The third of a century between the late 1680s and the early 1720s—a time when a vast number of prolific poets flourished—is almost completely overlooked in literary history, perhaps because there was no single poetic leader and no dominant direction in the poetry. But it was a very fertile period in poetry, with many talented poets and many potential directions that did not develop into dominant trends. Because literary history almost inevitably looks at dominant directions, it tends to pass over not only individual poets who don't quite fit, but also poetic kinds and directions that don't turn out to be the winning ones. One valuable poetic mode in this period is what we might call the fallen, or disappointed, or misdirected lyric—exemplified most notably by Matthew Prior but also created by a host of other poets (Egerton, Chudleigh, Dixon, Hill, and Swift, for example). “Lost” years between distinct eras or directions also raise larger questions about the premises and practices of literary history itself.
J. Paul Hunter; Missing Years: On Casualties in English Literary History, Prior to Pope. Common Knowledge 1 August 2008; 14 (3): 434–444. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2008-008
Download citation file: