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While Meredith continued to write and publish poetry throughout his life, he is best known for his novels, especially the early novel The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) and the two later ones, The Egoist (1879) and Diana of the Crossways (1885).The Egoist, perhaps Meredith's best known novel, was a tragicomedy.The volume’s editors footnote Meredith’s words with a dismaying lack of common sense.
That’s why you see me by the wayside here, Returning home from transportation. And when Meredith abandons this affectedly “masculine” voice, and writes sentimental lyrics, the result is even more repellent, as when an outcast lover compares himself, in a feeble metaphor, to another outcast, “the winter rose” in the garden that knocks at his window during a storm.
It is no wonder that socio-cultural critics have understandably drawn most of their salient observations from novels and plays.
But the verses accompanying “Modern Love”—the “Poems of the English Roadside” and the added ballads and lyrics—fall, as poetry, so far below “Modern Love” that only specialists in Victorian culture would care about its reappearance in their company.
For all the editors’ protestations commending Meredith’s attempts at rustic or working-class diction, there is nothing poetically commendable about these poems.
However, poetry did not generate an income and he later turned to prose.
His wife left him and their five-year-old son in 1858; she died three years later.They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam: The living throb in me, the dead revive.Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath, Life glistens on the river of the death.Reading these poems, one is astonished that “Modern Love” got itself written at all.Among the “Poems of the English Roadside,” for example, we find the blustery opening of “The Old Chartist,” a poem spoken by a labor sympathizer who was transported to Australia but has now returned to England: Whate’er I be, old England is my dam! I’m nothing of a fox, nor of a lamb; I don’t know how to bleat nor how to leer: I’m for the nation! One flinches from more of this, but it goes on for another sixteen stanzas.George Meredith (1828–1909), conspicuous in his time as both a novelist and a poet, never became a convincing poet on the order of Hardy or Lawrence.He is now known for only one poetic work, “Modern Love,” a fifty-poem sequence that—unlike the rest of his poems, even such charming ones as “Love in the Valley”—engaged in a sustained and penetrating look inward.”—is footnoted as: “mother (female parent); also, a barrier.” What reader, in doubt about what “mother” meant, would need the elaboration “female parent”?And how could “dam”—in this context of leering foxes and bleating lambs—mean not a mother but “a barrier”?“Modern Love” appeared in 1862 as the title poem of the volume , here reprinted as a whole.The editors argue that one reads “Modern Love” better within its original volume: “Juxtaposing multiple versions of ‘modern love,’ the volume thus explores a range of contemporary sociocultural issues, including English cosmopolitanism, the so-called Woman Question, and the diffusion of democratic ideas about social equality.” If you go to poetry for ideas about “contemporary sociocultural issues,” the re-issue of this volume may please you.