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"Arion": George Eliot's exploration of art and influence after Middlemarch.

By the time George Eliot made her poetic debut with the publication of The Spanish Gypsy in 1868, she had already achieved wealth and fame with five successful novels: Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), and Felix Holt, the Radical (1866). Widely recognized as one of the era's leading writers, Eliot had established her position as a prominent novelist. Why, then, did she turn to poetry at this point in her successful publishing career? In George Eliot, Poetess, I argue that Eliot relied on the gender-specific and religiously motivated poetess persona to write poetry that promoted a doctrine of sympathy rather than orthodox religion. As a poetess with spiritual authority, Eliot could take greater risks than she could as a popular novelist. (1) Eliot's own perception of poetry's aesthetic preeminence over fiction provides evidence of another poetic aim: in 1868, she wrote that poetry had a "superiority over all the other arts." (2) The cultural prestige of poetry thus offered Eliot a chance to secure a literary legacy beyond that of a popular novelist. Indeed, throughout her poems, Eliot linked herself to a great poetic tradition by invoking Dante, Boccaccio, Homer, Erinna, Sappho, and Shakespeare.

Despite seeking to rank among the great artists of the age, however, Eliot also feared the corrupting power of fame and egoistic ambition. She maintained an uneasy relationship with the fame that she consciously employed to promote her work, and her poems reveal this disquietude. Scholars have noted how a number of Eliot's poems reveal her struggle with fame and ambition but have largely overlooked "Arion," a little-known poem from 1873 that constitutes a fascinating example of Eliot's literary effort to address this conflict in the aftermath of MidAlemarch's critical and financial success in 1871 to 1872. (3) In "Arion," Eliot adapts Herodotus's Histories, book 1, chapter 24, which tells the story of Arion (ancient Greek poet and inventor of the dithyramb), who won fame and wealth in Italy and was forced by sailors to jump into the sea upon returning to his native Corinth. (4) Eliot's thematic and formal changes to

Herodotus's story reveal her own struggle as a famous, aging artist working to compose lasting and meaningful art while grappling with the potential trappings of celebrity. After providing background concerning Eliot's poetry-writing career, I offer an in-depth examination of "Arion" to show how this poem indicates a maturation in Eliot's conception of herself as an artist. In addition, I offer biographical evidence to date the composition of "Arion" to March 1873 and explain the significance of this period by reading the poem as an expression of Eliot's struggle with artistic creation, performance, mortality, and influence after writing Middlemarch, her most famous novel.

Poetry, Prominence, and Prestige

Despite the crucial role that Eliot's poetic work played in the later part of her writing career, few who read Eliot today know of it. During Eliot's lifetime, her poetry sold well and received mostly positive reviews. However, after her death critics largely dismissed her poetry as inferior verse, and over time it fell out of wide circulation. (5) Until recently, scholars neglected this important part of her work--written at the height of her career--but new studies focusing on her poetry and prominence as a public figure offer a more complete picture of the author and her work as a whole. (6)

From 1864 to 1878, Eliot wrote poetry regularly and, from 1866 to 1870 and 1873 to 1874, intensively. She wrote numerous poetic epigraphs to preface chapters of her novels; a handful of poetic fragments; and over twenty-five poems, including lyric poems, a sonnet sequence, elegies, hymns and ballads, verse narratives, a closet drama, philosophical dialogues, narrative monologues, and an epic-length dramatic poem. In these works, she masterfully employed blank verse, free verse, heroic couplets, and irregular rhyme schemes. After the publication of The Spanish Gypsy, she published poems in Blackwood's Magazine ("How Lisa Loved the King" in 1869), Macmillan's Magazine ("The Legend of Jubal" in 1870, Armgart in 1871, "A College Breakfast Party" in 1878), and the Atlantic Monthly ("Agatha" in 1869 and Armgart in 1871). She also oversaw two editions of her collected poems: The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems (1874) and The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems, Old and New (1878). (7) Eliot knew that poetry would not earn her a significant amount of money, but she nevertheless devoted to it a great deal of energy and time--time she could have spent earning much more by writing novels. She wrote to her friend Cara Bray in 1868 that she expected critics to feel "a good deal of disgust" toward her for "doing what was not looked for from [her] and becoming unreadable to many who have hitherto found [her] readable and debateable." She further stated, "Don't you imagine how the people who consider writing simply as a money-getting profession will despise me for choosing a work by which I could only get hundreds where for a novel I could get thousands?" (Letters, 4: 438). (8) Eliot believed she would face criticism for writing poetry, but she was willing to become "unreadable" to some people in order to fulfill a mission that was important to her. When she submitted The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems to her publisher, John Blackwood, in 1874, she wrote, "I send you by this post a small collection of my poems.... Such of them as have been already printed in a fugitive form have been received with many signs of sympathy, and every one of those I now send you represents an idea which I care for strongly and wish to propagate as far as I can" (Letters, 6: 25-26). Through these poems, Eliot aimed to further her artistic aim of enlarging her readers' sympathies. At the same time, poetry allowed her to elevate her literary standing and refashion her public image.

During Eliot's years of transformation from social outcast to celebrity, she controlled her image by hiding her authorial identity and denying readers details of her life. As a reviewer for the Westminster Review, she wrote anonymously (as did other reviewers), and as a fiction writer, she wrote pseudonymously. She burned personal letters written to her, and she refused to allow her biography to be written. (9) And unlike many writers who commissioned their own portraits and engaged in photographic self-promotion, Eliot discouraged having her likeness reproduced. By the 1860s, she was a great celebrity about whom the public knew little. Such mystery allowed Eliot to craft her own public image as a mythical figure. (10)

Eliot controlled her public image in part through the gatherings she and her partner, George Henry Lewes, held in their home, known as the Priory. These salons brought together prominent members of society, including authors, editors, publishers, and reviewers, and served as an opportunity for networking and self-promotion. The launch of Priory Sundays in 1868 coincided with the debut of Eliot's poetry-writing career, and while she rarely read aloud her works in progress, she began reading her poetry during Sunday salons and continued the practice with her subsequent works. (11) From 1868 to 1869, Eliot wrote and vigorously promoted her poetry, and in 1869, she began publishing her poems in periodicals. The editors of Macmillan's Magazine positioned her poems prominently with her signature at a time when most periodicals still published works anonymously. Alexis Easley explains:
   Eliot's willingness to advertise her poetry and name in a popular
   literary periodical suggests her recognition of the importance of
   self-marketing in the ongoing development of her career....
   Macmillan's enabled her to solidify her status as a literary
   celebrity. Capitalizing on new trends within the literary
   marketplace, Eliot was able to celebrate her growing fame and
   cultivate an audience for her poetry. (12)

Sunday salons and periodical publication thus allowed Eliot to use her celebrity status to promote her poetry and establish a literary standing beyond that of a novelist.

