Reading, like sailing, is a durational experience: reading takes place in time and, if a poem is lengthy enough, reading can thwart absorption and make one notice time passing. Reading time therefore offered William Falconer in The Shipwreck (1762) an overlooked resource for tactfully impressing on non-sailors in his readership what is perhaps the central experience of sea travel in the sailing age: the dull passage of vast stretches of time against an unvaried backdrop of sea and sky. This essay considers how Falconer narrativizes the voyage in his poem and balances the competing demands of truthfully conveying the sailors’ experience, including the vast timescales of sea travel, with the engaging of nonspecialists uninterested in the narration of uneventful voyage durations. Close attention to the later authorial editions shows Falconer expanding his descriptions, adding epic similes, and relocating episodes in ways that reveal an effort to make readers view reading time as a proxy experience for voyage time.

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