Forgotten Romantic Poet: Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anna Laetitia Barbauld was an English poet from the school of Romanticism. She is now largely forgotten, but at the time she was writing, she was one of the most famous authors of the Romantic Era. Sadly, she is now forgotten, but at the time, she was compared to Samuel Johnson and Joseph Addison. She was a professional author at a time when such women were rare.

Her reputation suffered after her time for a variety of reasons, most of which had nothing to do with her ability as an author and had more to do with politics, ego and fads.

Romanticism was a great literary movement.

Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (1830). Romanticism!

The Big Six of English language romantic poetry were:

William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.

Other great Romantic authors include:

Others included Mary Shelley, Robert Southey, John Clare, George Crabbe, Thomas Hood, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, (England); Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Edgar Allan Poe (US); Robert Burns, Walter Scott and James Macpherson (Scotland); Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov (Russia); Ugo Foscolo, Giacomo Leopardi (Italy); Rabindranath Tagore (India); Novalis, Friedrich Hölderlin, Heinrich Heine, Heinrich von Kleist, Clemens Brentano, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Friedrich Schelling (Germany); Adam Mickiewicz (Poland); Almeida Garrett (Portugal); Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, Charles Baudelaire, Alfred de Vigny, Gérard de Nerval, Stendhal, Leconte de Lisle (France); Álvares de Azevedo, Castro Alves, Gonçalves Dias (Brazil); and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, Rosalía de Castro and Jacint Verdaguer (Spain).

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). This great painting captures the spirit of Romanticism perfectly.

The following two excerpts are undated, but they were probably written around 1770-1800 (around the time of the American Revolution).

Title Unknown

But passion’s wild, impetuous sea
Hurries me far from peace and thee
‘T were vain to struggle more.

Thus the poor sailor slumbering lies
While swelling tides around him rise
And push his bark from shore.

In vain he spreads his helpless arms
His pitying friends with fond alarms
In vain deplore his state
Still far and farther from the coast
On the high surge his bark is tost
And foundering yields to fate.


As near a weeping spring reclined
The beauteous Araminta pined
And mourned a false, ungrateful youth
While dying echoes caught the sound
And spread the soft complaints around
Of broken vows and altered truth

An aged shepherd heard her moan
And thus in pity’s kindest tone
Addressed the lost, despairing maid:

“Cease, cease, unhappy fair, to grieve
For sounds, though sweet, can ne’er relieve
A breaking heart by love betrayed.
Why shouldst thou waste such precious showers
That fall like dew on withered flowers
But dying passion ne’er restored?
In Beauty’s empire is no mean,
And woman, either slave or queen,
Is quickly scorned when not adored.
Those liquid pearls from either eye
Which might an Eastern empire buy
Unvalued here and fruitless fall
No art the season can renew
When love was young and Damon true
No tears a wandering heart recall.”

Cease, cease to grieve
thy tears are vain
Should those fair orbs in drops of rain
Vie with a weeping southern sky:
For hearts o’ercome with love and grief
All nature yields but one relief

Die, hapless Arami…

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11 thoughts on “Forgotten Romantic Poet: Anna Laetitia Barbauld”

  1. Aye, they don’t write them like that any more. A poem without rhythm or rhyme just doesn’t seem like value for money for me. Sure, a lot of the early modernists were good – Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore – and some of the Beats, Black Mountain and Liverpool poets stick in the mind, but most of the rest of 20th C poetry just feels like an expression of the totalitarian power of money – someone powerful says it’s poetry so it’s poetry, same as with modern classical music and art – the emperor’s new clothes syndrome.

    Love that painting. Not sure about all your list of romantics, though. Kierkegaard? Existentialist no? Baudelaire – symbolist? What about Heine? And was Nietzsche not the apotheosis of Romanticism? Elizabeth Barrett Browning too I think was a bit late for Romanticism proper ( maybe too Gautier and de Nerval) – Victorian poet, maybe pre-Raphaelite ( I think that was a fad in lit as well as in painting).

    1. I removed Kierkegaard. Baudelaire moves from Romanticism into Symbolism – he is a bridge. Heine was added. I don’t think Nietzsche is properly a romantic, though he wrote some Romantic music. De Nerval is surely a Romantic. Gautier is best seen as a Romantic too, but he’s hard to classify.

      Barrett Browning is indeed more properly a Victorian.