Reading and publishing poetry also enabled Eliot to refashion her public image. Poetry held cultural prestige in the nineteenth century, and with poetry Eliot could secure a reputation as a national sage like Tennyson or Robert Browning. (13) Eliot had risen to fame and was ready to achieve literary eminence along with other great poets of the age, and in her day, it seems that she succeeded in some measure. Herbert Spencer recognized her as the "female Shakespeare," and the businessman Henry Doulton said she was the "Shakespere among woman." (14) Priory guests and public witnesses referred to her as a "godlike" oracle, a "Sybil," a "mother-confessor," a "father-confessor," and an "Idol" surrounded by worshipers (Collins, pp. 190, 118, 124, 126, 154, 158, 184, 93). The public venerated Eliot, and Eliot did not dissuade devotees from putting her on a pedestal. She oversaw Alexander Main's Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings in Prose and Verse, Selected from the Works of George Eliot (1871)--a book of excerpts from her works--and The George Eliot Birthday Book (1878)--a diary for recording birthdays decorated with quotations from Eliot's works. These books were not of the artistic caliber Eliot would have preferred to claim; nevertheless, she and Lewes encouraged their production. In 1871, Lewes wrote to Main of one fan's idea to display passages from Eliot's works "in schoolrooms and railway waiting rooms in view of the banal and often preposterous bible texts, thus hung up and neglected." Finally, Lewes conceded that Main's book would be "far more practical" and "a treasure for readers" (Letters, 5: 192-193). Lewes thus implied the instructive superiority of Eliot's texts in opposition to banal biblical literature. Both Lewes and Eliot recognized the power of Eliot's celebrity and consciously sought to cultivate an image of Eliot as a great Sybil (Williams, p. 27).

Although Eliot intentionally used her fame to promote her work, she was ill at ease with celebrity, and her poems--more so than her fiction--reveal this anxiety. Eliot's poetry often presents the plight of the artist striving for immortality while struggling with a public presence, and scholars have duly noted the prominence in her poetry of the artist's struggle. Most of these scholars, however, reserve their close analysis for poems written before the publication of Middlemarch. (15) However, Eliot's post-Middlemarch poems deserve attention as they reveal attitudes about her role as an artist at the zenith of her success and at a time during which she was contemplating her aging and ill health. (16) Eliot devoted a good deal of time to poetry in 1873 and 1874 as Daniel Deronda took root. (17) Among her later poems, "Arion," written in early 1873 just after the publication of the final book of Middlemarch in December 1872, most vividly conveys Eliot's evolving attitude toward fame and immortality (Shorter Poetry 2: 73). (18) The poem marks the attitude of an artist coming to terms with physical mortality while finding value in success not for the artist's sake but for the sake of humanity. The following analysis of "Arion" and subsequent discussion of the poem's dating demonstrate the mind of an artist who at once possessed, used, and shunned fame while striving to create works that would last beyond her own existence.

Artistic Ambition in "Arion"

"Arion" represents the reflection of a great artist who contemplates his literary legacy. In the poem, Eliot follows the general plotline laid out in Herodotus's Histories: Arion boards a ship to return to his native Corinth after winning fame and wealth in Italy. On board, Arion faces greedy sailors who plot to steal his money. He begs for his life in exchange for the money, but the sailors deny his request and offer him two options for death--he can stab himself or jump into the sea. Arion opts to jump, and the sailors permit him to dress up in his regalia and sing a final song before his leap. In Herodotus's account, a dolphin rescues Arion, Periander (ruler of Corinth) discovers the sailors' guilt, and a bronze memorial of Arion riding on a dolphin is erected to celebrate his bravery. However, Eliot provides no dolphin and no monument. In her account, Arion sings, leaps, and dies. While Herodotus ends with a triumphant rescue, Eliot ends with a leap. By removing the rescue, Eliot focuses on the artist's work rather than on the artist himself.

Although Eliot follows Herodotus's general plotline, she makes a number of changes in her poem to repurpose the story. Both accounts present Arion as the famous inventor and teacher of the lyre. Herodotus writes, "Arion was a lyre-player second to none in that age; he was the first man, as we know, to compose and name the dithyramb which he afterwards taught at Corinth" (1: 23). Similarly, Eliot writes, "Arion, whose melodic soul / Taught the dithyramb to roll," "carried his diviner lore / From Corinth to the sister shore" (11. 1-2, 5-6). (19) However, Eliot departs from the original by eliminating all mention of the story's transmission. Herodotus mentions multiple times who related Arion's story and how. At the beginning of the account, he states, "As the Corinthians and Lesbians agree in relating, there happened to [Periander] a thing which was the most marvellous in his life, namely the landing of Arion of Methymna on Taenarus, borne thither by a dolphin" (1: 23). Later in the story, Herodotus parenthetically reminds the reader that the story has been told over time: "So the crew sailed away to Corinth; but a dolphin (so the story goes) took Arion on his back and bore him to Taenarus" (1: 24; emphasis added). Herodotus's characters also tell the story as it occurs: Arion "told all that had befallen him" to Periander; Periander summoned the sailors upon their return "and questioned, what news they brought of Arion"; the sailors "replied that [Arion] was safe in ... Italy, and that they had left him sound and well at Taras"; "they were confronted with Arion," and the astonished sailors "could no more deny what was proved against them." Herodotus ends his story with a final reminder of the story's legendary status: "Such is the story told by the Corinthians and Lesbians. There is moreover a little bronze monument to Arion on Taenarus, the figure of a man riding upon a dolphin" (1: 24).

