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Mind-forg'd manacles : slavery and the English romantic poets

Author: Joan Baum
Publisher: North Haven, Conn. : Archon Books, 1994.
Edition/Format:   Print book : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
The enslavement of Africans struck the young, hopeful, and radical Romantic poets of nineteenth-century England as the most blatant example of human oppression and the clearest instance in which humans were deprived of the liberty that could be found in their world. Always, their sympathies were for the victims of established oppression of all kinds and against the foes of freedom. But though their poetry refers to,  Read more...
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Genre/Form: Criticism, interpretation, etc
Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Baum, Joan, 1937-
Mind-forg'd manacles.
North Haven, Conn. : Archon Books, 1994
(OCoLC)624452393
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Joan Baum
ISBN: 0208021876 9780208021878
OCLC Number: 29563995
Description: xiii, 253 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Responsibility: Joan Baum.

Abstract:

The enslavement of Africans struck the young, hopeful, and radical Romantic poets of nineteenth-century England as the most blatant example of human oppression and the clearest instance in which humans were deprived of the liberty that could be found in their world. Always, their sympathies were for the victims of established oppression of all kinds and against the foes of freedom. But though their poetry refers to, talks about, and draws on the imagery of African slavery, the poets - Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, and Shelley - rarely speak directly against the harsh truths of the slave trade and colonial slavery, and then do so to no great effect. Why this should be so, what it can tell us both of society and of poetry, is the burden of Professor Baum's narrative. Most simply, the Romantic poets came to recognize political solutions as inevitable failures, and political poetry as not poetry at all, but versified propaganda that does not endure beyond timely or contemporary events and that cannot explore motives of deeper significance about the human condition. Meanwhile, radicals viewed concern for black slaves as a fanciful distraction obfuscating wage slavery, the oppression of the English working class, and the hellish life of the laboring masses during the Industrial Revolution. Following the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1807) the plight of the fettered African slaves in the West Indies faded into the larger concern over the "enslaved" masses in England. Though the poets and radicals used much the same language - "enchained," "enslaved," "dark," "Satanic"--The poets alone came to understand that all humans suffered the same plights: oppressors became victims of their oppression; those who sought salvation only through legislation fundamentally compromised their position. By contrast, the poets both sought and portrayed the struggle for an order of unfettered imaginative possibility, for a loosening of what Blake saw as the ultimate enslavement device, "mind-forg'd manacles." Drawing on unpublished and archival material from England and America, as well as on familiar poetry and prose, Professor Baum shows how it was a difficult moral, intellectual, and aesthetic agon the poets initiated, because it was so deeply centered on the individual imagination, and so thoroughly radical. In the end, they were unwilling to take satisfaction in the comfort of false, or even partially true solutions. Their creations remain vital and the story, which began 200 years ago, has telling implications for our time.

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