This essay explores Percy Shelley’s The Triumph of Life as a strategic revival of Lucretian poetic science: a materialism fit to connect the epochal, romantic interest in biological life to the period’s pressing new sense of its own historicity. Shelley mobilizes Lucretian natural simulacra to show how personal bodies produce and integrate passages of historical time, exercising a poetics of transience that resists the triumphalism characteristic of both historiography and vitalist biology in the post-Waterloo period. Representing aging faces as mutable registers of the “living storm” of a post-Napoleonic interval, The Triumph depicts the face-giving trope of prosopopoeia as the unintended work of multitudes—demonstrating a nineteenth-century possibility of thinking biological, historical, and rhetorical materialisms together.
Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s “Poetry of Life”
AMANDA JO GOLDSTEIN is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of essays on Herder's poetic empiricism, Goethean morphology, and William Blake and the present-day revival of Lamarckian evolutionary theory.
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Amanda Jo Goldstein; Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s “Poetry of Life”. Representations 1 November 2014; 128 (1): 60–92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2014.128.1.60
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