A critically neglected short poem that focuses on the ancient custom of stone giant building in Cumbria, William Wordsworth's “Rural Architecture” avoids the monumental permanence and transcendent universality so often associated with Lyrical Ballads. An expressly opaque “local lyric” that refuses to preach, this poem reimagines the provincial form of the Cumbrian riddle to figure the habitual rebuilding of these giants as an emblem of regional resistance. At a time when Cumbria was increasingly depicted as an uncolonized remnant of a savage English past, “Rural Architecture” marshals Cumbrian dialect, tradition, architecture, temporality, and history to question both the exploitation of the Lake District's natural resources and the British Empire's developmental narratives relating to industrialization, urbanization, commercialization, and militarization. While emphasizing the difficultly involved in capturing an authentic understanding of the Cumbrian custom of giant building, the poem also attempts to relay this local practice intelligibly to a metropolitan reading community whose only likely knowledge of the region's traditions in the early 1800s came from eighteenth-century architectural studies and tourist guides. The enigmatic qualities of this lyric, however, have frequently made it hard for readers unacquainted with Cumbrian culture to recognize the ethical significance of the turbulent local history that informs the apparently inconsequential regional practice that the poem depicts. Paying close attention to the persistence of a Cumbrian custom that has undergone considerable mutation over the centuries prompts us to rethink “Rural Architecture” itself as a local phenomenon whose distinguishing character rests in its anachronistic desire to survive in a hostile imperial framework.

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