Cornish romantic poetry and social criticism


This video from Britain says about itself:

“To Wordsworth” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (poetry reading).

By Gwyn Griffiths in Britain:

Charles Valentine Le Grice
By Alan M Kent (Lyonesse, £8.95)

Monday 08 March 2010

The magnificent and moody landscapes of Cornwall are not renowned for producing Romantic poets.

More usually, the county is associated with inventors, engineers and miners.

Perhaps Cornish poet Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773-1858) suffered from this perception.

The clever son of a Norfolk clergyman Le Grice was Cambridge educated and there he befriended Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the essayist Charles Lamb.

After graduating in 1796 he came to Penzance to tutor to the son of a wealthy widow whom he married two years later.

He progressed to the position of landowner and squire of Trereife.

Dr Alan Kent – playwright, poet and the author of very funny novels – spends a lot of time in this work on Cornwall’s neglected literary heritage, but he only recently became aware of Le Grice at informal poetry readings where Tim Le Grice read poems by his great-great-great-grandfather and his valuable contribution to Kent’s book is a very interesting biography of his ancestor.

Kent is highly apologetic that Le Grice is missing from Voices from West Barbary, his anthology of Anglo-Cornish poetry published in 2000, but he makes amends by giving that missing voice a book in itself – and rightly so.

Le Grice took up such causes as children accidentally burnt to death and ending the “unchristian” custom of burying the poor of the parish without putting their names on the coffins.

His interest in childhood is revealed in the simple yet touching poem A Young Lady, Five Years Old, To Her Brother Newly Born.

Another poem with an unwieldy title, The Petition Of An Old Uninhabited House In Penzance, is a fascinating socio-economic study of the town delivered with the energy of that fine 20th century poet Charles Causley.

Le Grice’s style is classical, unlike the freer forms adopted by his contemporaries.

Yet his beautifully crafted sonnets often include a rhyming sequence some may find unusual but never disconcerting.

Yet there is nothing unusual in the powerful sonnet On Charles Lamb Leading His Sister To The Asylum nor in his splendidly evocative Sonnet On Mount’s Bay with its witty rhyming final couplet.

His undercurrent of loathing for a world moving from an eco-friendly environment to modernity – most notable in the sonnet On Cutting Down An Old Arbour – will resonate with modern readers.

We can only wonder why has he been so neglected and Kent suggests it is because he did not write a great deal.

While it is the case that all the poems in this collection eventually found their way into print, this happened at a time when the works of his friends Coleridge and Wordsworth appeared in book form.

But with Kent’s book, Cornwall’s Romantic poet is now ripe for rediscovery by a new readership.

June 2010: Heathland, wetlands and hedgerows are continuing to disappear in Cornwall, despite the best efforts of conservationists, according to the latest research: here.

5 thoughts on “Cornish romantic poetry and social criticism

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