Roman Sonnets
- Leighton, William

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Commentary

Leighton’s collection of sonnets describing various Roman sites is not, it must be said, of great literary quality. Often meditations on the history and exploits of the Roman empire – titles include ‘The Buried Past,’ ‘The Coliseum,’ ‘Romulus and Remus’ – Leighton’s sonnets act as fragments, evoking the ruins of ancient Rome in photogravures by Fusetti and photographs by the Anderson company. This approach is similar to that of Francis Frith in Upper Egypt and Ethiopia (1862). Similarly, Leighton acts as a guide for the reader, almost enacting a walking tour around the many sites/sights of Rome, whose past and present fuse:

And, through thy streets, stupendous phantoms glide,
The images of power, war, sin and pride,
Whose host of overpowering figures cast
Vast shadows which, the sober present, hide.

As such, Roman Sonnets is one of the first books of photopoetry to explore a city, rather than adopt a primarily topographical focus.

One of the most interesting aspects of Leighton’s book – aside from his formal variation between both the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet – is the inclusion of photographic reproductions of paintings alongside the views of Roman ruins. This appears to echo Leighton’s sonnet ‘Myths and Legends’, which asks ‘Why should we strive to trace the boundary line/ Of myth and history?’ and suggests the mythological verse of Homer and Virgil will outlast ‘the tamer names of history’.

Book Details

Author: Leighton, William
Title: Roman Sonnets
Publication Year: 1908
Poets Featured: Leighton, William
Photographers Featured: Leighton, William; The Anderson Company; Fusetti
Subjects: Rome, Italy, City and town life, Sonnets, American
Photographic process: Photogravures

This book can be found in the University of St Andrews Library catalogue HERE

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