Poetical Remains: Poets' Graves, Bodies, and Books in the Nineteenth Century

Research output: Book/ReportAuthored book


What happens to poets' genius when they die? The peculiar affinity which was felt to exist between their physical and literary 'remains' - their bodies and books - is the subject of this original cultural study, which concentrates on poets and poetry from the Romantic to late Victorian period. Poetical Remains deals with issues such as the place of burial, the kind of monument deemed appropriate, the poet's 'last words' and last poems, the creation of memorial volumes, and the commercial boost given to a poet's reputation by 'celebrity death', focussing in each case on the powerful, complex, often unstated but ever-present connections between the poet's body and their poetic 'corpus'. As well as the works of the poets themselves, Matthews draws on contemporary biography and memoirs, family correspondence, newspaper reports, and tribute verse among other texts, and places the literature of poetic death in its social, material, and affective context: the conflict between the idealized 'country churchyard' and the secular urban cemetery, the ideal of private, familial burial as against the pressure for public ceremony, the recuperation of death-in-exile as an extension of national pride, transactions between spiritual and material, poetic and pragmatic, in a secularizing age.

Some of the most poignant and darkly comic moments in nineteenth-century literary history arose around the deathbeds of poets and the events which followed their deaths. What happened to Shelley's heart, and to Thomas Hood's monument; the different fates which dictated that the first Poet Laureate appointed by Queen Victoria, Wordsworth, was buried in his family plot in Grasmere, while her second, Tennyson, was wrested from his family's grasp and interred in Westminster Abbey - these are some of the stories which Matthews tells, and which are bound up in a sustained and powerful argument about the way in which our culture deals with artists and their work on the boundary between life and death.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages310
ISBN (Print)9780199254637
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2004

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Material Texts


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