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Climate and the Making of WorldsToward a Geohistorical Poetics$
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Tobias Menely

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780226776149

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226776316.001.0001

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Uncertain Atmospheres: Romantic Lyricism in the Time of the Anthropocene

Uncertain Atmospheres: Romantic Lyricism in the Time of the Anthropocene

(p.165) Chapter Four Uncertain Atmospheres: Romantic Lyricism in the Time of the Anthropocene
Climate and the Making of Worlds

Tobias Menely

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 4 examines how romantic-era lyricization emerges within the descriptive genres. In lyric, the narrator’s individual consciousness, buffeted by the shock and obscurity of modernity, provides the scale and focal point of the poem. The chapter begins with Cowper’s lyricized georgic The Task (1785), written in the catastrophic aftermath of the Laki eruption. As a volcanogenic haze migrates from Cowper’s descriptions of the countryside to the greenhouse and the city, he finds himself unable to distinguish seasonal cycles from eschatological presages or the modernization process embodied in worsening urban pollution. With the external world illegible, the narrator’s own search for a calling offers the only principle of formal closure. It turns next to Wordsworth’s locodescriptive poem “Tintern Abbey” (1798). The condition of possibility for Wordsworth’s lyric, where the individual finds relief from the psychic damage of modern life in an imagined reciprocity with nature, is a dematerialization of the planetary energy flows that support production. Finally, Smith’s “Beachy Head” (1807) fluently links theories of the Earth with the climatic exigencies of conquest and commerce, rural labor with precise descriptions of the time sequences of flora, even as it also explores the lyric impulse to escape from an oppressive climate.

Keywords:   anthropocene, lyric, atmosphere, Charlotte Smith, William Cowper, William Wordsworth, Laki, energy, The Task, Beachy Head

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