Eliot omits all such references to the story's transmission. Rather, Eliot the poet-narrator tells Arion's story herself. In other poems, she similarly claims authority to re-create the lives of legendary figures. In her poem "The Legend of Jubal," Eliot writes the story of Jubal, father of the lyre (Genesis 4: 21), to teach the value of art to humanity, and in "The Death of Moses," she also assumes the role of scripture writer to tell the story of Moses's death (Williams, p. 43). In "Erinna," Eliot identifies with the ancient Greek poetic tradition by writing Erinna's life story on the basis of a fragment of the ancient poetess's work. In addition, she prefaces "Erinna" with a quotation from Karl Ottfried Muller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (1840), explaining that "many of the ancients of such high poetic merit" placed Erinna's work alongside that of Homer. (20) By aligning herself with scripture writers and ancient Greek poets, Eliot boldly claims poetic authority to create the stories of legendary figures. Likewise, in "Arion," Eliot assumes authority to rewrite Herodotus's "history" of Arion and alter its purpose. Eliot will not incite readers to retell the "marvelous thing" that happened but rather will bring a sense of immediacy to inspire readers to consider the value of art and the place of the artist in nineteenth-century society. Eliot's Arion will achieve greatness not through a miraculous rescue and legendary status but rather through his efforts to create enduring art.

Unlike Herodotus, Eliot makes the creative process central to her story. Herodotus states, "But when they were out at sea, the crew plotted to cast Arion overboard and take his money. Discovering the plot, he earnestly entreated them, offering all his money if they would but spare his life; but the sailors would not listen to him; he must, they said, either kill himself and so receive burial on land, or straightway cast himself into the sea" (1: 24). Eliot's poem follows this plotline; however, she adds a key scene in which she describes the "harsh seafaring men" interrupting the creative work of Arion, who composes in his sleep:
   With brawny arms and cruel eyes
   They press around him where he lies
      In sleep beside his lyre,

      Hearing the Muses quire.

   He waked and saw this wolf-faced Death
   Breaking the dream that filled his breath
      With inspiration strong
      Of yet unchanted song. (11. 17-24)

In Eliot's poem, the wolfish sailors show cruelty not only by their murderous plotting but also by disrupting the creative process. Eliot's artist, while sleeping by his lyre, composes a song inspired by the Muses. He associates the interruption of the composition with death ("He waked and saw this wolf-faced Death / Breaking the dream that filled his breath") and the terrible possibility of never singing the new song. Eliot's artist cannot bear the thought of going to his death with "yet unchanted song" and begs for his life (1. 24). But the sailors refuse and offer two death options: "wounds and burial" or "the watery pall" (11. 31-32). Arion resigns himself to death if he can first sing his composition. He begs to wear his "solemn robe" and stand on a high place: "That dying I may pour / A song unsung before" (11. 33-36). Arion understands that the performance will not buy him his life, but he longs to sing his new composition. He sings for the sake of the song.

Eliot further departs from Herodotus by magnifying the commodification of art. Herodotus mentions money twice in his account: "after [Arion's] earning much money," the crew "plotted to cast Arion overboard and take his money" (1: 24). Eliot, on the other hand, mentions money repeatedly throughout the poem. Arion carries "bags of gold" as he boards the ship; sailors "eyed the bags and thought / 'The gold is good, the man is nought' "; Arion begs the sailors, "take my gold and let me live!"; and the sailors refuse to "rob" Arion while he lives (11. 13-14, 25, 29). Perhaps the most curious of Eliot's additions related to money involves the sailors' response to Arion's request to perform his new composition:
   It pleased them well to grant this prayer,
   To hear for nought how it might fare
      With men who paid their gold
      For what a poet sold. (11. 37-40)

In Herodotus's account, the men were "pleased at the thought of hearing the best singer in the world," but Eliot's men are pleased to get a free concert (1: 24).

By stressing the sailors' desire to experience for free what others had to pay for and by describing the exchange of gold for "what a poet sold," Eliot displays the practical yet unseemly commodification of art. Nineteenth-century artists had to consider how the buying and selling of art, and the pressure to appeal to a popular readership, could hinder the creative process. Poets especially faced the harsh realities of the literary marketplace. Lee Erickson explains, "The industrialization of publishing that occurred in the early nineteenth century marginalized poetry in comparison with other literary genres. Consequently, almost all Victorian poets struggled to find an audience, were better known than read, and achieved popularity late in their careers" (p. 345). Poetry books were relatively expensive to publish and earned little as readers turned to novels and religious literature, periodicals, and reference books. (21) Most poets could not expect to make money and had to possess some wealth to subsidize publication or a famous name to draw attention. Eliot's wealth and fame allowed her to publish poetry without financial motivation. Yet she enjoyed the money she earned from her work, especially in the early years of her career when she needed it most. (22) She kept detailed records of her earnings and used her fame to further promote her work, but she remained ever aware of the precarious relationship between authorship and money. In "Authorship," from Leaves from a Notebook, Eliot acknowledges that an author's "capital is his brain-power--power of invention, power of writing," but warns against writing for money because the author "assumes the office of teacher or influencer of the public mind." The author who has the "sign of divine afflatus within," she argues, must "not pursue authorship as a vocation with a trading determination to get rich by." (23) Eliot's poem "Arion," possibly written around the same time as "Authorship," contains a similar message. Arion's unpaid (and thus untainted) performance reminds the artist to focus on art, not remuneration. Arion's audience viewed his work in terms of monetary value, but Eliot represents Arion's attitude toward his art as pure. Knowing he will receive no payment except death, he sings anyway.

In another significant departure from Herodotus, Eliot depicts the artist not as a man whose life should be memorialized but as a spiritual figure whose song inspires awe. For Herodotus, Arion is a hero. For Eliot, Arion is a priest. Eliot follows Herodotus's account insofar as she has Arion dress in regalia, stand before his audience, sing a song with lyre in hand, and then jump into the sea. In Herodotus's Histories, Arion stands on the "poop" in "all his singing robes" (1: 24). In Eliot's poem, Arion takes a "god-like stand" on the prow in a "flowing stole" (11. 43, 41). (24) Eliot thus depicts her artist not only as a classical Greek musician but also as a priest-poet in ecclesiastical vestment with god-like authority. By imparting divine status to the artist one stanza after mentioning the buying and selling of poetry, Eliot questions the role of the artist and the value of art: Is the poet a priest or a paid performer? Is art sacred or sellable? Moreover, unlike Herodotus, Eliot highlights the robbery of Arion. Early in her poem, Arion had become famous and wealthy for his work; but by midpoem, not only does he not get paid for his work, but he also has to forfeit his previous earnings. By robbing Arion of all his money and representing him as giving a free performance, Eliot removes financial motivation and underscores the purity of his work.

In Eliot's version, she emphasizes the creative and performative functions of the poet-priest. Whereas Herodotus simply states that Arion sings a "Stirring Song," (25) Eliot details the passionate performance of Arion's "lyric hour":
   But he, in liberty of song,
   Fearless of death or other wrong,
      With full spondaic toll
      Poured forth his mighty soul:

   Poured forth the strain his dream had taught,
   A nome (26) with lofty passion fraught
      Such as makes battles won
      On fields of Marathon.

