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WatchwordsRomanticism and the Poetics of Attention$
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Lily Gurton-Wachter

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804796958

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804796958.001.0001

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The Poetics of Alarm and the Passion of Listening

The Poetics of Alarm and the Passion of Listening

(p.59) Chapter 2 The Poetics of Alarm and the Passion of Listening

Lily Gurton-Wachter

Stanford University Press

This chapter investigates attention’s affective shapes, focusing on how attention’s unusual relationship to terror and fear shifted as controversies about political alarmism emerged in the 1790s. Cowper’s “The Needless Alarm” and Coleridge’s “Fears in Solitude” worry in verse the unexpected proximity between alarmism and poetry. Both poems consider what Cowper calls “the sounds of war,” pushing apart the gap between sound and sense in order to consider the relation between poetic language and the “empty sounds” of propaganda and alarmism. But whereas Cowper imagines the poet’s own widening attention as fearless, Coleridge finds the simple act of attention inextricable from alarm. And whereas Cowper’s poem finds hope in a mode of listening to sound without thinking of it as the sound of something, Coleridge’s poem, itself more difficult to read, instead registers satirically the frightening impossibility of reading without suspicion.

Keywords:   political alarmism, terror, listening, sound, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Cowper, history of the passions, fear, poetics, political rhetoric

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