chapter  8
“Usurpt by Cyclops”: Rivers, Industry, and Environment in Eighteenth-Century Poetry
ByPenny Fielding
Pages 16

The river, as it flows through literary history, traces the course of poetry’s spatial relations to the environment. In particular, there is a strong case for seeing in river poetry a slow change in ways of thinking about the natural and the geographical. In the eighteenth century, the poetic river describes an observable transition from the national to the local, and in this course it seems to confirm the well-known narrative of Romanticism as a reactive movement. The spatial sensibilities of Romantic writers are frequently figured as a response to a number of social changes including the enclosure of common land, manufacture and capitalism, increasing urbanization, the development of turnpike roads, and the imposition of mechanical forces onto the landscape.1 Following these trajectories, the river comes to be rewritten as part of nature against its co-option into industrial Britain, and becomes the focus of the local as a place of affect, sheltering the subject from impersonal space.