   The last long vowels trembled then
   As awe within those wolfish men
      They said, with mutual stare,
      Some god was present there. (11. 49-60)

As Arion pours "forth his mighty soul" with "full spondaic toll," so does Eliot (11. 51-52). She draws attention to the connection between music and poetry with the words "lyric hour," "spondaic toll," and "long vowels," reminding readers that she composes verse just as Arion composes song--with careful attention to meter and rhyme. Eliot is doing the very thing that Arion is doing: creating and performing, free from monetary desires. Eliot demonstrates her poetic ability by employing a regular ballad stanza variant throughout the poem; each of the sixteen stanzas comprises two rhyming iambic tetrameter lines followed by two rhyming iambic trimeter lines (aabb, ccdd, eeff, etc.). (27) As she writes of Arion's performance, she exhibits her poetic agility by breaking the poem's regular rhythm with the same technique she iterates: a spondee: "With full spondaic toll / Poured forth his mighty soul: / Poured forth the strain his dream had taught" (emphasis added). The two long stresses (spondee) on "poured forth" at the exact moment of Arion's poetic utterance reminds the reader of the presence of two artists at work. The anaphoric "Poured forth" allows Eliot to emphasize the cathartic freedom with which the artist performs his work. At the moment of Arion's poetic performance, Eliot authenticates herself as priest-poet with poetic dexterity that calls attention to itself.

In both Herodotus's and Eliot's accounts, Arion sings a hymn in honor of the gods. However, Eliot, too, creates a hymn--and hers praises earthly artistic endeavor rather than divinity. Throughout her poem, Eliot calls attention to the artistic process and the effect of performing. Eliot's Arion performs the creative work begun in his dream. He "Poured forth the strain his dream had taught" by performing a song "with lofty passion fraught / Such as makes battles won / On fields of Marathon" (11. 53-56). Whereas the poem begins with songs of "Olympian suffering," the poem ends with a new song, one that has the power to inspire victory on the Olympian battlefield (1. 4). Unlike Herodotus's account, Eliot's poem includes the sailors' response to the song. Arion's new composition inspires "awe within those wolfish men" who remark upon watching his performance that "Some god was present there" (11. 58, 60). Arion creates art that moves the "wolfish" sailors. Their wolfish hunger for gold indicates their lack of humanity and spiritual emptiness; they represent those in society who are most in need of the priest-poet's redemption. Eliot also holds power as an artist, and she uses her power to create a hymn to the creative process, to draw attention to the sacred value of poetry, to craft a poem that has the ability to uplift and transform readers, and to fashion herself as a priest-poet. By including in her poem the process of composition, the artistic performance, and the sailors' awestruck response, Eliot demonstrates the powerful influence of a carefully crafted song and the sacred status attributed to the artist who can create and perform a great work of art.

Eliot makes the most significant changes to Herodotus's story by dramatically altering the ending. Herodotus explains that "at its close [Arion] threw himself without more ado into the sea," and "a dolphin ... took [him] on his back and bore him to Taenarus.... Such is the story told by the Corinthians and Lesbians. There is moreover a little bronze monument to Arion on Taenarus, the figure of a man riding upon a dolphin" (1: 24). Eliot removes the miracle and legendary component, relates the story directly to the reader, and creates majesty in the ordinary. Arion does not find salvation in a dolphin. Rather, he leaps and falls:
   But lo! Arion leaped on high
   Ready, his descant done, to die;
      Not asking, "Is it well?"
      Like a pierced eagle fell. (11. 61-64) (28)

In this final stanza, Eliot alters the poem's regular meter (two iambic tetrameter and two trimeter lines) to dramatize the artist's final performance: a leap from "on high." The first, second, and fourth lines are irregular. The first line begins with an iambic foot ("But lo!") followed by a caesura, a dactylic foot ("Arion"), and an amphimacer (29) ("leaped on high"). (30) The stressed "lo!" calls the reader to pay close attention to the impending action, and the caesura gives the reader time to imagine the climactic event. The leap is visual, kinetic, triumphant. The artist becomes art as the reader envisions him dressed in ceremonial attire, cithara (31) in hand, leaping high into the air. The second line also presents irregular meter: a trochaic foot ("Ready") and three iambic feet with alliterative stressed syllables ("his descant done, to die"). The poetic skill in this line again draws attention to the artistic process. Arion, having once begged for his life because his song was "unsung," concludes his song and is ready to die. He does not need affirmation; he does not ask his audience, "Is it well?" Nor does he beg his audience to reconsider their initial judgment. The awestruck sailors might have granted a second request to live since Arion's performance convinced them that "some god was present there." But Arion no longer needs his physical body; he leaves his art to the world--to the wolfish sailors, to those whom he taught the dithyramb in Corinth, and to those who will use his art form generations after his death. Likewise, Eliot leaves her poetic message to the world--to her readers. Arion's leap represents the artist's sacrifice of self and egotistical ambition for art. Despite enjoying great fame and wealth, he comes to care more for the completion of his work than for himself. Once his work is in the public domain, his life is no longer necessary. Satisfied with his final performance, he leaps victoriously and falls "like a pierced eagle." (32) The final line includes two amphimacers to present the artist's fall: "Like a pierced" and "eagle fell." (33) The artist's performance is glorious, and he dies nevertheless. No reprieve or bronze memorial is necessary because art will be his immortality.

Arion's leap evokes the mythologized leaps of two other ancient Greek poets, Empedocles and Sappho. Empedocles is said to have thrown himself into Mount Etna, an active volcano in Sicily, to achieve immortality, and Sappho is said to have leapt from the Leucadian rock into the sea out of despair over her unrequited love for a ferryman named Phaon. Eliot likely had Sappho in mind when writing her poem, as the Daniel Deronda Notebook indicates that she read Sappho in February 1873, one month before composing "Arion." (34) Like Sappho, Eliot composed and performed her poems. Like Sappho, Eliot became a literary celebrity. But in Eliot's poem, she employed the male poet Arion to convey a message of the sacred role of the artist, and she eliminated the theme of love altogether. Thus, Eliot identified with the greatest lyric poet of antiquity while avoiding direct association with the passion of the poetess. Eliot focused on art, not love, in her poem and thereby claimed for herself a place among the greatest artists without calling attention to her sex.

