The Gift of Poetry in Romantic and Post-Romantic Literature Open Access

Rosenthal, Adam R. (2014)

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This dissertation rethinks the importance of the gift for Romantic and Post-Romantic period poetry. I argue that, confronting calls for economic justification and the equally limiting consequences of utilitarianism and Kantian aesthetics, writers such as Shelley, Thoreau and Baudelaire turned to the gift as an alternative means of accounting for poetry's relevance. Because the gift is not a commodity, yet, by definition gives, contributing in the world, it supplies the possibility of imagining a role for poetry that is neither strictly economistic, nor outside history.

In chapter 1, "Shelley and the Gift of the Name," I examine Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" and show how the poet there understands his poetic vocation to be grounded in a denial of the divine gift of the name of God. The situation of the poet as a language-bearer and name-giver is determined by his lack, which he responds to by naming in his turn. In chapter 2, "The Gift of Poetry in Thoreau's Walden," I examine Thoreau's failed purchase of the Hollowell farm in the second chapter of Walden and show how he develops there a notion of poetry predicated on a gift that exceeds the circuit of economic exchange. In chapter 3, "Donner le souvenir: The Gift of Memory in Baudelaire," I read Baudelaire's "Morale du joujou" in order to show how the problem of the gift intersects with those of memory and aesthetics for Baudelaire through the figure of the "souvenir." In the second half of chapter 3 I examine how the figure of the collector in Benjamin's middle and late writings revolves around the figure of the Andenken, which I argue should be read as the translation of the Baudelairian "souvenir." Chapter 4, "Baudelaire and the Gift of Fate," examines how the problems of fate and chance are taken up in Baudelaire's prose poem, "The Gifts of the Fairies." In a return to the motif of divinity that marked Shelley's "Hymn" in chapter one, chapter four shows how the presence of the gods in Baudelaire is marked by a fallenness and susceptibility to time usually relegated only to mortals.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

The Gift of Poetry

Chapter One 13

Shelley and the Gift of the Name

Chapter Two 41

The Gift of Poetry in Thoreau's Walden

Chapter Three 69

Donner le souvenir: The Gift of Memory in Baudelaire

Chapter Four 101

Baudelaire and the Gift of Fate

Conclusion 136

Bibliography 141

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