Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Joshua Wilner


Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Wordsworth, De Quincey, Romanticism, Symbolism


This study traces the historical and formal development of poetic prose beginning in the late eighteenth century through the mid to late nineteenth century. Drawing on research in poetics, narrative theory, genre theory, philosophy, and socioeconomic analysis and ideology, this study positions poetic prose—which encompasses lyrical narrative, prose poetry, and other emergent forms of hybridization—as a textual transgression that is a result of, and directly responds to, both the subjective anxieties of, and artistic possibilities made possible by, modernity. From this perspective, the study focuses on modernization’s rapid transformation of social relationships and individual and communal identities and modernity’s correspondence with a new literary expression which stylistically and conceptually exorcises an experience of loss and the contradictory conditions that modern reality has wrought by its rate of unprecedented progress and capitalist rationality.

The first part of this study examines the emergence of poetic prose in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, linking the advent and urgency of modernity with Romanticism. Taking a Marxist approach, this chapter looks at how genre reinforces the rise of class and social disparities. The thesis then looks at the aesthetic theory and practice of William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, in which the prosification of poetry represents the descent of poetic status, democratization, universality, and a renewal of nature in an increasingly urban and divided landscape, followed by the “impassioned prose” of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, in which the poeticization of prose further distorts class distinctions and the modern reality that supports them and disrupts the utility and linearity of narrative.

The second part of this study investigates the formal properties of Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen and Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell and French Symbolism’s contributions to the interaction between prose and poetry. This section calls attention to the corruption of language and its figurative use as a more appropriate self-expression of interiority and subjective world building, in which poetic prose responds to the world’s mastery over experience and moral corruption, isolation, and despair displace literary and cultural convention and the meaning which relies on those customs. Lastly, this section also looks at the surface and typography of the poetic prose text and its relationship with the economy and employment of words.