The ending of this poem conveys Eliot's complex views on the artist. She explores the writing process, the performance, the artist's relationship to the audience, and the inevitable separation of the artist from the artist's work. Eliot recognized the artist's elevated status and responsibility to the public, and she experienced the celebrity that came with such a position. In the poem, she reminds herself and her readership that the artist must create the art that comes from within and not be concerned with fame and personal gain. In the poem, she grapples with feelings associated with fame and artistry, she sacrifices the artist to elevate art, and she denies the memorialization of the artist other than by art. Yet the poem itself serves as a memorial to the author as an inspired creator who "With full spondaic toll / Poured forth [her] mighty soul" (11. 51-52).

Dating "Arion"

Scholars accept that Eliot wrote "Arion" just after Middlemarch, during a time of great success and at a time in which she was contemplating her mortality and artistic legacy. Van den Broek dates the composition to late 1872 or early 1873 (Shorter Poetry 2: 74). I propose more specifically that Eliot wrote this poem in March 1873. Dating the poem's composition is important because it provides biographical evidence connecting Eliot's mental state and motivation for writing the poem. The timing also marks a maturity in Eliot's self-concept as a writer and her belief in her ability to influence others through her art.

Throughout Eliot's writing career, she complained of ill health, and her letters and journal entries reveal a pattern of suffering: upon completing a major work, she enjoyed a short period of jubilation, (35) rest, and travel before she quickly sank into feelings of despair at the thought of never writing anything great again. While writing the next work, she wrote of doubt, anxiety, sickness, depression, and the effect of illness on her productivity. (36) Throughout the early months of 1873, Eliot wrote as usual about various maladies and poor health; (37) however, she also began to reflect on aging, mortality, and her hope to achieve greatness as a writer before her death. Unlike in previous months and years, she included among her comments about physical ailments her feelings of happiness--not only in her relationship with Lewes (which she regularly acknowledged) but also in the recognition of her artistic influence. On January 1, 1873, Eliot wrote in her journal of the satisfaction she took from the successful reception and influence of Middlemarch:

No former book of mine has been received with more enthusiasm--not even Adam Bede, and I have received many deeply affecting assurances of its influence for good on individual minds. Hardly anything could have happened to me which I could regard as a greater blessing than the growth of my spiritual existence when my bodily existence is decaying. The merely egoistic satisfactions of fame are easily nullified by toothache, and that has made my chief consciousness for the last week. This morning, when I was in pain, and taking a melancholy breakfast in bed, some sweet-natured creature sent a beautiful bouquet to the door for me, bound round with the written wish that "every year may be happier and happier, and that God's blessing may ever abide with the immortal author of Silas Marner." (Journals, p. 143)

Eliot felt gratified by her artistic influence (like Arion, whose dithyramb moved the "wolfish" sailors) while noting the persistent ill health that nullified the "egoistic satisfactions of fame" (Letters, 5: 357). She was becoming increasingly aware of her status not only as a celebrity author but also as the type of artist whose work would live on after her death. In February, she expressed her thoughts on mortality and artistry to John Blackwood: "I am looking forward with interest to Kenelm Chillingly, (38) and thinking what a blessed lot it is to die on just finishing a book, if it could be a good one--I mean, it is blessed only to quit activity when one quits life" (Letters, 5: 381). This sentiment echoes one she expressed a few months earlier (November 1872) to Alexander Main upon completing Middlemarch:

One healthy condition at least for me is that I have finished my book and am thoroughly at peace about it--not because I am convinced of its perfection, but because I have lived to give out what it was in me to give and have not been hindered by illness or death from making my work a whole, such as it is. When a subject has begun to grow in me I suffer terribly until it has wrought itself out--become a complete organism; and then it seems to take wing and go away from me.... I could not rest with a number of unfinished works on my mind. When they--or rather a conception has begun to shape itself in written words, I feel that it must go on to the end before I can be happy about it. (Letters, 5: 324)

In these two letters, Eliot described precisely the experience of Arion, who desperately wanted to complete and perform the art he had composed before he died.

Eliot was happy she had lived to complete her greatest novel, but she longed to make an even greater impact before her death. Her physical maladies and advancing age made more urgent her desire to compose works that would outlive her. But transitioning from one work to the next was always a challenge. In March 1873, she wrote to Elizabeth Stuart Phelps of her usual pattern of suffering while writing. She explained that she underwent a "period of despair" after completing a work, doubted if she could "ever produce anything else worth giving to the world," and felt great anxiety while awaiting inspiration for her next work: "The responsibility of the writer becomes heavier and heavier.... It is difficult to believe, until the germ of some new work grows into imperious activity within one, that it is possible to make a really needed contribution to the poetry of the world" (Letters, 5: 388). Eliot may have been thinking of Daniel Deronda when she mentioned the "germ of some new work." However, I believe she was referring to "Arion"--a poem that contemplates the concerns she outlined in the letter: the process of creating art, the responsibility of the writer, and the possibility of making a "really needed contribution to the poetry of the world." Like Arion, Eliot sought to overcome the interruptions of the artistic process and sing out her poetic contribution. The "wolfish men" who interrupted Arion's "inspiration strong / Of yet unchanted song" (11. 45, 23-24) mirrored Eliot's paralyzing anxiety. She, too, struggled with the composing process and the threat of never again producing "anything else worth giving to the world."

A letter Eliot wrote to Edward Burne-Jones provides the most convincing evidence that Eliot was contemplating or working on "Arion" in March 1873. (39) Seven days after she and Lewes visited Burne-Jones to see his paintings (on March 20), she wrote to express gratitude from one artist to another for his inspiration and for a mutual understanding of the artist's role in expanding the minds of others: "I want in gratitude to tell you that your work makes life larger and more beautiful to us--I mean that historical life of all the world in which our little personal share of her seems a mere standing room from which we can look all round, and chiefly backward" (Letters, 5: 391). Eliot believed that art depicting suffering had great potential to elevate minds and engender sympathy. She stated in the letter to Burne-Jones that his work had a "strain of special sadness in it--perhaps a deeper sense of the tremendous outer forces which urge us than of the inner impulse towards heroic struggle and achievement--but the sadness is so inwrought with pure elevating sensibility to all that is sweet and beautiful in the story of man and in the face of the earth." Like Burne-Jones, Eliot sang a "strain of special sadness" in her poem "Arion," and Arion, too, "Poured forth the strain his dream had taught, / A nome with lofty passion fraught" (11.53-54; emphasis added). She praised Burne-Jones's choice of subjects for his paintings and suggested that her work followed a similar path:

