unknown poems. Paula Feldman and Brian Cooney's careful editing not only expands the body of Tighe's work available to her readers but also shows Tighe's engagement with her own work, making her newly available as a self-conscious and reflective author.
Though she was long known—even during her life—as the Author of Psyche or, The Legend of Love, Tighe's other poems have seldom garnered much attention. This may well have been on account of their seeming scattered, mere addenda to the much more ambitious and coherent Psyche. This edition honors Tighe by printing these other poems as she herself organized them in a manuscript collection she produced for her husband, Verses Transcribed for H. T. In reproducing Tighe's illustrations, Feldman and Cooney are as faithful to Tighe's own vision of her poems as an edited collection allows. (Harriet Kramer Linkin's hypertext facsimile of the collection, which includes color images of Tighe's watercolors, is available online at Romantic Circles: https://romantic-circles.org/editions/tighe_verses). For a poet who shrank from publication with even more than the common reticence of woman authors of her moment, this collection provides great insight into her thought process and offers an exceptional resource to scholars thinking about Tighe's relationship to her own work. Such insight can also be gained from the edition's inclusion of substantive revisions made to Psyche between its early composition and its eventual limited publication in 1805.
The annotations amply demonstrate what the editors call the great "breadth of Tighe's reading" as well as her active engagement with the literature of the Western canon, especially the form and genre of the pastoral (p. xv). The introduction offers a concise biography of Tighe and helpfully analyzes her extensive reading journal, which the editors call a "treasure trove of literary opinion, documenting her wide-ranging artistic and intellectual interest" (p. 14). While this reader might have wanted to see more of the journal included in the edition (instead of, perhaps, the full text of poems previously misattributed to Tighe), it is usefully described and excerpted. The collection also includes in a lengthy second appendix a compendium of responses to Tighe's work, which inspired an outpouring of poetic sentiment and response even by poets other than the illustrious John Keats, who rather famously (infamously by now?) asserted his ability to "see through" the poetry of Tighe, despite its early capacity to "delight" him. This lengthy appendix provides ample evidence of Tighe's consistent ability to inspire others. [End Page 182]
I do find myself wishing for a more critical introduction. Tighe's importance need not depend on her ideological perfection, and one wishes there could be an edition of a woman poet that does not seem compelled to celebrate her virtues at the expense of a fuller acknowledgement of her position in history. The political neutrality Tighe embodies in her "Bryan Byrne, of Glenmalure," for example, while indicating her awareness of the political violence defining relations between the English and the Irish, is also inseparable from her deep embeddedness in the Anglo-Irish gentry. Even despite what the edition's introduction calls Tighe's "powerful political statements," Tighe's reader often finds an insistent apoliticism certainly identifiable as a political position though hardly a radical one; insistent neutrality, after all, is often legible as a way to maintain extant power relations, and the desire to stay out of politics often accompanies a desire to maintain the...