I have reread “January, 1795” three times in the past half hour, and “London’s Summer Morning” twice, and I still think I’m missing something. Mary Robinson is very clearly making a forceful point about social stratification, and an interesting one, given her upper-class background; but for the life of me, I can’t find the skeleton of an argument in either of those poems. The former in particular is just a list of images; striking, emotionally evocative images, but just images. There were a couple of lines that seemed to contain some ambiguity — are the “Courtiers cringing and voracious” more victims or victimizers? I was briefly interested in them and their position, but Robinson never followed up on them, and I’ll admit that my eyes glazed over a couple of times. The repetitive structure struggled to stick in my brain, and the lack of participles only highlighted the utter lack of a statement.
I was convinced that I was missing something there, but after reading “London’s Summer Morning,” I rather gave up on “January, 1795.” Again, it’s social commentary rooted almost exclusively in imagery, and although some amount of perspective is introduced in the last two lines, I found it difficult to connect with the piece because the majority of it is presented so impersonally. I gave that one a couple of tries too, but “The Poor Singing Dame” made me cut my losses and move on — it’s still social commentary, and while there’s at least personality and characters worth paying attention to in this one, I thought Robinson fumbled at the end when the Lord died of remorse. Frankly, if I hadn’t read those two other poems first, I probably would have been more willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but as is, it seems like she’s sacrificing the moral of the poem for the character, the exact opposite of the first two. A more interesting read, but I get the impression that Robinson can’t fit both into the same work. The Lord’s monument overshadowing the Dame’s grave claws back some of the symbolic meaning, but not all of it.
In short, I don’t think I like Mary Robinson, but if I am missing some nugget of poetic genius, I’d be happy to hear it and change my mind.