Your work impresses me with the happy sense of noble selection and of power determined by refined sympathy.... I can't help liking to tell you a sign that my delight must have taken a little bit of the same curve as yours. Looking, apropos of your picture, into the Iphigenia in Aulis to read the chorus you know of, I found my blue pencil marks made seven years ago,... blue pencil-marks made against the dance-loving Kithara and the footsteps of the Muses and the Nereids dancing on the shining sands. I was pleased to see that my mind had been touched in a dumb way by what has touched yours to fine utterance. (Letters, 5: 391)

One of Burne-Jones's paintings (40) inspired Eliot to reread the passage in Euripides's Iphigenia in Aulis (41) in which the chorus sings a paean to Achilles for his attempt to rescue Iphigenia from being sacrificed by her father: "cho. What was that nuptial song that raised its strains on the Libyan reed, and with the dance-loving lyre, and the reedy syrinx ... and along the white sands the fifty daughters of Nereus, entwining in circles, adorned the nuptials of Nereus with the dance." (42) I believe Eliot had "Arion" in mind when alluding to this passage that she said was familiar to both Burne-Jones and herself ("the chorus you know of"; Letters, 5: 391). The "dance-loving Kithara" relates to the central figure of her poem, Arion, an ancient Greek poet and the inventor of the dithyramb who, in the poem, takes "his god-like stand, / The cithara in hand" (11. 43-44). When she wrote to Burne-Jones that her "delight must have taken a little bit of the same curve" as his, she referred to their works that had a "strain of special sadness" (Letters, 5: 391). Ancient Greek mythology appealed to both artists (and many others in the nineteenth century) for its ability to reach out to the "historical life of all the world." Eliot expressed gratitude to Burne-Jones in her letter, for his inspiration and for the mutual understanding of the value of creating art that expanded the lives of others. (43) Eliot devalued her work compared to that of Burne-Jones ("I was pleased to see that my mind had been touched in a dumb way by what has touched yours to fine utterance"), and one may read her modesty as feminine avoidance of self-display or as insecurity about poetry writing. However, I believe that by connecting her artistry with that of Burne-Jones and the great Euripides, she included herself in a community of great artists whose work possessed a "power determined by refined sympathy."

The mature author of Middlemarch was gaining confidence in her ability to influence the world through her writing, (44) and she sought the higher calling of poetry to secure this effort. The success of Middlemarch "swelled attendance at Sundays at the Priory" and "clinched George Eliot's celebrity and brought increasingly large parties of guests ... so that the years between Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda became the heyday of the Leweses' Sunday salons" (McCormack, p. 77). Priory Sundays allowed Eliot to capitalize on her celebrity, craft a public presence, and promote her work. Eliot and Lewes had a busy social season in February and March, and Eliot wrote in March 1873 that she was "overdone by week-day appointments--the 'boiling over' of receptions beyond the rim of Sunday" (Letters, 5: 382). She participated in high society and worked tirelessly to put her work into the public domain and to fashion her image as a priest-poet. This public performance was effective but not altogether comfortable. "Arion" reflects Eliot's desire to focus her artistic energy on the work itself and keep in check "egoistic ambition." In writing the poem, Eliot depicted an artist denied fame, fortune, and even his life but who found satisfaction in creating and offering up his art to the world. Although Eliot did not deny herself the benefits of fame and wealth, the effects of illness and aging forced her to consider the limited time she had to create art that would endure. Like Arion, she longed to create before she died, and she sought the "god-like" presence of the poet. The poem thus served as a reminder to focus not on her temporal presence in society but on her lasting presence--one that relied on societal performance but that ultimately would exist through the challenging work of inspired composition. The poem was the artist's charge to bravely face mortality, sacrifice self, and passionately create art that would move others for generations.


(1) Wendy S. Williams, George Eliot, Poetess (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014).

(2) George Eliot, "Notes on Form in Art (1868)," in Essays of George Eliot, ed. Thomas Pinney (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1963), p. 435. Matthew Arnold, among other great thinkers of the age, also described the widely held view that poetry served a moral function in society. He urged readers to conceive of poetry as "capable of higher uses" and wrote that we "turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry." Arnold, "The Study of Poetry," Essays in Criticism (London: Macmillan, 1888), pp. 2-3.

(3) See James Krasner, '"Where no man praised': The Retreat from Fame in George Eliot's The Spanish Gypsy," VP 32, no. 1 (1994): 55-74; Bonnie J. Lisle, "Art and Egoism in George Eliot's Poetry," VP 22, no. 3 (1984): 263-278; and Rosemarie Bodenheimer, "Ambition and Its Audiences: George Eliot's Performing Figures," Victorian Studies 34, no. 1 (1990): 7-33. Krasner and Lisle briefly mention "Arion" in their articles on Eliot's struggle with fame; however, collectively they devote only three paragraphs to the poem. A full analysis of "Arion" does not exist.

(4) References to The Histories are drawn from Herodotus, trans. A. D. Godley, 4 volumes, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1920). The dithyramb is a genre of Greek "choral lyric or melic poetry performed in honor of Dionysus.. . . The genre's origins are obscure, but Arion is credited with introducing formal improvements and a circular chorus in Corinth at the beginning of the 6th c. BCE." "Dithyramb," in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Roland Greene et al., 4th ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2012), pp. 370-371.

(5) Lee Erickson explains one possible reason for the neglect of Eliot's poetry: "Publishing and literary historians have generally neglected the poetry from 1870 until... the end of the century. Little of the period's poetry has been reprinted, even in anthologies, something which should remind us that poetry usually does poorly in a financial depression such as the one that lasted from 1875 to 1895." Erickson, "The Market," in A Companion to Victorian Poetry, ed. Richard Cronin, Alison Chapman, and Antony H. Harrison (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2002), p. 357. Due to inaccessibility, Eliot's readership overlooked a significant portion of her writing for more than a century. A complete collection of Eliot's poems was unavailable until the publication of George Eliot: Collected Poems, ed. Lucien Jenkins (London: Skoob Books, 1989). George Creel (1948) and Cynthia Ann Secor (1969) wrote doctoral dissertations on Eliot's poetry, but they were never published. Jenkins's collection was made possible by Bernard J. Paris's publication, which included poems found in an autograph manuscript notebook in the Yale University Library's collection: "In a London Drawingroom," "Ex Oriente Lux," "Arms! To Arms!," "In the South," five fragments, four untitled poems, "I Grant You Ample Leave," "Erinna," "The Death of Moses," and "Sweet Evenings Come and Go, Love." Paris, "George Eliot's Unpublished Poetry," Studies in Philology 56, no. 3 (1959): 539-558.

