Poetics of Description: Imagined Places in European Literature

Overview

The Poetics of Description tells a remarkable story that begins in classical antiquity with ecphrasis, the art of describing the world so vividly that the audience could become imaginative eyewitnesses. The story continues with the European writers from Milton to Lord Byron who inherited this tradition and used it to describe places, both natural and man-made, to serve as figures for mind, memory, and creative perception. It comes to a surprising conclusion when, in the middle of the twentieth century, one ...

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Overview

The Poetics of Description tells a remarkable story that begins in classical antiquity with ecphrasis, the art of describing the world so vividly that the audience could become imaginative eyewitnesses. The story continues with the European writers from Milton to Lord Byron who inherited this tradition and used it to describe places, both natural and man-made, to serve as figures for mind, memory, and creative perception. It comes to a surprising conclusion when, in the middle of the twentieth century, one prominent scholar's misunderstanding limited ecphrasis to descriptions of works of art, and what had begun as an ideal of immediacy was transformed into nearly its opposite, a preoccupation with representation of representation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Essential reading for all Romanticists. [Koelb]  has made it impossible for any responsible scholar to talk about ekphrasis in the same way again."—Studies in Romanticism
 
"Koelb's book is striking for the extraordinary depth and range with which her thesis is sustained.  Her work demonstrates a command of literary history and critical commentary reminiscent of an E.R. Curtius, a C.S. Lewis, or an Owen Barfield.  In a day when much literary discourse seems to exist in a self-imposed vacuum, Koelb's approach is indeed original, even radical."— Paul T Piehler, Department of English, McGill University
 
The Poetics of Description is sure to shift the direction of poetic criticism for years to come. Koelb demonstrates how romantic ‘nature poetry’ derives from classical descriptive verse, a connection obscured for the past half century by misunderstandings of the term ecphrasis. Koelb's findings compel critical reassessment of major romantic poems while providing a theoretical foundation for revisionary studies into every variety of descriptive poetry.”—Karl Kroeber, Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University
 
“This wonderful book traces the topic of ecphrasis, primarily as description of places, from its roots in Homer and Greek rhetoric, through Vergil, Quintilian, and Milton, to the British Romantics Wordsworth and Byron. Koelb not only shows why her view of ecphrasis is historically justified, but why it matters for interpreting the works in which such descriptions are embedded. The book masterfully ranges from insights into small, easily overlooked details (as in Vergil's description of the harbor at Carthage) to issues of major theoretical importance. This is a fundamentally important work that expands and deepens our understanding of "the imagined place" in European literature.”—William H. Race, Paddison Professor of Classics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403974891
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 12/12/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Janice Hewlett Koelb received her PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she specialized in classical Latin and British Romantic literature. Today she is an independent scholar in Chapel Hill.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Ecphrasis, Description, and the Imagined Place * "As If Present": Classical Ecphrasis
• Unity, Form, and Figuration
• A Sylvan Scene
• The Universe Dead or Alive: Gilpin, Wordsworth, and the Picturesque * The Visionary Eye: Wordsworth's Anti-picturesque Excursion * "Till the Place Became Religion": Byron's Coliseum
• Epilogue: Immediacy

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