Discuss ‘sensibility’ in the poetry of Felicia Hemans: The Grave of a Poetess

In this essay I will define the meaning of ‘sensibility’ in the poetry that I have encountered in this course. Then, I will discuss the gender writing, women’s poetry and whether ‘sensibility’ is a characteristic of women’s poetry alone.
In poetry, sensibility could be defined as a mental responsiveness and awareness, which refine sensitivity to pleasurable or painful impressions. It also, considered as a cult of feeling, which arose in the eighteenth century in response to philosophical theories. Those theories investigate the power of feeling to communicate directly between people. In the eighteenth century, sensibility celebrated the man feeling, presented with the feelings of sympathy and pity in response to the suffering of others.
Sensibility takes us into an internal world of psychology. Curran argues that the link is a crucial one to understanding Romanticism when he writes that the ‘poetry of sensibility is at base a literature of psychological exploration, and it is the foundation on which Romanticism was reread’ (Romantic Writing, p. 113).

The images of woman on the eighteenth century, was one source of the figure of the domestic woman. Within the culture of the Romantic period, the main role for woman was taking care of children, house and husband. Literature in that era, was influenced by sensibility, and seems to celebrate feeling and femininity.
Although sensibility appears among males’ poems, most of them refuse sensibility and consider it as a type of feminine. Many of Wordsworth’s poems return to the literature of sensibility, such as the distress suffered by a young woman and meeting an old man on the roadside. Wordsworth accepted sensibility as a male sensibility, but Blake refuse completely the sensibility, which represented in his perspective woman femininity.
Sensibility meaning was different in the point of view of some women writers. Some of them take their literary identity from it, such as Williams. Whereas, others consider it as an aspect of femininity at best, and at worst, as a means to celebrate all that is most false and decadent in the contemporary emergence of male romantic poetry. No one can deny that romanticism periods’ writers, such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron and Shelley, had borrowed significantly from female authors and feminine types of literature. Hence, we have to admit that there is a shared culture between men and women throughout the period of romanticism.
Wollstonecraft argues that to deny women the opportunities of education and an active role in society is to transform them into domestic slaves. What connects women and slaves, for Wollstonecraft, is that they are both seen and treated as commodities.
The revolutionary period gave fresh movement to debate and concern about femininity and women’s role in society. James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women (1765) was One of the most frequently republished volumes. In that volume, writer expresses strong views on the dangers to women of too much novel reading. According to Fordyce, female intellect is limited, whereas, most of life activities which need human intelligence such as ‘war, commerce, politics, exercises of strength and dexterity, abstract philosophy, and all the abstruser sciences, are more properly the province of men.
In thinking about the relation between gender and writing in the romantic period, we should note the Polwhele claims an inherited masculine perspective, locating his contemporary readers in the context of their fathers’ experience. According to Polwhele, women’s writing is an affront to God-given, ‘natural’ gender roles. In this masculine way of seeing, women are objects of the male gaze, they are defined by their appearance and behaviour. It follows that if women engage in certain types of writing, this will involve the loss of the ‘softer charms’ that are bound up with these ideals of femininity. (Romantic Writing, p. 180).
Nevertheless There were influential poets in the beginning of the nineteenth century, such as Anna Barbauld, Anna Seward, Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson. The work of those women writers were going through many editions, but they have subsequently been erased from literary history or pushed to its margins. Women writers were very popular, and women readers gained a new economic visibility through the rise of fashionable magazine.. the beginning of women entrance to literary marketplace was in significant numbers during the 18th and 19th centuries, but in the historical context in which they wrote, they could not easily claim to speak with authority.
To write as a woman was to be transgressive: entering the literary marketplace and competing with male authors for readership challenged conventional gender boundaries. As a result, many women authors adopted authorial personae that fit, rather than challenged, conventional gender definitions.
Since women were generally understood to be emotional rather than rational, women authors often wrote about feelings, emotions, and, especially, love. They often adopted styles that fit their subject matter: to seem more feminine, they employed highly emotional language. By so doing, they could find an audience yet not risk being perceived as excessively ambitious. But this created a double-bind: to speak as a woman was to play the part of an emotionally sensitive and irrational human being. And whereas male authors could cite an infinite number of literary ancestors to establish their authority, female authors had just a handful of literary antecedents.
Male poets were increasingly forced to respond to women writers such as Joanna Baillie, a Scottish poet and successful dramatist, who published a 72 page polemic arguing for naturalness in poetic language two years before Wordsworth wrote his ‘Preface” to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, in which he makes the same plea. Women Poets such as Baillie and other preceded Wordsworth and brought the vigour of common life and language to their writings.
