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The Natural History of Poetry

Tuesday 24 May 2022, 11.00AM

Speaker(s): Dr Thomas H. Ford, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

Event details: The natural history of poetry was a speculative concept developed by August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel between 1795 and 1805, after which it effectively disappeared from critical discussion for over two centuries.

In this paper, I outline how the concept worked, including some of the paradoxical relationships central to it. For example, it staged a historical sequence in which nature poetry was superseded by historical poetry, but in which nature poetry was also understood as a back-projection posited by that later stage which had emerged out of it.

I trace some of the main sources drawn on by the Schlegels in forming this set of ideas, surprisingly prominent amongst which were writings and practices from the English school of landscape gardening, including Horace Walpole and William Shenstone. And I suggest some reasons why this concept might now be usefully revived for contemporary ecological approaches to literature.

Romanticism remains the best-known and most influential of the Schlegels’ conceptual coinages from around 1800. What happens, though, if we rewrite our literary histories of Romanticism and after in terms of this proximate but importantly different concept? What might a natural history of poetry look like today?

About the speaker: Thomas H. Ford is Senior Lecturer in English at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Recent books include How to Read a Poem: Seven Steps (Routledge, 2021) and Wordsworth and the Poetics of Air (Cambridge UP, 2018). Barron Field in New South Wales: The Poetics of Terra Nullius, co-written with Justin Clemens, is forthcoming from Melbourne University Press in 2022.

Location: Zoom

Admission: Online only