Manual Wordsworth’s Influence on Shelley: A Study of Poetic Authority

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To love is to feel urged to reach out to a world that may not reciprocate, or, in a more oblique way, never acknowledge with its understanding that a meaningful communicative link has been established. This is Love. A step outside the poem, Shelley on a different level seeks a community of love by publishing his words and, aware of the low sales of his books, by disseminating them to an indefinite futurity of incalculable creative potential.

Yet Shelley is canny, even as Harold Bloom has said, urbane, in the way he discloses this moment of extreme skeptical negation by way of the implicit positivity of his own astonishing array of constructed forms. This can vary from the wryest of structural ironies to a sneer i. These common woes I feel. In accusing Wordsworth of deserting truth and liberty, Shelley also insinuates the truth of a claim only his ambivalently envious desires could ever project—that Wordsworth leaves comrades behind by somehow doing the impossible and exiting the condition of mutability as such.

Paula R. Though granted, Byron was twenty at the time. Alan M. Weinberg and Timothy Webb , For Shelley in the summer of , this call functions not as an earthly substitute for Elysium but as a self-fulfilling human hell: Hell is a city much like London— A populous and a smoky city; There are all sorts of people undone And there is little or no fun done; Small justice shewn, and still less pity. There is a Castles, and a Canning, A Cobbett, and a Castlereigh; All sorts of caitiff corpses planning All sorts of cozening for trepanning Corpses less corrupt than they.

There is a Chancery Court, a King, A manufacturing mob; a set Of thieves who by themselves are sent Similar thieves to represent; An Army;—and a public debt. Let there be an end of shams, They are mines of poisonous mineral. He had as much imagination As a pint pot: —he never could Fancy another situation From which to dart his contemplation, Than that wherein he stood.

And these obscure remembrances Stirred such harmony in Peter, That whensoever he should please, He could speak of rocks and trees In poetic metre. No matter how drastically we change the distribution of power within the situation, we cannot disrupt the monotony that characterizes the situation. Within the situation, everything is given, and the situation demands that subjects accept its givens.

Existence purely within a situation leaves us with nothing to live for and with no cause to rouse our desire. It is a dull and banal existence because it is constituted through the repression of the rupturing cut, which stimulates and gives value to our lives.

Let it not be supposed that I mean to dogmatize upon a subject concerning which all men are equally ignorant, or that I think the Gordian knot of the origin of Evil can be disentangled by that or any similar assertions. The received hypothesis of a Being resembling men in the moral attributes of his nature having called us out of non-existence, and after inflicting on us the misery of the commission of error, should superadd that of the punishment and the privations consequent upon it, still would remain inexplicable and incredible.

That there is a true solution of the riddle and that in our present state that solution is attainable by us, are propositions which may be regarded as equally certain; meanwhile as it is the province of the poet to attach himself to those ideas which exalt and ennable humanity let him be permitted to have conjectured the condition of that futurity towards which we are all impelled by an inextinguishable thirst for immortality. Rather, it is T.

His imagination conducts itself with a dialectical energy of thought like a motion picture or an atom smasher, in a way that rejects continuity for sudden and radical forms of inversion. Related Papers. By Eric Lindstrom. By Kaila Rose. By Amal farah. By Hasan Zaman. The money enabled him to live independently, with Dorothy as his companion, at Racedown Lodge in Dorset.

The relative isolation there gave Wordsworth a much-needed respite from urban politics and an opportunity to resume poetry. In The Prelude Wordsworth acknowl- edges Coleridge's importance after he 'Yielded up moral ques- tions in despair': 'Thou, most precious Friend! Much of Wordsworth's future success and some of his failure is attributable to Coleridge's powerful influence.

Coleridge made Wordsworth think more consciously about the importance of having literary principles as the foundation for poetry, an important step in shaping Wordsworth's poetic iden- tity. And later it was Coleridge who inspired Wordsworth's most ambitious project, The Recluse, the epic poem that Coleridge urged his friend to write in order to establish himself as the first major poet since Milton. It was to be a greater Paradise Regained, grounded in philosophy, nature, spirituality, and humanity — a work that would revivify a dispirited age and renovate human- kind.

