Wild Verse: The Art of Nature in the Poetry of Ann Batten Cristall
This essay examines the contribution of Ann Batten Cristall (c. 1769–1848) to an early Romantic aesthetic by reading Cristall as a ‘lost’ poet of nature. Cristall’s Poetical Sketches (1795) remain her only published work, but they were well received by renowned contemporaries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Samuel Rogers. Illustrating a development from Sentimentalism to Romanticism, Cristall’s ‘sketches’ are pervaded by elaborate descriptions of landscapes and weathers, fauna and flora. The poems contemplate different understandings of nature and naturalness: besides the wildness of human passion and sentiment, these include the particularities of the non-human natural world, a world characterised by variety and resistance to order. At the same time, organic forms of nature serve as a metaphorical springboard for Cristall’s deliberate and experimental refusal of order in poetic form. Three years before Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads were first published, Cristall’s work anticipated the aesthetic innovations of Romanticism, while also touching upon questions of poetic ecology and ecofeminism.
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