One of the intriguing new developments in British Romantic studies centers on the religious sources of the poets, particularly the Arabic-Islamic sources that proved decisive influences on some of the most remarkable poetic works in the English language. Samar Attar’s fascinating new book, Borrowed Imagination: The British Romantic Poets and the Arabic-Islamic Sources (Lexington, 2014) builds on positive scholarly contributions by Nigel Leask, Gregory Wassil, and Emily Haddad.
Attar protests the long history of Western scholarship that almost exclusively favors English and European origins of Romantic poetry: “if they do mention Arabic, or Persian, or Indian sources as materials that have played some role in shifting the literary sensibility in Britain they tend to do so in passing, or they simply confess that it is difficult to decipher those oriental tales” (7). Sure, Arabian Nights gets an occasional mention, but not much beyond that. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is perhaps the most obvious example of a work that demands attention to Arab-Islamic influences, but how many references to the novelist Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185) appear in the average monograph on Romanticism? Attar stays with dominant canonical figures in chapters on Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth, Blake, P. B. Shelley, and Byron, but it is hoped that similar studies will continue to excavate the Arab-Islamic cultural, literary, theological, and philosophical sources of British Romanticism.