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Don Juan in Hell

When English lyric poetry is the subject, one thinks first of the Romantics. To many readers for whom poetry is not a life-sustaining staple, and even to some for whom it is, the Romantics have come to define poetry’s very essence: the eruption of exorbitant feeling too rich for the heart to contain in silence. Readers better versed in older and more recent poetry may downgrade Romantic extravagances in favor of, say, the brainy eroticism of John Donne, the eviscerating wit of Alexander Pope, or the chill austerity of Geoffrey Hill. Yet there is no denying that the two poetic generations that thrived from the 1790s to the 1820s represent an artistic efflorescence surpassed in English literature only by that of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Although they may be herded together to mark a period or even a movement, each of the Romantics was a singular figure. In the first generation, whose principals outlived those of the second, William Blake, almost unknown in his day, co…
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