  2. On the evidence of these poems, not worth reviving! Lame, clichéd, lifeless, limp, about as bad as Felicia Hemans of the same era.
    If you want to talk about a minor 19C figure, Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) is worth a look. He had an interesting life, too, and he was witty: “Ambition is but avarice on stilts, and masked.” 300 of his poems were in Latin. Swinburne reckoned he was better than Byron as a poet, but not a good as Shelley. Like Barbauld, he is almost forgotten, but unlike Barbauld, undeservedly so. he is at his best in compressed, epigrammatic poetry of four to eight lines. Here’s a longer piece:

    A Railroad Eclogue (1849)

    Father: What brought thee back, lad?

    Son: Father! the same feet
    As took me brought me back, I warrant ye.

    Father: Couldst thou not find the rail?

    Son: The deuce himself
    Who can find most things, could not find the rail.

    Father: Plain as a pike-staff miles and miles it lies.

    Son: So they all told me. Pike-staffs in your day
    Must have been hugely plainer than just now.

    Father: What didst thou ask for?

    Son: Ask for? Tewkesbury,
    Thro Defford opposite to Breedon-hill.

    Father: Right: and they set ye wrong?

    Son: Me wrong? not they;

    The best among ’em should not set me wrong,
    Nor right, nor anything; I’d tell ’em that.

    Father: Herefordshire’s short horns and shorter wits
    Are known in every quarter of the land,
    Those blunt, these blunter. Well! no help for it!
    Each might do harm if each had more of each . .
    Yet even in Herefordshire there are some
    Not downright dolts . . before the cider’s broacht,
    When all are much alike . . yet most could tell
    A railroad from a parish or a pike.
    How thou couldst miss that railroad puzzles me,
    Seeing there lies none other round about.

    Son: I found the rails along the whole brook-side
    Left of that old stone bridge across yon Avon.

    Father: That is the place.

    Son: There was a house hard-by,
    And past it ran a furnace upon wheels,
    Like a mad bull, tail up in air, and horns
    So low ye might not see ’em. On it bumpt,
    Roaring, as strait as any arrow flits,
    As strait, as fast too, ay, and faster went it,
    Arid, could it keep its wind up and not crack,
    Then woe betide the eggs at Tewkesbury
    This market-day, and lambs, and sheep! a score
    Of pigs might be made flitches in a trice,
    Before they well could knuckle.
    Father! Father!
    If they were ourn, thou wouldst not chuckle so,
    And shake thy sides, and wipe thy eyes, and rub
    Thy breeches-knees, like Sunday shoes, at that rate.
    Hows’ever. . . .

    Father: ‘Twas the train, lad, ’twas the train.

    Son: May-be: I had no business with a train.
    ‘Go thee by rail,’ you told me; ‘by the rail
    At Defford’ . . and didst make a fool of me.

    Father: Ay, lad, I did indeed: it was methinks
    Some twenty years agone last Martinmas.

    Walter Savage Landor

    More here:

    1. Good stuff. I like this Landor poem. I also like Barbauld! I like this simple, rhyming poetry. At least I can understand what the Hell she is talking about. I can’t make any sense of modernists at all. I don’t know what they are trying to say. Looks like a bunch of images.

      Hey! I like Felicia Hemans! “The Image in Lava,” “Evening Prayer at a Girls’ School,” “I Dream of All Things Free,” “Night-Blowing Flowers,” “Properzia Rossi,” “A Spirit’s Return,” “The Bride of the Greek Isle,” “The Wife of Asdrubal,” “The Widow of Crescentius,” “The Last Song of Sappho,” and “Corinne at the Capitol” are all good.

  3. Baudelaire’s the first modernist, surely. The first poet to write a great poem about a rotting corpse. Now that’s modern! Here’s Roy Campbell’s translation
    (Campbell was a fucking fascist in the 30s but apparently close to communism when young. The bastard fought for Franco. Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a massive communist verse polemic in reply to Campbell’s Spanish Civil War poem Bucking Bronco):

    The Carcase (from Flowers of Evil)

    The object that we saw, let us recall,
    This summer morn when warmth and beauty mingle —
    At the path’s turn, a carcase lay asprawl
    Upon a bed of shingle.

    Legs raised, like some old whore far-gone in passion,
    The burning, deadly, poison-sweating mass
    Opened its paunch in careless, cynic fashion,
    Ballooned with evil gas.

    On this putrescence the sun blazed in gold,
    Cooking it to a turn with eager care —
    So to repay to Nature, hundredfold,
    What she had mingled there.

    The sky, as on the opening of a flower,
    On this superb obscenity smiled bright.
    The stench drove at us, with such fearsome power
    You thought you’d swoon outright.

