How to fit the world's most vast dimensions into the lyric frame is a design problem that has engaged many influential post-Romantic poets, particularly at the start of their careers. In this study, I argue that the structural quandary of the “panoramic poem” offers an attractive challenge for young, ambitious poets during a period in which the significance of what a “panorama” is shifts dramatically from its earliest concrete status as an immersive, 360° painting, to its current linguistic and conceptual status as a governing condition of modern sight.
The nature of this study's findings may be counter-intuitive: when the post-Romantic poet avoids the stylized conceptual rectangle that is “landscape” and engages newly vast, dynamic confluences of land, sky, sea and globe, what results on the page is unexpectedly and intimately personal. In chapters on the early work of Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Elizabeth Bishop, I show that the panorama demands, for each poet, a profound, investigation of the core questions at the center of an emerging poet's vocation. “How worldly must my voice be to speak to the world, of the world, and be heard?” is the question that Emily Dickinson's minute panoramic poetics repeatedly confront. “How can I possibly fathom the ‘somnolent, deep songs’ of the inhuman sea (and, by extension, the inhuman universe) when I am a sensual man consumed by profane human appetites?” is that which the lyric panoramas of Wallace Stevens address. And for all the poets in this study, but particularly for Gerard Manley Hopkins and Elizabeth Bishop, burdened by homosexual feelings within a heteronorrnative culture, the unexpected but definite question that the panoramic poem raises for each is: “How can I pour myself into the world and onto the page without divulging my erotic self?” Over the course of many attempts at the panoramic poem, each poet shapes ways of encountering, with mind and pen, the vast, inhuman universe.
In the large sense, this study of post-Romantic poems identifies for scholars of poetry “the lyric panorama” as a valuable alternative to the traditional ars poetica. More broadly still, it proposes the term “panorama” as one with valuable historic specificity, and as-of-yet open possibilities for nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars interested in the human imagination's mimetic engagement with the natural world, particularly those scholars who seek a mediating concept between the traditional, occasionally conventional term “landscape,” and the recently proposed term “planet,” phenomenologically accessible only to astronauts.