Landscape and Lyric: Thomson, Gray, Warton, Goldsmith

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William Cowper’s association with an earlier eighteenth-century tradition of lyric poetry tracks through a terrain of familiar landscapes and feelings. His melancholy wandering, leavened by long moments of sustained attention to objects in nature, has tended to fix him in the difficult company of the ‘Pre-Romantics’; yet the various tones of Cowper’s landscapes are obscured beneath this gloomy shade. This chapter maps Cowper’s affinity with James Thomson, Thomas Gray, Thomas Warton, and Oliver Goldsmith, reading sections of The Task (1785) alongside less familiar lyric poems on gardens, trees, and churchyards. In doing so it claims a wider ambit for Cowper’s lyric practice, which attaches particular places to felt experiences and expressive forms. Ranging in mood, tone, and genre from downbeat retirement to georgic’s exacting energies, Cowper emerges as a poet attuned to fluctuations in geography which both require and elicit affective adjustment. His lyrics of landscape are modulated by this receptiveness to the feel of certain locations, as well as the legacy of their expression by previous poets who share, without replicating, Cowper’s sensitivity to gradations of place and emotion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of William Cowper
EditorsJessica Fay, Andrew Hodgson
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusIn preparation - 1 Oct 2025


  • William Cowper
  • James Thomson
  • Thomas Gray
  • Thomas Warton
  • Oliver Goldsmith
  • lyric
  • landscape
  • georgic
  • pastoral
  • pre-Romantic


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