This essay examines how poetry of the American Revolution contributed to the broader tradition of Anglophone war poetry through the “private sublime,” which would start as a minor and relatively unknown development, but eventually become one of the primary modes of depicting war, both in the later eighteenth century and the present day. It focuses specifically on two poets who formulated the private sublime: Freneau in the 1781 British Prison-Ship and Ann Eliza Bleecker in the poems that she wrote after her daughter’s death in 1777. While Freneau’s poetry emphasizes terror and beauty, Bleecker fashions a private sublime by aligning her own suffering with that of war combatants. This essay then turns briefly to Charlotte Smith, who depicts distant war via her own intense and highly aestheticized emotions. As Smith demonstrates, then, the private sublime emerged in the poetry of authors with direct experience of war in America, but was later adapted by a wide range of authors who experienced war at a far greater distance.
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Research Article| September 01 2020
John Richardson; The Private Sublime in Public Discourse: War Poetry of the American Revolution. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 September 2020; 44 (3): 140–159. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-8718699
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