(6) Recent studies reveal a renewed interest in Eliot's poetry. See Antonie Gerard van den Broek's scholarly editions of Eliot's poems: The Complete Shorter Poetry of George Eliot, 2 volumes. (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2005) and The Spanish Gypsy (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2008); Charles LaPorte, "George Eliot, the Poetess as Prophet," Victorian Literature and Culture 31, no. 1 (2003): 159-179, and La Porte's treatment of Eliot in Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2011) and in "The Cultural Place of George Eliot's Poetry," George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, no. 60/61 (2011); Gregory Tate, The Poet's Mind: The Psychology of Victorian Poetry, 1830-1870 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012); Herbert F. Tucker, "Poetry: The Unappreciated Eliot," in A Companion to George Eliot, ed. Amanda Anderson and Harry E. Shaw (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013); and Williams, George Eliot, Poetess.

(7) Although poetry did not earn most Victorian poets significant amounts of money, famous poets could benefit from collected editions. Erickson explains: "the real money in publishing poetry came from collected and selected editions, which began to appear in the middle of a successful poet's career and were issued in various sizes and formats to suit the reader's pockets" ("Market," p. 354).

(8) References to Eliot's letters are drawn from The George Eliot Letters, 6 volumes, ed. Gordon S. Haight (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1954).

(9) See Letters, 3: 376 and 6: 23.

(10) I discuss Eliot's public image and the role of the Priory in constructing a mythical presence in George Eliot, Poetess pp. 23-28.

(11) The Leweses kept regular Sunday salons in the late 1860s and 1870s and received hundreds of guests. Kathleen McCormack, George Eliot in Society: Travels Abroad and Sundays at the Priory (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 2013), pp. 2, 64.

(12) Alexis Easley, "Poet as Headliner: George Eliot and Macmillan's Magazine," in "The Cultural Place of George Eliot's Poetry," George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, no. 60/61 (2011): 107.

(13) In a discussion of the reviewing practices of poetry, Joanne Shattock comments on the primacy of poetry in mid- to late nineteenth-century literary culture. Shattock, "Reviewing Generations: Professionalism and the Mid-Victorian Reviewer," Victorian Periodicals Review 35, no. 4 (2002): 397.

(14) K. K. Collins, ed., George Eliot: Interviews and Recollections (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 104, 140.

(15) Exceptions include Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi, "Voicing the Past: Aural Sensibility, the Weaver-Poet, and George Eliot's 'Erinna,' " Studies in the Literary Imagination 43, no. 1 (2010): 95-118; and Kimberly J. Stern, "The Poetics of Criticism: Philosophical Discourse and George Eliot's A College Breakfast-Party,"' George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, nos. 60-61 (2011): 91-106.

(16) Eliot turned fifty-three in November 1872 and considered herself to be in her "old age" at this time (Letters, 5: 238).

(17) Throughout the mid-1870s, Eliot wrote "Arion" (1873), "Stradivarius" (1873?), "Erinna" (1873-1876), "'Mid My Gold-Brown Curls" (1873-1876), "Sweet Evenings Come and Go, Love" (mid'1870s), "Self and Life" (1874-1878), "The Death of Moses" (1873-1876), "A College Breakfast Party" (1874), and "I Grant You Ample Leave" (1874). Many of these poems she either wrote or completed for her collection of poems The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems (1874). For an explanation of the dating of poems, see Eliot, Shorter Poetry 2: 13-14, 21-23, 55-56, 61, 65, 73-74, 109-110, 117, 121, 125-126.

(18) George Eliot, The Journals of George Eliot, ed. Margaret Harris and Judith Johnson (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), p. 96. In Eliot's letters and journal entries throughout the first four months of 1873, she recorded continual pains of aging and illness, but she also commented regularly on her happiness about the reception and impact of her work (Letters, 5: 357-358,362,372,375, 381,390,405-406; Journals, pp. 142-144).

(19) References to Eliot's poetry are drawn from Shorter Poetry 2.

(20) Karl Muller, History of the Literature of Ancient Greece, vol. 1 (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1840), p. 180.

(21) See Samantha Matthews, "Marketplaces," in The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, ed. Matthew Bevis (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), p. 655.

(22) In a letter to Miss Sara Hennell, in 1853, Eliot wrote of her plan to quit her unpaid editorship with the Westminster Review and bemoaned the lack of remuneration for her work (Letters, 2:128). In 1857, she noted the necessity of working for money (Letters, 3:14-15). Similarly, upon receiving a 400 [pounds sterling] bonus from John Blackwood for the successful Adam Bede, she expressed gratitude for the ability to earn "honest" money (Letters, 3: 69). In 1861, she thanked Blackwood for "the precious check" he sent, stating, "I prize the money fruit of my labor very highly as the means of saving us dependence" (Letters, 3: 396).

(23) The date of Leaves from a Note-book is unknown, but Charles Lewes speculates that it was written between the appearance of Middlemarch and Theophrastus Such. It is possible that Eliot wrote "Authorship" just after Middlemarch; it appears first in the list of Leaves. George Eliot, Essays and Leaves from a Note-book, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, UK: William Blackwood, 1883), pp. 290-292.

(24) A stole is a garment worn in classical antiquity, an ecclesiastical vestment, and a strip of linen that hangs in front of an altar (OED).

(25) "Stirring song" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) refers to "a high-pitched (and apparently very wellknown) song or hymn in honor of Apollo" (Herodotus 1: 24).

(26) The OED defines "nome" as "a song or hymn sung in honour of the gods."

(27) Some nineteenth-century poets and critics considered the ballad the quintessential English metrical form. George Saintsbury contends that the "ballad quatrain" is "perhaps the most definitely English--blood and bone, flesh and marrow--of all English metres. It comes the most naturally of all to an English tongue and an English ear" and "takes the tone and colour of every age.... Across whatever gulfs of gift and sands of time, through all changes of diction, pronunciation, versification, manners, tastes, culture, and everything else, it has held the grip that it established almost from the very first moment, when the formative principle of foot-measurement met the materially chaotic abundance of Old English rhythm, and impressed itself thereon." Saintsbury, A History of English Prosody from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day, vol. 1, From the Origins to Spenser (London: Macmillan, 1906), p. 247. For Saintsbury, the ballad had the power to bind the bodies and senses of the English across the ages. Ballad meter--the meter of hymns--also served to bind the minds and bodies of its hearers through its sacred associations. Thus, the ballad could inspire a mood of patriotic fervor or one of worship or both. Eliot's choice of a ballad variant for "Arion" likely serves to undergird the poem's spiritual message while also demonstrating (by its variance) the necessity of freedom for the artist to create inspired works.

