This book is about description and image in Renaissance poetry, but focuses not on descriptions that present a vivid image to the reader’s mind but on those that seem to avoid doing so. Against the ancient and still active tradition that poetry is painting in words, it argues that poetry is most poetic when its goals are not visual.
When we read poetry, we tend to believe that we are getting a glimpse of the interior of the poet’s mind—pictures from the poet’s imagination relayed through the representative power of language. But poets themselves sometimes express doubt (usually indirectly) that poetic language has the capability or the purpose of revealing these images. This book examines description in Renaissance poetry, aiming to reveal its complexity and variability, its distinctiveness from prose description, and what it can tell us about Renaissance ways of thinking about the visible world and the poetic mind. Recent criticism has tended to address representation as a product of culture; The Unimagined in the English Renaissance argues to the contrary that attention to description as a literary phenomenon can complicate its cultural context by recognizing the persistent problems of genre and literary history. The book focuses on Sidney, Spenser, Donne, and Milton, who had very different aims as poets but shared a degree of skepticism about imagistic representation. For these poets, description can obscure as much as it makes visible, and can create whole categories of existence that are outside of visibility altogether.
Chapter 1: Spent Store: Colin Clout’s Material
Chapter 2: Indescribable Landscape: The Bower of Bliss
Chapter 3: That Which Was Nothing: Donne’s Pictures
Chapter 4: Forms of Battle: Milton’s Epics
Chapter 5: To See No Face: Milton’s Last Sonnet
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