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In our darkest hours, we fear we are alone in our passion for Victorian poetry. Does no one else memorize Browning? Weep softly over Tennyson? Giggle over Swinburne?
But today is one of those rare good days: the Oxford University Press blog hosts a brief analysis of Victorian poetics, siting it within the media landscape of nineteenth-century England. Writes scholar Justin Tackett:
As literacy increased and printing technology advanced, the Victorians witnessed a media explosion during which more books, journals, magazines, and newspapers were published and read than ever before. The Victorian period, in this sense, was a forerunner to the Information Age, and much of the excitement, empowerment, bewilderment, and concern they felt as a result of revolutions in communication resembles our own.
But if current changes prompt us to try out such forms as tweets and Facebook updates, the Victorians employed different means:
More specifically, poets experimented with elements of prosody, among other pursuits, as a means both of entrenching themselves in the past and moving beyond it. They deployed diverse forms of meter, rhythm, rhyme, and sonic patterning, and explored the classical, Anglo-Saxon, gendered, local and national aspects of their culture and language as they viewed and understood them.
Yet Tackett perceives potential relationships between the Victorians’ new forms and ours. He notes:
Studying poetry always seems to raise more questions than we are able to answer, in large part because shifting historical perspectives are constantly revising our understanding of poetry and its relations to culture and identity. Such questions reflect many of the ones we ask ourselves today, amid a mass media world not only of print and poetry, but of blogs, tweets, texts, and podcasts. How does technology change our experience of a poem? Rather than asking these questions only for our contemporary media climate, we ask these questions of the changing Victorian media world, hoping to look and listen closely for a kind of harmony.
Tackett and fellow scholar Meredith Martin will discuss these concerns at a Word for Word Poetry event in New York’s Bryant park, tomorrow at 12:30.