I spent the bulk of today preparing tomorrow night’s lecture on the poetry of Gray, Smart, Goldsmith, and Cowper. The last time I taught this course (third-year 18th-century literature and culture), I shocked myself by spending more time on Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village than on anything else (though I think I may have allowed myself to devote the next meeting in its entirety to Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”). This was shocking because I do not love Goldsmith the way I love Gray and Smart and also, I think, Cowper. I suspected it must have been laziness—that, with limited time to prepare and the usual million other things on my desk/mind, I must have fallen back on talking about heroic couplets and pastoral nostalgia and anti-luxury polemics because these things come easily at this point. More easily than, say, an explanation of why readers of English poetry have been in raptures over Cowper’s natural history of the couch since it first came out—even though I am very interested in this question! My plan was to fix this broken lecture of mine by preparing extended discussions of the “My Cat Jeoffry” section of Jubilate Agno and The Task and “The Castaway” (Gray being accounted for this time around by a student presentation), which I did, and then I went into The Deserted Village to jot down a few things, and ended up writing pages and pages of notes like HOW DOES A HEROIC COUPLET STRUCTURE TIME—CAN A CAESURA SUSPEND THE DECAY OF HUMANITY?? For hours.
I do not actually want to think about what this means. You know, about me.