As per my earlier-announced New Year’s resolution, I’m blogging my way through The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  All of these entries can be found under the “Poem of the Week” tag.

From nineteen almost to ninety his intellectual and literary activity was indefatigably incessant; but, herein at least like Charles Lamb, whose cordial admiration he so cordially returned, he could not write a note of three lines which did not bear the mark of his Roman hand in its matchless and inimitable command of a style at once the most powerful and the purest of his age.  —Swinburne on Landor

The first seventeen poems in the Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (hereafter the OBVV) are by Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864). Number 3 is “Ianthe,” first published in 1831, with some revisions in 1846. (N.B. I mentioned earlier that the OBVV doesn’t do dates–my source here is the excellent Representative Poetry Online.)

Ianthe! you are called to cross the sea!

     A path forbidden me!

Remember, while the Sun his blessing sheds

     Upon the mountain-heads,

How often we have watch’d him laying down

     His brow, and dropt our own

Against each other’s, and how faint and short

     And sliding the support!

What will succeed it now? Mine is unblest,

     Ianthe! nor will rest

But on the very thought that swells with pain.

     O bid me hope again!

O give me back what Earth, what (without you)

     Not Heaven itself can do–

One of the golden days that we have past;

     And let it be my last!

Or else the gift would be, however sweet,

     Fragile and incomplete.

The RPO editor somewhat dryly notes that Ianthe “was probably called to cross the sea to Ireland.”

Landor has a pretty fantastic Wikipedia page that describes his work as a prose writer and poet, as well as a colorful life that put him in contact with both Romantic and Victorian figures, and also involved quite a few crazy/catastrophic events that were only sometimes caused by seemingly erratic behavior. (To wit: “By a succession of bizarre actions, he was successively thrown out of Rugby, Oxford and from time to time from the family home.” “On one occasion he netted and threw in the river a local farmer who objected to his fishing on his property.”) 

This poem seems to me to be very “Victorian” in a number of ways, most obviously in its articulation of loss and in the idealization of what has been lost. There’s something about the way the lines alternate length that recalls Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins“–and I’m particularly taken with the “Fragile and incomplete” last line.

But of course one of the things that’s clear even from the Wikipedia page is that Landor was an old man  by the time the Victorian period really got underway. Landor lived longer than either Tennyson or Browning, and his output was certainly prodigious. But because his long life spanned the Romantic and Victorian periods, he may have to a certain extent fallen through the cracks–despite being immortalized by Dickens as the litigious Boythern in Bleak House and having had his life written by Forster, better known as Dickens’ first biographer. 

The people studying him today (so far as I can tell from a quick MLA subject database search) seem to be Romanticists taking advantage of the expanded definition of “Romanticism” that’s become more common over the last 25-30 years.

One wonders, of course, whether Gebir, the poem that appears to have established his poetic reputation, would be more widely read today had it not come out in 1798, the same year that Lyrical Ballads was published….

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