Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Paula R Feldman


Neither nineteenth-century poetry nor early geology can be completely understood without exploring the synergistic relationship between the two disciplines, their shared 'matrix.' Poetry and geology continually intersected throughout the infancy of the science, with geologists admiring the power and importance of poetic truth and perception, and poetry responding to the challenges posed by geologists to the human relation to nature. This broad survey of poetry written between 1790 and 1860 describes a 'consilience,' or synergistic relationship, between creative and scientific literatures as an engine of discovery and understanding in the nineteenth century. Poetry's exploration of the relation between the subjective and objective experiences of the natural world aided geologists in first imagining and then communicating the dizzying, sublime notions of deep time, vanished animals, and lost worlds. This study traces the parallel development of the scientific theory of the earth and the poetry with which it was partnered, especially in the figure of its most expressive and symbolic figure: the fossil. If we are truly to understand the intellectual climate of the Romantic and early-Victorian eras, we must shed our own tendencies to segregate the two cultures of science and literature. Geology particularly illustrates that nineteenth-century scientists privileged the rhetorical power and truthfulness of poetry, even regarding poetic language as an essential means of engaging with the world as rational, scientific observation.


© 2011, John Robert Higgins