Biographical fascination perversely clings to Keats—the poet of
“no self,” of “no identity”—in a manner that can feel exasperating to Keats critics. The
spell cast by the materials of Keats’s brief life is, however, deeply bound up with the
impersonal, allegorical style that his most influential readers see as central to the
poetry’s radical modernity. Keats’s life and death masks bring this truth into focus. The
mask, like the image of the Poet as it emerges in Romanticism, bears the trace of the
singular lost person. Suggesting the capacity of the withdrawn, formal image of the
biographical subject to mobilize affects of pathos and loss, the mask suggestively binds
the “sentimental” treatment of Keats’s death to current accounts of his work that locate
its distinctiveness in its refusals and critiques of the gestures of lyric
This paper reconsiders a shrinking set of Lucy poems from Lyrical
Ballads (1800) in light of the longer ballad that precedes them: “Ellen Irwin, or the
Braes of Kirtle.” Here Wordsworth thematizes death through a constellation of always working
but not always living bodies. Moving throughout the corpus of each poem, these bodies embark
upon trajectories not marked off by life but designated more simply by movement itself, by
the turns and lines that shape the dead as well as the living. Be it the affect of the
flesh, the linear gait of a horse, the orbit of the moon, or even the muted work of figures
newly mantled by the earth, each metaphorical turn shadows the aesthetic work demanded by
each line. Scripting a counter-intuitive formulation—you think that lyric poems are about
people, they’re not—the poems reclaim the human body for deep time and ultimately announce
the limits of what poetry and humanity as a whole can do.
In “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” Paul de Man invokes allegory and irony as two distinct perspectives on the question on time: the former responding to an epistemological problem by transposing it into temporal sequence and the latter collapsing temporal sequence into simultaneity. This leads him, however, to imagine the possibility of texts that would “overcome irony.” When he examines “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal” as an example of such an overcoming, de Man’s own text, however, encounters the accident of an irony that opens a window onto the instability of his pedagogical distinction between irony and allegory—an instability that hinges on the necessity of “reading” irony’s brevity in narrative terms.
These essays offer diverse ways of thinking about the intersections of Romanticism and pedagogy: both what Romantic-era figures themselves thought about the processes of learning and teaching and also what we as modern educators might consider as we present these texts and figures to our students. It is our hope that they will contribute to ongoing conversations among scholars and teachers of Romanticism about the history and future of humanities education, and in particular will foster cross-historical conversations.