At least that was the plan. Wordsworth began in the poem that would become The Prelude, so called because Wordsworth conceived of it as the 'ante-chamber' to the philo- sophical poem that Coleridge had implored him to write. Coleridge believed that 'Wordsworth possessed more of the genius of a great philosophic poet than any man I ever knew, or, as I believe, has existed in England since Milton; but it seems to me that he ought never to have abandoned the contemplative position which is peculiarly — perhaps I might say exclusively — fitted for him' Specimens 2: Coleridge went to his grave disappointed that Wordsworth never followed the path for which Coleridge felt he was destined — that of a philosopher-poet.

The Prelude, however, would turn out to be Wordsworth's master- piece — and Wordsworth himself referred to it primarily as 'the poem to Coleridge. The four-mile walk almost daily over the Quantock hills gave rise to their famous collaboration, the volume Lyrical Ballads; with a Few Other Poems.

Upon Wordsworth's suggestion of a sailor who kills an albatross, Coleridge began writing 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,' as the idea for the Lyrical Ballads volume began to take shape. According to Coleridge, Wordsworth's poems were subjects 'chosen from ordinary life,' while Coleridge's were about 'inci- dents and agents Although they cowrote only one or two poems, their col- laboration involved what Thomas McFarland calls 'symbiosis' or what Paul Magnuson calls 'lyrical dialogue.

Years later in his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge would criticize Wordsworth's explanation of the poetic principles behind Lyrical Ballads, while also defending Wordsworth's poetic talents see Chapter 4. As Lucy Newlyn has shown, Wordsworth's greatest work, The Prelude, while in some ways a tribute, is also a reaction against Coleridge's influ- ence.

Even after it ended in practice, the collaboration continued in spirit. Wordsworth and Coleridge would be a presence in each other's work as long as they both lived. I prefer to see Romanticism as part of the development of the Enlightenment rather than a reaction against it. While poet-artist William Blake at times appears to be whole-heartedly opposed to Enlightenment ideals of reason, personified in his work by empiricists John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, Wordsworth and Coleridge were profoundly interested in eighteenth-century ideas about epistemology, perception, and feeling.

Although the Enlightenment in its eighteenth-century incarnation is called 'the Age of Reason,' writers and philosophers of the period were interested in both thinking and feeling — a 10 CONTEXTS presumed polarity that Jane Austen plays upon for the title of her end-of-the-century novel Sense and Sensibility While 'sense' is grounded in reason, 'sensibility' as a concept in the eighteenth century referred to the capacity to feel and experi- ence emotion.

The empiricists' emphasis on sense-perception as the primary source of knowledge paradoxically gave rise to a popular aesthetic of sensibility, a taste for art that affects the emotions. Even the great Scottish empiricist David Hume attrib- uted moral thinking to feeling, and his fellow Scot Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments , argued that sympathy is essential to moral development and is an important element in the appreciation of literature.

Along the same lines, and signifi- cantly in the same year as the first edition of Lyrical Ballads, , playwright Joanna Baillie wrote that it is the 'sympathetic curiosity of our nature' to which all great literature appeals. These works of extreme emotionalism provided a popular version of Locke's ideas about how all knowledge comes from experi- ence, or more specifically from the senses; and of the emphasis on sympathy in the philosophy of Smith as well as Swiss phi- losopher Jean- Jacques Rousseau.

But sensibility, or the ability to feel great emotion, taken to extremes, as Austen's novel warns, can be dangerous — especially for young women who allow their feelings to control them. Like Austen, Wordsworth and Coleridge believed that literature ought to involve the head and the heart in equal measure — and should inspire feelings of pity and compassion. Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments placed great importance on the role of imagination in sympathy and thus created an environment in which literature of sensibility could evolve into the kind of humanitarian poetry Wordsworth and Coleridge would write.

Wordsworth particularly becomes increasingly interested in the possibility of 'future good' result- ing from the combination of reason and emotion. Wordsworth famously wrote that 'all good poetry is the spontaneous over- flow of powerful feeling' — a phrase often quoted out of context to give the impression that Wordsworth is advocating poetry as effusion.

But 'spontaneous' in the eighteenth century meant not unpremeditated or impulsive, but voluntary. So Wordsworth does not mean that poetry is the result of some accidental surge of emotion; rather, the poet wills that great emotion should inform the process of composition. He does so with a distinct purpose beyond what we might think of as self-expression or writing-as-therapy. Good poetry, according to Wordsworth, is written by poets who possess 'more than usual organic sensibili- ty' — and here he uses 'sensibility' to denote a more strictly Lockean ability to perceive and to experience.

