Charles Lamb’s attitude toward poetry evolved as he matured. As a young man, he considered himself an aspiring poet. He experimented with rhythms, modeled his diction after Sir Philip Sidney and his sentiment after William Lisle Bowles, discussed theory with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and took pleasure in criticizing his own and others’ work. In his early verse, there is little of the humor, irony, or modesty that typify his later writing. Lamb is not only serious but also self-consciously so, dealing with weighty topics in an elevated style. His early poems are heavy with melancholy and despair, even before Mary killed their mother. The poems are also personal and confessional and suggest an adolescent indulgence in emotion. Writing to Coleridge in 1796, Lamb explained, “I love my sonnets because they are the reflected images of my own feelings at different times.”
Following Mary’s disaster, Lamb’s reality became as tragic as he had previously imagined. He wrote to Coleridge, “Mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every vestige of past vanities of that kind.” This was the first of several renunciations of poetry made by Lamb throughout his life, but—like similar renunciations of liquor and tobacco—it was temporary. In a few months, he was sending Coleridge new verses, but the subject matter was altered. Lamb turned to poetry for solace and consolation, composing religious verse. His interest in poetry had revived, but the...
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