Close-reading the ecology of Romantic poetry

In this piece I wanted to think carefully about how we might read Romantic-period poems from within our own moment of ecological precarity. Looking at John Clare’s ‘The Nightingale’s Nest’, John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, William Cowper’s The Task, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ I sought to track these poems’ moments of uncertainty about the ‘natural’ world, and their moments of confusion and obscurity. Thinking about perspective specifically, I was interested in how these poems move above and below their objects of attention and their environment, how they forge and falter in their means of building relationship, and how they register the agency of the non-human. In editing, the piece was slightly trimmed and split up to fit the book’s teaching purpose, which was a bit of a shame, but I hope that the idea that close reading can be a means of feeling for ambiguity, and about working between the past and our own present, is still discernible.

Rhian Williams, ‘Close-reading the ecology of Romantic poems’, in: Chaplin, S. and Faflak, J. (eds.) The Romanticism Handbook. Series: Literature and culture handbooks. Continuum (2010), pp. 52-71.

Melville’s lyrical faith

One of the editors of this collection of essays on Melville’s Philosophies is a good friend, Kim Evans; we met at a conference in Syracuse when I was presenting on Matthew Arnold. She asked me if I would like to contribute an essay on Melville’s enormously long poem, Clarel, using some of my thoughts on Arnold’s picture of faith and poetry. The poem is about a journey in Palestine and in the resulting essay I ended up focusing on the lyrical episodes that punctuate this epic poem, at which junctures I suggest an emotional and visceral faithfulness persists through the poem’s larger sense of arid skepticism.

Rhian Williams, “‘Learning, unlearning, word by word”: feeling faith in Melville’s Clarel.’ In: Arsic, B. and Evans, K.L. (eds.), Melville’s Philosophies. Bloomsbury Academic: New York (2017), pp. 175-197