As most of you know, I have a love of Fantasy Literature. However, no matter how I fight and say that fantasy literature is worth academic study, it is not a proper area of study for an English major. I have had to relegate Fantasy Literature to "pet project" and "hobby." I'm ok with this, as I love all kinds of literature and I fear that being forced to work at fantasy lit, I might grow to hate it.
This means that I needed to find a proper area to focus my studies on. Not being a fan of American lit, I have tended to focus on British lit. There's so much more variety and history to British lit, and is more fun to study. That still leaves too much to focus on -- I have to narrow it down to a century or literary period. For a long time, I have been torn between Neoclassicism and Romanticism. The wit and precision of the Neoclassics makes me happy, while the grand imaginative creative imagery of the Romantics really moves me. I'm not the genius that my favorite professor is... I cannot get a PhD in both.
But then, a solution! There's a part of the second half of the 18th century often referred to as "The Age of Sensibility" or "The Age of the Mad Poets" (I prefer the second title) or even the "Pre-Romantics". They come right in between the Neoclassic Augustan poets and the Romantics. I have been so excited by this literature. It even has flavors of Fantasy literature to it! I can easily see Tolkien getting some of his inspiration from these poets. They have the passion, they reach back to the bards of old, there is magic, ghosts, elves... everything a geek like me could wish for! I talked to my professor after class, and he was thrilled that I was so excited by this group of poets. He said not a lot of people go into this area, so I would be a rarity among scholars.
Now, I'm "wish-listing" collections from the poets of the age. I'm also going to post a few of my favorites, just so you all understand what I'm talking about. There's humor, wit, melancholy and magic. I'll offer one from Thomas Gray... mostly because he embodies the fullest sense of the sensibility poets. It's a parody of his own style entitled "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes"
"Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat,
Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes"
'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers, that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.
Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.
Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream:
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.
The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?
Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.
Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favourite has no friend!
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters gold.