    Flies trumpeted upon the rotten belly
    Whence larvae poured in legions far and wide,
    And flowed, like molten and liquescent jelly,
    Down living rags of hide.

    The mass ran down, or, like a wave elated
    Rolled itself on, and crackled as if frying:
    You’d think that corpse, by vague breath animated,
    Drew life from multiplying.

    Through that strange world a rustling rumour ran
    Like rushing water or a gust of air,
    Or grain that winnowers, with rhythmic fan,
    Sweep simmering here and there.

    It seemed a dream after the forms grew fainter,
    Or like a sketch that slowly seems to dawn
    On a forgotten canvas, which the painter
    From memory has drawn.

    Behind the rocks a restless cur that slunk
    Eyed us with fretful greed to recommence
    His feast, amidst the bonework, on the chunk
    That he had torn from thence.

    Yet you’ll resemble this infection too
    One day, and stink and sprawl in such a fashion,
    Star of my eyes, sun of my nature, you,
    My angel and my passion!

    Yes, you must come to this, O queen of graces,
    At length, when the last sacraments are over,
    And you go down to moulder in dark places
    Beneath the grass and clover.

    Then tell the vermin as it takes its pleasance
    And feasts with kisses on that face of yours,
    I’ve kept intact in form and godlike essence
    Our decomposed amours!

    Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

  4. Campbell’s pro Franco poem was called Flowering Rifle, MacDiarmid’s reply was The Battle Continues.

  5. It’s interesting how romanticism in art and literature seemed to be a movement more of the Germanic nations more than the “Romantic” or Latin ones. Many French–Voltaire in particular–were virulently anti-Romantic and defined the cold, lucid rationalism of the enlightenment, which was more a French movement. This carries over to this day, with the French not having much less of “romantic” nationalism (as opposed to the Germans, who everybody knows, still harbor romantic feelings for their past and their culture, though they are presently guilt-stricken) and have a much more rational approach to what it means to be French: you speak French, you agree with our Republican ideals and you contribute to French society. The Germans still believe their is an essential genetic Germanness or Germanicness and like to think (though the others might not care as much) of all the other German nations as their brothers. And therefore a Turk in Germany will sadly always be a Turk and not a German. Some of the more progressive ones will disagree but the general German populous still retains this view: they think of Austrians as Germans and Americans of German descent (or even mostly German descent) as more German than Turks. This is not the case in France at all. Sorry to ramble off on this . . . the topic was Romantic English poets after all . . .

  6. Austrians ARE Germans, culturally and linguistically.

    You’re not so far off topic erranter, because ‘Romanticism’ is often associated ( sometimes correctly e.g Wagner and Nietzsche to an extent anyway) with ‘blood and honour ‘ nationalism.

    ” Think of all the other German nations as their brothers” ? You say that as if there was something wrong with that. There aren’t any other German nations now anyway – are you talking about Hitler’s claim to the German part of Poland and the Sudetenland, places occupied for thousands of years by German speakers who wanted to be part of the German state. I don’t know if you intended to erranter , so don’t be offended, but you sound like you’re hinting that ALL Germans are nazis at heart. Remember that Germany had the largest and most advanced socialist movement the world had seen until it was destroyed by the nazis.

    I get the opposite impression about German Americans, that like all WASPs they quickly become just Americans, whereas large parts of the jews and the Irish cling to their separateness. In Scotland, there is a football team, Glasgow Celtic, supported by the population who descended from Irish catholic immigrants – 5 generations on the club flies an Irish flag, whereas Scots of Pakistani descent, the second generation call themselves Scots and say they wouldn’t be anything else. And that’s fine by me.
    But I admit the German state’s attitude to Turkish guest workers and long-term immigrants has been pretty much racist; I think this is basically a matter of economic exploitation though – the capitalists using them to undercut German workers, but not allowing them full rights. Same old shit!

  7. Na, I like Germans for the most part. Lived there for a while. I guess my thoughts just went: romanticism: German nationalism: thoughts on the Turks in Germany . . . I don’t think they Germans really bad at all. And some of the French enlightenment stuff pisses me off and leaves me dry. I’m more of a romantic at heart and love the German romantic movement, in music especially. At the end of my post I didn’t quite know where I was going. I guess it’s just that romanticism’s darkside is apparent in its rejection of rationalism and it can lead to romanticizing primitivism.

    You’re right about German Americans and German immigrants most anywhere. They assimilate so well you really can’t think them imperial racists at heart at all.

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