Catullan Consciousness and the Early Modern Lyric in England : From Wyatt to Donne
By comparing Catullus to English lyricists of the 16th and early 17th centuries, Jacob Blevins here identifies a common function of the genre: lyric love poetry, he argues, provides the space in which speakers attempt to situate their self-identity among dominant cultural ideologies and individual desires. This book engages the works of the Latin love poet Catullus and the group of Renaissance love poets in England noted for their deviation from Renaissance conventions of love poetry and their innovation in the development of the lyric genre as a whole - Sir Thomas Wyatt, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, and John Donne. The intratextual nature of the lyric sequence allows for the constant positioning and repositioning of the lyric subject who must both valorize and reject the cultural ideals on which his relationship and desires should be founded. For Catullus such ideals are based on Roman civic virtues, whereas for the Renaissance writers such ideals are founded on Renaissance neoplatonism, Petrachan literary conventions, and the civic (or courtly) implications inherent in those ideals.
The speakers struggle with their own desires coming into conflict with the ideals of their culture, and the poetry represents a process of constructing a self within these two conflicting needs. Blevins argues that only in the subjectivity inherent in the lyric genre is this process possible, and that this process is the defining element in successful lyric poetry.