Many of the most popular poets, such as Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L), published their poems in annuals and ornamental giftbooks, which were directed towards a largely female readership. L.E.L. edited and wrote most of Health’s Book of Beauty, and contributed to countless other. They promoted, particularly through their illustrations, an ideology of feminine beauty, providing models for women to emulate and confirming that the ideal woman was the object, not the subject, of the gaze.
In this sense, we will represent Felicia Hemans: “The Grave of a Poetess”. Sensibility is appear obviously in this poem which succeed in transferring the human suffer among its verses. In such a poem which written by woman, the death seems strangely bound up with expression, and it show how might this bundling affect the poem’s agenda. In the final stanza of The Grave of a Poetess, Felicia Hemans completes the turn of her poem from one of melancholy lament at the passing of fellow poet Mary Tighe to one instead celebrating the apparent freedom of expression that follows a poet’s earthly death. In closing, Hemans writes to Tighe, “Where couldst thou fix on mortal ground / Thy tender thoughts and high? / Now peace the woman’s heart hath found, / And joy the poet’s eye”.
The Grave of a Poetess, ends up carrying a fair amount of dramatic potency, as it both points to repression of the female voice, and implies the loss this creates for all of humanity. An effective tension is thus lent to Hemans poem through the direct and indirect of injection of her frustrated Romantic yearnings for the attainment of full expression for her and her fellow poetesses, the denial of which leads her to resort to the Christian-like notion of a vindicating afterlife seen in this poem.
Charlotte Smith was born in London. Her mother Anne died when she was only three, and at the age of six Charlotte was sent by her Aunt to a school in Chichester and later a school in Kingston. At the age of sixteen she was the subject of an arranged marriage to Benjamin Smith, with whom she was to have twelve children. There life together was far from straightforward, and the couple had many financial difficulties which led to her husband being imprisoned in debtors prison for seven months. Despite all her problems she was however a talented translator, and prolific writer of prose, plays and poetry. Including the Elegaic Sonnets in 1784 of which the Glow Worm was sonnet 58. She died in 1806 and is buried in Stoke.
In Charlotte Smith’s sonnet, she showed a high power of sensibility and she used a power of nature to represent her feeling among the sonnet. “I love to listen to the hollow sighs/ Through the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale;/ for at such hours the shadowy phantom pale”: in these lines she express her sadness and feelings through the use of nature elements. She used the expression “half-leafless” to show that the leaves had fallen down. Also she use the expression “shadowy phantom” to show that it is as a shadow, and this expression is a kind of mystery.
Dorothy Wordsworth: “Floating Island” is another example of woman poetry, which represent sensibility among her writing. Dorothy start her poem with a force of nature: “Harmonious Powers with Nature work/ on sky, earth, river, lake, and sea:/ Sunshine and storm, whirlwind and breeze/ All in one duteous task agree”. In this poem the poet employed the nature to express the feeling of security in the preface of the poem.
Although common poets refused to accept feminine sensibility, their work was influenced by sensibility in getting to the mind of human feeling and describing suffering and emotion. Wordsworth show sensibility in his famous poems, such as “Lucy”. In that poem, Wordsworth describe a story of a woman and express her beauty and shy. Then he ended his poem by telling his audience that Lucy had dead and no one know where she had lived: “She lived unknown, and few could know/ But she is in her grave, and oh”. All these emotions considered as a type of sensibility.
In contrasting with William Blake: “The Chimney Sweeper”, we find that the poet interest in showing a political and social suffering among his poem. In this poem the Blake is suggesting that it is a state of affairs which cannot be changed, and all we could do would be to accept our earthly fate and expect our reward in the afterlife: “And so Tome awoke, and we rose in the dark,/ So if all do their duty they need not fear harm”.
Although men such as Wordsworth, Blake, Keats and Shelley refused to admit that they use sensibility in their poems, no one can deny that there is a considerable amount of shared culture between men and women throughout the period of romanticism. In comparing with women sensibility, Wordsworth, Blake, Keats and Shelley express their sensibility among their poems in their poetry, and mainly they concern in human existence and the political situation. Sensibility was appeared more in Blake poems, as he was more sensitive and involved in human and political suffering and he was considered as a radical member during the revolution. On the other hand women sensibility interest in domestic matters and social and family sadness and women suffering. Further more they interest in the story of love and families and they use gothic elements in their poetry.
In conclusion, we defined sensibility as a matter of sensitivity and expression of emotions which arose in eighteenth century poetry. Both of men and women used sensibility in their poetry, but each of them employ it in a different way. The work of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Keats Byron and Shelley borrows significantly from female authors and ‘feminine’ types of literature, such as sensibility, even though it seeks to mark its own works as masculine and to sever the association with female writers and readers.
Sensibility arose in men’s poetry as a matter of expressing the refusal to the political situation and the social suffering. Whereas, it arose in women sensibility among their awareness of domestic needs and women suffering. In men’s perspective the woman is a poem not a poet, and that was what we notice in Wordsworth poem “Lucy” as he used Lucy as a passive character, he interest in describing her beauty, but there were no considered to her intelligence.

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