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Romantic Things

A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud

Our thoughts are shaped as much by what things make of us as by what we make of them. Lyric poetry is especially concerned with things and their relationship to thought, sense, and understanding. In Romantic Things, Mary Jacobus explores the world of objects and phenomena in nature as expressed in Romantic poetry alongside the theme of sentience and sensory deprivation in literature and art.
Jacobus discusses objects and attributes that test our perceptions and preoccupy both Romantic poetry and modern philosophy. John Clare, John Constable, Rainer Maria Rilke, W. G. Sebald, and Gerhard Richter make appearances around the central figure of William Wordsworth as Jacobus explores trees, rocks, clouds, breath, sleep, deafness, and blindness in their work. While she thinks through these things, she is assisted by the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Nancy. Helping us think more deeply about things that are at once visible and invisible, seen and unseen, felt and unfeeling, Romantic Things opens our eyes to what has been previously overlooked in lyric and Romantic poetry.

240 pages | 28 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Art: Art--General Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“Romantic writers were especially interested in things . . . in the more particular sense that they gave a lot of thought to thingliness of things and, as Jacobus shows in this intricately argued, occasionally speculative and always subtly insightful book, to the thingliness of entities not usually thought of as things. . . . The human thing is ‘the strangest thing of all’ and, so Jacobus argues, it is when the resonances and murmurings of lyric poetry make of the human being an echo chamber that we are able to hear that strange thingliness most clearly.”

Times Literary Supplement

 “An impressive and wildly original book for dexterous readers. Highly recommended.”


“These essays come as close as criticism can to doing justice, as great lyric poetry does, to life and death, while thinking about what it might mean to ‘do justice’ to those things. . . . Mary Jacobus’s probing of lyric poetry and philosophy take us to deeper understandings of the issues than we could have arrived at by ourselves.”

The Brown Book

“This richly wide-ranging meditation on the lyrical mode and its representation of things reflects on the relationship between sensate and insensate forms, the emotive and poetic, philosophy and poetry, and literature and visual culture. . . . Poignantly reminds us of the importance of the poetic act in seeing things anew.”

European Romantic Review

“[A] beautifully inductive look at lyric poetry and its subjects. . . . Romanilc Things represents a major achievement. It is an immensely erudite and challenging work that offers an important contribution to Romantic Studies and points the way for a revitalised engagement with Romantic poetry within contemporary ecocriticism.”

Green Letters

“Mary Jacobus’s Wordsworth is above all the lyric Wordsworth, and her essays are particularly arresting for the ways in which they show her thinking with the poet—and in the process show how good Wordsworth’s poetry is to think with. Presenting a distinctive and thoughtful account of Wordsworth that is studded with memorable formulations, Jacobus makes lyric poetry an unremitting study of responsiveness to material and immaterial things. This book will be of significant interest to scholars working on Romanticism, on Wordsworth’s poetry, and on the notion of lyric in its most capacious form.”

Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins University

“Working among literature, art, and post-Heideggerian theory, Mary Jacobus’s book suggestively explores the liminal spaces opened up by poetry, and especially by lyric’s attention to ‘things’ that solicit and elude the understanding of a subject.”

Tilottama Rajan, University of Western Ontario

Romantic Things is a subtle and delicate meditation on clouds and moods, on psyches and rocks, on poems and trees. Mary Jacobus evokes a world in which things and poems meet at the site of their own unknowing, a world of clouds that are also emotions and poetry that ‘breathes toward death.’ Remarkably deft in its movement between genres and styles—between philosophy and poetry, painting and literary theory, nineteenth-century British literature and twentieth-century psychoanalysis—this book presents a new conceptualization and a moving lyrical reflection on the profound communication among the psyche, poetry, and the life (and death) of things.”

Cathy Caruth, Cornell University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Gravity of Thing
Chapter 1 Cloud Studies:
            The Visible Invisible
Chapter 2 Pastoral, after History:
            The Apple Orchard
Chapter 3 Touching Things:
            “Nutting” and the Standing of Trees
Chapter 4 Composing Sound:
            The Deaf Dalesman, “The Brothers,” and Epitaphic Signs
Chapter 5 “Distressful Gift”:
            Talking to the Dead
Chapter 6 The Breath of Life:
            Wordsworth and the Gravity of Thought
Chapter 7 “On the Very Brink of Vacancy”:
            Things Unbeseen                     
Chapter 8 Senseless Rocks

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