Minor Miracles by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

Minor Miracles


Minor literary figures have always attracted me because the designation is so terminal: once a minor always a minor, unless elevated to a major minor. On my bookshelves are the three fat volumes of George Saintsbury’s Minor Poets of the Caroline Period, in which the reputation of poor Shackerley Marmion (1603–39) is written in stone. How can he ever regain his dignity?

No man, except J Alfred Prufrock (‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’), is minor in his own estimation. A minor character in a major poem, Prufrock, ‘an attendant lord’, is the patron saint of all his kind: mock-heroic, comi-tragic, aware of his speck-like significance:

Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous –
Almost, at times, the Fool.

A minor poet is not, of course, the same as a minor character. Nor is a minor poet the same as a failed poet, or a minor poem always the work of a minor poet. T S Eliot was a major poet who included, in his collected poetry, a section of ‘minor poems’. When asked by Donald

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