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In this wide-ranging study Michael O'Neill examines the phenomenon of the 'self-conscious poem' - that is, a poem concerned with poetry or, more centrally if often connectedly, a poem that displays awareness of itself as a poem - in the work of the major Romantic poets: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The book freshly illuminates many famous lyrics and longer poems and revalues less regarded works such as The Excursion. For O'Neill, self-consciousness is allied to the new status granted to poetry by the Romantics. His closely attentive readings suggest that self-consciousness in Romantic poetry often accompanies exploration of, even anxiety about, poetry's significance. Yet his emphasis falls on the imaginatively productive ends to which such exploration and anxiety are put. An extended coda looks at the bequest of Romantic self-consciousness to post-Romantic writers; it offers chapters comparing Yeats and Stevens, discussing later Auden's scepticism about poetry, and exploring the affecting intricacies of Amy Clampitt's 'Voyages: A Homage to John Keats'.
Throughout, O'Neill challenges recent accounts of Romanticism by placing at the centre of his study poetry's imaginative and aesthetic value.