Poetic Destinies and Destinations

Deirdre Coleman


This paper surveys some of the anxieties poets felt in the mid eighteenth-century about the future of poetry in Britain, anxieties which had a formative influence on the 1790s generation of young romantic poets: was poetry in terminal decline, and if so, what part of the world would serve as poetry's new destination? Thomas Gray's poem, The Bard. A Pindaric Ode (1757) is a case in point. This poem was inspired by the story of King Edward I's massacre of the rebellious Welsh Bards, slaughtered, according to one account, because of their ability to incite the people to sedition. Standing “On a rock, whose haughty brow/ Frowns o’er old Conway’s foaming flood” the last of the Bards “with a master’s hand and prophet’s fire,/ Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre” (Lonsdale 185-6). Joining his voice to the “grisly band” of his dead fellow-bards, Gray’s freedom-fighting Bard prophesies doom to the victorious Edward, then hurls himself into the abyss below—an end preferable to that of living under the yoke of foreign domination.

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