ABSTRACT

In Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, Anne Janowitz suggests that the poetry Jones composed in prison saw a consolidation of his poetic voice that included an expression of increased identity with, and through, the Chartist body:

This move towards definition would suggest an integration of poetic themes, genres, and voices but Jones’s post-prison poetry saw, if anything, a fragmentation of his poetic output into the constituent voices of lyric romanticism, collective hymnody, satirical social commentary, and visionary epic. Ronald Paul has noted that:

Although Jones may have emerged from prison with his Chartist identity reinforced by experience and reputation, conversely, his poetry underwent a process of diffusion, so that, in comparison with the relative homogeneity of his Northern Star poetry (1846-48), it becomes increasingly difficult to describe Jones’s post-1850 ‘poetic voice’. Apart from poetry composed immediately prior to his release which appears to represent a conscious return to his pre-prison poetic style, Jones’s prison poetry suggests the inf luence of the overwhelming effects of isolation, and the plight of fellow Chartists, inside or outside prison, can scarcely be seen to figure at all. If Jones’s most famous post-prison lyric ‘The Song of the Low’ (1852) can be viewed as the supreme example of his talent for ‘defining a collective subjectivity’, then there is little in his prison poetry that pre-figures it. Indeed, Jones’s grasp of a ‘collective subjectivity’, his ability to express the needs and wants of the Chartist ‘we’, could already be said to exist fully-formed in Northern Star poems such as ‘The Working-Man’s Song’ and ‘Onward’. This chapter finds that, for the most part, prison represents a poetic interlude in Jones’s career, with explorations of his own imagination and struggles with isolation taking precedence over the kind of public

engagement that typified his poetry in the two years before his arrest. Jones made political capital from his experience in jail, and the presentation of his prison poetry was part of that process, but the poetry itself offers little evidence of an enhanced engagement with the Chartist body.