chapter  8
The Mirror Stage
Pages 16

The Mirror and the Lamp is now such a classic that it is easy to forget the peculiar power it had for many readers in its first decade. Those of us who had been nurtured on the New Criticism and thought Donne and the Moderns the supreme examples of poetic achievement were inclined to find romantic poetry the aberration of an age and sensibility out of tune with our own. The Romantics, we had heard, thought poetry a spontaneous overflow of feeling rather than a verbal construct, an expression of personality rather than an impersonal and comprehensively ironic form. We needed precisely such a guide as The Mirror and the Lamp, which would judiciously explain romantic theory, enabling us to grasp its relation to other theories of poetry and to see romantic literature as a comprehensible historical phenomenon. We thus came to read romantic poetry as a reflection of the projects Abrams had described: expression rather than imitation,

and ‘an attempt to overcome the cleavage between subject and object, between the vital, purposeful, value-full world of private experience and the dead postulated world of extension, quantity, and motion’ (p. 65).1