Cultivating the arts of peace: English Georgic poetry from Marvell to Thomson
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Virgil's Georgics portray peace and war as disparate states derived from the same fundamental materials. Adopting a didactic tone, the poet uses the language of farming to confront questions about the making of lasting peace in the wake of the Roman civil wars. Rife with subjunctive constructions, the Georgics place no hope in the easily realized peace of a golden age; instead, they teach us that peace must be sowed, tended, reaped, and replanted, year after year. Despite this profound engagement with the consequences of civil war, however, the Georgics have not often been studied in relation to English writers working after the civil wars of the 1640s. I propose that we can better understand poems by Andrew Marvell, John Dryden, Anne Finch, and John Philips--all of whom grappled with the ramifications of war--by reading their work in relation to the georgic peace of Virgil's poem. In distinct ways, these poets question the dominant myth of a renewed golden age; instead, they model peace as a stable yet contingent condition constructed from chaotic materials, and therefore in need of perpetual maintenance. This project contributes to existing debates on genre, classical translation, the relationships between early modern poetry and politics, and most importantly, poetic representations of political and social peace. Recent work has argued for the georgic as a flexible mode rather than a formal genre, yet scholars remain primarily interested in its relation to questions of British national identity, agricultural reform movements, and the production of knowledge in the middle and later decades of the eighteenth century. I argue, however, for the relevance of the georgic to earlier poems written in response to the consequences of the English civil wars. The dissertation includes chapters devoted separately to Marvell, Finch, and Dryden, and concludes with a chapter on how their dynamic conceptions of georgic peace both inform and conflict with aspects of the popular eighteenth-century genre of imitative georgic poetry initiated by Philips and brought to its height by James Thomson.
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