THE CORRESPONDENT BREEZE: Essays on English Romanticism by M. H. Abrams

THE CORRESPONDENT BREEZE: Essays on English Romanticism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Nine longish and typically solid pieces by one of the deans of literary criticism in America. Abrams (Cornell) has established his reputation with The Mirror and the Lamp (1953) and Natural Supernaturalism (1971), which explore the historical roots, the philosophical creativity, and the poetic visions of the Romantic movement, chiefly in England and Germany. He continues that balanced, painstaking work here, concentrating on Wordsworth and Coleridge, and indulging his polemical vein a bit more than usual: Abrams judges the poetics (and by implication the poetry) of Wordsworth and Coleridge superior to that of the Modernists (he cites, among others, Baudelaire, ValÉry, Yeats, and Eliot) because its energizing goals of this-worldly Apocalypse, of organic form and cosmic harmony, are gander and more humane. When, for example, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley advance ""symbolic equations between breeze, breath, and soul, respiration and inspiration, the reanimation of nature and of the spirit,"" they usher us into a world more profoundly allusive (freighted with the Hebrew ruach, the Holy Ghost, Stoic Pneuma, etc.) and more ""livable"" than the autotelic, alienated, hyper-aesthetic ""Byzantiums"" of the post-Romantics. Abrams spends most of his time, however, on straightforward explication: reaffirming the link between Romanticism and the French Revolution, tracing Coleridge's infatuation and then disenchantment with the sonnets of William Bowles, defining and analyzing the structure of ""the greater Romantic lyric"" (Frost at Midnight, Tintern Abbey, Stanzas Written in Dejection, et al.). Abrams is not a notable prose stylist, but he can sum up whole epochs and genres with a telling phrase, as when he calls the Prelude and Sartor Resartus ""a theodicy of the individual life."" Somewhat repetitious for those who know his books, but admirably cogent and erudite throughout.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Norton