The Absent Lady and the Renaissance Lyric as Letter Public Deposited

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  • Familiar from numerous Renaissance love lyrics is the conceit of the lady reader perusing a manuscript poem that stands in for her admirer's desiring (but distant) body. This essay measures the strength of this famous conceit by turning to poems actually delivered to historical Renaissance women. Ironically, I find that in these archivally preserved "letter-poems," or verses sent in the form of mail, the familiar lyric structure of reading as embodied contact between poet and recipient falls away. Instead, it is replaced by a structure that takes for granted the fundamental inaccessibility of the recipient's body: the structure of correspondence itself. To study letter-poems is thus to uncover a radically unfamiliar form of lyric contact, one that privileges absence over proximity.

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Journal Title
Journal Issue/Number
  • 3
Journal Volume
  • 49
Last Modified
  • 2020-09-05
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  • 0013-8312