Recreating the Epic

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
—Genesis 2.7

The 19th century had an unfortunate passion for novels in verse. I have tried to read some of the more celebrated, notably Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (which Virginia Woolf somehow found delightful), and never made it through to the end. George Eliot's Middlemarch may be the best novel ever written in English, but her novel in verse, The Spanish Gypsy, is a soggy bore.

What Frederick Turner has now proven, with Genesis, is that the problem was not poetry but the poets who used it—and the way they used it. For instead of tackling epic subjects with epic approaches, as Milton and Vergil and Homer once did. Browning and Eliot tried to reduce poetry to narrative. That is, they seem to have taken the novel to be the true form and poetry to be, on the whole, a kind of pleasant accident, a grace note with which to decorate the holy sanctuary of prose. Browning's heroine, for instance, describes her father like this: "My father was an austere Englishman, / Who, after a dry lifetime spent at home / In college-learning, law, and parish talk, / Was flooded with a passion unaware, / His whole provisioned and complacent past / Drowned out from him that moment."


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