The second poem in Amy Levy’s second published collection attests to her longstanding interest in mental illness. As a fin-de-siècle poet, essayist, and novelist, Levy (1861-1889) was one of the most prominent female voices for the significance of mental difference. Levy’s poetry consciously engages with a long line of mostly-male nineteenth-century authors, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Robert Browning, and James Thomson. In doing so, she highlights earlier, less direct, engagement with mental illness that often goes unexplored.
“A Minor Poet,” first published in 1884, revolves around two perspectives. Readers meet the first speaker as he begins his third suicide attempt. The first two attempts may have been unsuccessful, but he has high hopes for “luck in threes” (3). The second speaker, a friend by the name of “Tom Leigh,” appears early in the text, but readers only hear his perspective in the epilogue, when he discovers the first speaker’s remains.
The excerpted passages below highlight Levy’s interest in interpretations of the non-normative mind. “A Minor Poet” considers why someone would commit suicide, how it might feel to perceive the world from within such a mind, and if it is possible to form a generalizable answer for either question. Tom Leigh underscores how much “talk” has taken place as observers try to interpret the suicide (115). Women, apparently, tend to blame personal pain, while men cite professional grievances. Even Tom begins the poem by trying to use philosophy to reason the nameless speaker out of his melancholy.
In contrast, the main speaker of the poem resists the observers’ desire to pin a motivation on his suicidal intent. Instead, he focuses on sensation and how it feels to be, first, out of sync with the world and, then, to leave it entirely. The speaker teaches his readers about what it means to see, hear, touch, and desire as “[a] blot, a blur, a note/ [a]ll out of tune in this world’s instrument” (54-5). In doing so, he not only offers a window into a single mind, but also destabilizes the assumption that there must be a logical reason behind the speaker’s actions. By the end of the epilogue, it seems that Tom has come to a similar conclusion. After a list of potential reasons for his friend’s suicide, he refuses to offer his own interpretation and, instead, ends his text with a question.
 One year before this collection, Levy published an essay entitled “James Thomson: A Minor Poet.” As such, the first speaker has been read as representing both Thomson and Levy herself.