This essay examines how the long poems of Lord Byron and Percy Shelley were excerpted in mid-nineteenth-century anthologies to consider the relation between the long history of lyric ascendancy and particular moments when long, complex poems were quite literally reduced to lyric. On the pages of these anthologies, long, explicitly political poems by Shelley and Byron were excerpted, retitled, and transformed into entirely new poems, usually short, beautiful bits of natural description. In his hugely successful Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language, Francis Turner Palgrave defines lyrical as being “held essentially to imply that each Poem shall turn on some single thought, feeling, or situation.” Although Palgrave himself generally selected complete poems—not excerpts—the essay contends that his idea that a poem should boast a “single thought, feeling, or situation” was influenced by patterns of excerpting, in which a “single thought” was extracted from a longer poem and turned into a poem of its own. This essay argues that centuries-long practices of excerpting, of cutting poems down to size, played an important role in the rise of shortness and unity as primary attributes of poetry, especially the capacious category of lyric poetry.
Casie Legette; Cutting Lyric Down to Size: Victorian Anthologies and the Excerpt as Poem. Genre 1 December 2017; 50 (3): 397–419. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-4210943
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