Student Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Honors Designation


Program of Study




First Advisor

Steven Swarbrick

Second Advisor

Mary McGlynn

Third Advisor

Stephanie Hershinow


In three parts, this thesis explores the tension between the critical and emotional poetics in Romantic poetry, as well as the entanglement of individual will and politics. As a point of entrance, the first part focuses on the major and current trends of scholarly discourses about Romanticism. I will examine Jerome McGann’s influential book of criticism on Romanticism, Romantic Ideology, in juxtaposition with Marc Redfield’s The Politics of Aesthetics: Nationalism, Gender, Romanticism. In particular, the discussion of the two books suggest the problems of aesthetic-political and historical discourses; specifically, I argue that McGann’s critical examination of “Romantic ideology” reflects a symptomatic avoidance of individuality and subsequently the affective quality that Romantic poets infused in their poetry. The second part traces the problematic tradition of ideological critiques and ventures into the “perplexed poetics” of Romanticism—perplexed because Romanticism challenges our critical tendency to separate thought from emotional perplexity. In fact, the closer we get to the poetics of Romanticism, the more we realize that we are caught in the eye of a “vortex” wherein our familiar binaries of thought and emotion, and mind and body, become undone and coiled. By examining the Preface of William Wordsworth’s and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads and surveying its making, I argue that such a tension between the critical and emotional sides of Romantic poetry has existed since the early stages of Romanticism, dating back to the very pivotal figures—Wordsworth and Coleridge—their philosophical and critical conception of organic poetry, and their affectively charged poems. In doing so, I argue that, as Romanticism entails an inevitability of emotion as an inseparable part of its poetics, critics of Romanticism should allow an openness to a broader spectrum of literary discourses, especially those that take into consideration not only critique but also emotional disequilibrium, such that our reading experiences of Romanticism become more comprehensive, humanistic, and universally connected by emotion. In the final part, by reading the obscure, sentimental, and therefore “difficult” Romantic poems—particularly of Lord Byron—I argue that, in addition to the traditional and critical academic reading wherein one aims to relate literature with politics, there also offers a vision of individualism that we cannot ignore.



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