(28) Note the similar imagery in Tennyson's poetic fragment "The Eagle," published in 1851:
   He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
   Close to the sun in lonely lands,
   Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.
   The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
   He watches from his mountain walls,
   And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Both poems end abruptly with the "fall" of an eagle (anthropomorphized), a poet depicted as a "pierced eagle." In both poems, the "fall" of the eagle/poet is ambiguous. The reader is left to conjecture on the nature and effect of the falls; do they leap to their demise or leap triumphantly and continue to soar?

(29) An amphimacer is a trisyllabic foot with an unstressed syllable between two stressed syllables.

(30) This line also can be read as having four feet instead of three if one reads "leaped on high" as one stressed word ("leaped") with an iamb ("on high"). I argue that reading "leaped on high" as a trisyllabic foot allows the reader to visualize the leap as flowing and graceful.

(31) A cithara is "an ancient Greek and Roman stringed instrument similar to the lyre" (OED). Eliot uses "lyre" and "cithara" interchangeably in the poem.

(32) Michael Ferber explains the symbolic association between poets and eagles:
   It is all rather surprising when one remembers that the eagle is
   not a songbird. The nightingale, the lark, the cuckoo, and even the
   swan ... sing like poets; the eagle is more likely to eat one of
   these birds than sing like it. The eagle is the king of birds, the
   companion of Zeus, the greatest raptor, the highest soarer, and it
   is capable ... of staring into the sun without being blinded. It is
   all rather grandiose, even absurd: who are the upstart larks and
   other songsters, now claiming to be aristocrats, lords of the sky?
   They're just poets! But that was just the point, and so the eagle,
   as a symbol for genius, the poet, or poetic enthusiasm, became a
   striking and distinctively Romantic emblem.

Ferber, Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010), p. 42.

(33) This line can also be read as including a trochee ("Like a"), a single stressed word ("pierced"), another trochee ("eagle"), and a final single stressed word ("fell"). The rhythm is the same with either metric description.

(34) George Eliot, George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda" Notebooks, ed. Jane Irwin (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), p. 250.

(35) Note the similarities in Eliot's statements upon completing her first four novels: "Wrote the last word of Adam Bede, and sent it to Langford. Jubilate!"; "Finished this morning 'The Mill on the Floss'... Magnificat anima meal [My soul doth magnify the Lord]"; "Finished 'Silas Marner'... Magnificat anima meal; "Put the last stroke to Romola. Ebenezer! [an acknowledgment of God's help in a battle victory from the biblical account in 1 Samuel 7: 12]" (Journals, pp. 75, 84, 89, 118).

(36) Eliot's journal entries after writing Romola typify the mental and physical turmoil she faced throughout the writing process. She wrote on July 17, 1864, after completing Romola: "Horrible skepticism about all things--paralyzing my mind. Shall 1 ever be good for anything again?--ever do anything again?" (Journals, p. 120). On September 6, while writing The Spanish Gypsy, she wrote, "I have little hope of making anything satisfactory." On November 10, 1864, she wrote, "I have been at a very low ebb body and mind for the last few days, sticking in the mud continually in the construction of my 3, 4, and 5 acts" (p. 121). On November 25, she explained, "For the last two or three days I have been disordered by dyspepsia, and unfitted for doing anything well." On December 5, she complained, "During the last week I have been worse than ever--with continual bilious headache. But yesterday and today I seem to be emerging from this swamp of miseries. I have written to the 16th page of the Third Act." Throughout February and March in 1865, she wrote of depression, of disability due to headaches, of "constant dull pain, which makes all effort burthensome," and of "powerlessness" due to having written "nothing but beginnings" (pp. 122-123).

(37) See Letters, 5: 358, 362, 371-372, 375, and 382.

(38) The author Edward Bulwer-Lytton died the same year that his novel was published.

(39) Gerard van den Broek dates the poem to late 1872 or early 1873, offering evidence from her letters and her Pforzheimer notebook 711 (Daniel Deronda notebook) for both possible dates (Shorter Poetry 2: 73-74). Van den Broek notes that Eliot's diary from 1861-1877 lists the poem's composition date as 1873, though he acknowledges the fact that her list of dates was compiled in 1876.

(40) Presumably, Eliot was referring to a painting of a classical scene, possibly the Garden of the Hesperides (1870-1877). In the painting, one of the daughters of Hesperus holds a lyre.

(41) While in Berlin in 1854, Eliot and Lewes read Iphigenia. She was working on an English translation of Benedict Spinoza's Ethics at the time.

(42) The cithara is "an ancient musical instrument" (OED). Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, in The Tragedies of Euripides, trans. Theodore Alois Buckley, vol. 1 (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850), pp. 341-342.

(43) Eliot also finds artistic community with William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Robert Browning, all of whom wrote poems on Arion.

(44) Her journal entries from 1874 through 1877 (years in which she wrote poems, published a collection of poetry, and produced Daniel Deronda) still reveal self-doubt but also demonstrate an increasing awareness of her artistic impact. She came to understand her pattern of anxiety, illness, and self-doubt related to the writing process. In early 1875, she wrote,

The last year has been crowded with proofs of affection for me and of value for what work I have been able to do. This makes the best motive or encouragement to do more; but as usual I am suffering much from doubt as to the worth of what I am doing and fear lest I may not be able to complete it so as to make it a contribution to literature and not a mere addition to the heap of books. I am now just beginning the part about Deronda.... Each part as I see it before me im werden [in the process of development] seems less likely to be anything else than a failure, but I see on looking back this morning ... that I really was in worse health and suffered equal depression about Romola--and so far as I have recorded, the same thing seems to be true of Middlemarch. (Journals, p. 145)

With increasing self-awareness came greater confidence. She wrote of her happiness of Daniel Deronda's impact: "Words of gratitude have come from Jews and Jewesses, and there are certain signs that I may have contributed my mite to a good result. The sale hitherto has exceeded that of Middlemarch" (Journals, p. 146). She also wrote of the "delightful evidence of the effect wrought by 'Deronda,' especially among Jews" (p. 147).
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Author:Williams, Wendy S.
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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