By John Kenneth MacKay

Inscription and Modernity charts the vicissitudes of inscriptive poetry produced in the middle of the good and catastrophic political, social, and highbrow upheavals of the overdue 18th to mid twentieth centuries. Drawing at the rules of Geoffrey Hartman, Perry Anderson, Fredric Jameson, and Jacques Rancière between others, John MacKay exhibits how quite a lot of Romantic and post-Romantic poets (including Wordsworth, Clare, Shelley, Hölderlin, Lamartine, Baudelaire, Blok, Khlebnikov, Mandelstam, and Rolf Dieter Brinkmann) hire the frequent assets of inscription either to justify their writing and to draw a readership, in the course of a posh old section while the explanation for poetry and the id of audiences have been concerns of severe but efficient doubt.

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The inscription for its part always seems to point to some past event, whereas the label or “sign” concerns the distinction of its bearer alone, and enables its use. 78 They precisely do not effect the same waylaying of the wandering observer, the same (to paraphrase Roman Jakobson) “impeding of perception”79 to which inscriptions aspire. Of course, one might argue that epitaphs like Jonson’s are not entirely stubborn or occluding; they, too, invite us beyond their textual surface into memories and imaginings.

59 Although “natural hearts” is appropriately vague, one cannot but feel that shepherds (whose “occupation and abode” was [not is] in the “fields and hills”) are not among those being appealed to here, and certainly not shepherds as men suffering from the concrete problems—financial insecurity, indebtedness, and the threat of losing property, livelihood, and family—endured to the fullest extent by Michael. While those problems, as Simpson and others have shown, were probably part of Wordsworth’s own present, the poet, confident in his ability to represent the moral essence of “passions not his own” and convinced of their importance, opts for the posterity of aesthetic education rather than for a more local audience (or alliance).

401) through a modified act of covenanting. His very improvisation of a ritual, his poem I suggest, is designed to lift the burden of forgetfulness, override the dreaded discontinuity. 62 Unable to contend with the “dissolute” energies of the city or Luke’s weakness of character (or both), his inscription fails to sustain that connection to Luke and, by extension, to sustain the family and property. It fails, clearly enough, because it is too localized, and is so in two respects: it is a physically isolated gesture (made in an “utter solitude”) and has as its addressee a single, all-too-fallible human.

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