As One Who From a Volume Reads: A Study of the Long Narrative Poem in Nineteenth-Century America
Though overlooked and largely unread today, the long narrative poem was a distinct genre available to nineteenth-century American poets. Thematically and formally diverse, the long narrative poem represents a form that poets experimented with and modified, and it accounted for some of the most successful poetry publications in the nineteenth-century United States. Drawing on contemporary theories of form and situating these poems within their literary-historical context, I discuss how our reading practices might be shaped by a greater attentiveness to the long narrative poem. My analysis will focus upon a small set of poems from across the nineteenth century, centering on works by Lucy Larcom and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. More than mere recovery, this project aims to illuminate a tradition in which poets ambitiously melded genres, claimed poetry’s place to shape public discourse, and thought deeply about the reading practices available to their audience. Along the way, I consider how the dominant critical categories in the study of poetry have occluded these poems, and what these poems might offer in terms renewing or revitalizing our analytical tools and concepts.