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‘A Closet or a Secret Field’: Horace, Protestant Devotion and British Retirement Poetry


  • michael edson is a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. His dissertation reconsiders the retirement trope in long-eighteenth-century English poetry and philosophy, focusing on retirement as both a metaphor and a material practice that shaped popular notions of abstraction and abstract thought in the period.


Contrary to studies that link British poems celebrating rural retirement with the Latin poetry of Horace, this essay argues that such poems equally reflect the influence of Protestant devotional writing and ritual. Retirement poetry not only appears in religious guidebooks and collections of devotional verse but also shares much of the rhetoric characterising devotional writing of the period. The essay also stresses the importance of taking into account audience, context and function when categorising eighteenth-century poetry as secular or religious. An appendix lists over 300 retirement poems published in the British Isles between 1690 and 1830.