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Mary Maria Colling: Fables and other pieces in verse. With some account of the author, in letters to Robert Southey, Esq. Poet Laureate, etc. By Mrs. Bray. 1st ed. London : Longman, 1831. WPRP 168.

 

It is fascinating to contemplate the packaging of this collection of poems: Mrs. Bray takes care that it is preceded by her own lengthy letters to Robert Southey detailing the author's personal history as well as an epigraph by William Wordsworth (who is among the list of subscribers to this piece) to which Bray continuously refers, though not explicitly.  Bray portrays Colling as a true poet of nature in the Wordsworthian sense of term. Her poetry spontaneously erupts as the result not of book learning or education generally but of unfettered intercourse with nature. Although it remains unclear whether Colling or Bray chose the allusion to Wordsworth's The Excursion, it is interesting to note that the epigraph transforms the words spoken by the Wanderer (therefore, am I bound / To worship, here, and everywhere as one / Not doomed . . .) such that it does not appear as the simile it in fact is in its larger context. Bray figures Colling as the embodiment of the simile such that the figuration itself is erased and her life becomes the substance of the Wordsworthian ideal of the poet of nature. Given that Bray manages but does not conceal Colling's background as a self-educated servant, the relationship she creates between Wordsworth and Colling is not only interesting but also potentially enriching to both poets as a means for considering the relations between nature poetry and class in Romantic writing.  Finally, Colling's poem The Rotten Stick indicates that Colling did not necessarily imagine herself as a mere conduit of nature, or even a nature poet. This piece shows Colling to be extremely savvy about her position as a writer, arguably a female writer, in the midst of a rising print culture. In the poem's address to the reader as friend and its subsequent critique of friendship, it also performs a complex understanding of that position.  
 

 

Book contents and notes.

 

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