Following the ethical and didactic works popular in the early eighteenth century, which offered a view of Man as an imperfect but scientific being in search of meaning in a universe created by a perfect God, a crop of poets emerged who wrote instead about “a preponderance of sentiment, affect, imagination, melancholy, genteel arts, botany, and ruminative gardening.” These poets, among them Thomas Gray, William Collins and Edward Young, characterized the Age of Sensibility, a movement away from the scientism of the Age of Reason and towards knowledge embodied by more personal experience. Instead of encapsulating all human experience under the title ‘Man,' as the socially minded Augustans did, these poets sought to portray a unique and individual experience of emotion, be it one of fear, grief, or creation. Their fascination with the natural world and man's relation to it is a clear continuation of Augustan works such as Pope's “Windsor Forest” and “An Essay on Man,” but for the poets of Sensibility, the invocation of nature becomes something more akin to prayer than empirical study. Wishing to deny certain similarities to their predecessors, these poets “avowedly wished to counteract the didactic poetry that appealed to the mind by writing the more sensuous poetry that appealed to the fancy.” Many of these works embody a religious voice that impresses upon the reader the pervasive darkness, sometimes portrayed as melancholy, other times as terror that floats atop the human world. Collins, Gray and Young are all concerned with the experience of the individual, especially the poet, in relation to this otherworldly darkness, fear, and death, especially how one manages to express that relationship through poetical and pictorial description.
[...] Instead of trying to embody the emotions of their society as a whole, they submerged their social commentary, where it exists, in allegorical and pictorial language, and focused on the importance of knowledge gained through personal experience. Young's Night Thoughts are quite literally poems written during the periods of insomnia that plagued him after the loss of several dear family members, including his wife, and the explorations of sleep, time, death, and immortality reflect his personal trauma, not that of mankind as a whole, though his readers responded to his work with great praise, perhaps finding comfort in his personal thoughts expressed. [...]
[...] Jean Hagstrum, The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray, (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press reprinted 1974) 2. Thomas Gray: Contemporary Essays, edited by W.B. Hutchings and William Ruddick, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993) 3. Shaun Irlam, Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth Century Britain, (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1999) 4. Suvir Kaul, Thomas Gray and Literary Authority: A Study in Ideology and Poetics, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992) 5. [...]
[...] The poets of Sensibility wanted to “free poetry from the shackles of philosophical and moral statement (Hagstrum so they used pictorial landscapes and a rhetoric of enthusiasm, exclamations and personal epiphanies, to express their own thoughts and musings without having to adopt a didactic tone. Their prayer-like odes venerated classical poetry, as the Augustans did, but they felt that their imaginative portrayals were more successful than the dry translations and imitations of their Augustan cousins. The ‘graveyard poets' sought privacy and intimacy for themselves as narrators and their subject matter. [...]
[...] The un-fleshed but personified abstracts appear here as well, frowning Science and Melancholy, who “marked him for her own This poem is similar to Young's Night Thoughts in its portrayal of allegorical figures, being that they are present and often given personality, but physically vague. Gray, however, uses pictorial landscape to make his scene visible to the reader as Young's was not. In his ode Progress of Poesy,” Gray develops more pictorial representations, anticipating Collins' fully formed pictorial figures. The poem invokes classical poetry, the “Aeolian lyre Gray is calling to wakefulness, which is described as a “rich stream of music / deep, majestic, smooth, and strong / . [...]
[...] ah frantic Fear! / I see, I see thee near! In this moment, no landscape is described, but one imagines some physical scenario in which the poet is overtaken by the villainous horde. Although he is frightened of course- by the onslaught, the narrator asks, Fear, this ghastly train can see, / And look not madly wild, like thee? As a poet of sensibility, Collins decides to pay homage and meditate upon the nature of Fear instead of running from it. [...]
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