As he explains further in his Preface, good poets have a wider range of perceptions MW Yet he also asserts that all good poems have been composed by poets who have 'thought long and deeply' For Wordsworth, as he writes elsewhere, 'the excellence of writing. Taste becomes an impor- tant element of Wordsworth's understanding of himself as a poet — particularly within a culture that rapidly was changing 12 CONTEXTS and seemingly was advancing.

A more literate population as well as continued advances in printing gave rise to the publishing industry and the popularity of prose fiction. But the democrati- zation of literature did not guarantee an improvement in taste — quite the contrary. Enlightenment thinking emphasizes the progressive power of the human mind to understand the universe, but some thinkers, such as Rousseau, doubted that human society was progressing along a path of infinite perfectibility.

Rousseau even argued that advances in the arts and sciences, and thus in society more broadly, were corrupting humankind. Moreover, Wordsworth and Coleridge came to understand some of the same limitations to the two main strands of Enlightenment thought — empiricism and rationalism — that Hume and Immanuel Kant did. Empiricists believe that knowledge comes from the acquisition of experience, while rationalists believe that knowledge comes a priori from the exercise of reason.

Kant believed that neither approach could lead to a complete understanding of the universe and admitted that we may not be able to know everything. Unlike Hume, who dismissed all philosophical speculation about what was unknow- able, Kant admitted that questions about unknowable things are useful and interesting and that matter may not be all there is, thereby allowing for religious faith and establishing a tradi- tion of transcendentalism that would continue in the thought of Schelling, Coleridge, Emerson, and others.

Wordsworth's Influence on Shelley: A Study of Poetic Authority

Broadly speaking, Kant set the stage for the more idealist aspects of nineteenth- century Romanticism in Europe and America. Wordsworth wanted to combine Locke's emphasis on the primacy of sensory experience with a more mystical and subjective way of thinking about the natural world. As a creative artist, he was interested, like Coleridge, in the power of the imagination and the workings of the mind, particularly memory; unlike Coleridge, he felt no powerful connection to religion until later in life that could account for the 'sense sublime' he felt in communion with nature.

Both writers were interested in understanding how the mind arrives at moral knowledge and virtue.


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Hartley was interested in the way the mind arrives at knowledge by receiving sensation and then associating those sensations with ideas, explaining that the physical experience of pain and pleasure can lead to complex concepts such as sympathy, morality, and even God. He also explains in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads that one of the volume's 'principal objects' was to illustrate 'the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement' LBRW But Hartley's associationism was limited to passive reception, and both Wordsworth and Coleridge believed that the imagination had a creative influence on the way we perceive the world and on how we remember our experiences.

Locke and Hartley lay behind the emphasis on the senses, but the subjective, imaginative power to 'half-create' is the Romantic innovation of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Wordsworth would write about feelings and memories and about sublime, transcendent experiences throughout his entire career, frequently coming tantalizingly close to what seems like a poetic philosophy of the way the mind combines perception, memory, and imagination. Philosophers might accuse Wordsworth of being a bad philosopher, a vocation for which he never claimed a calling.

He was certainly a thinker, although perhaps not a sys- tematic one. In some ways a Platonic essentialist, and ultimately a more conventional Anglican Christian, Wordsworth could not accept that 'there are no fixed principles in human nature' and would have harsh words for the Scottish empiricists Smith and Hume MW But he was never committed to the love of knowledge so much as he was to fidelity to 'the feelings of human nature,' as he wrote in a letter to a young admirer, feelings that defy reasonable explanation: according to Wordsworth, 14 CONTEXTS a great Poet. MW In his poetry, he never pretends to know more than he does, and for those who admire his poetry this may be his saving grace.

ISBN 13: 9780312011796

In 'Expostulation and Reply' and 'The Tables Turned,' companion poems written, as he tells us in the 'Advertisement' to Lyrical Ballads, for a friend William Hazlitt who was 'some- what unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philoso- phy,' Wordsworth criticizes analytical thinking in favor of a 'wise passiveness,' believing that the mindless pleasure one takes in nature leads inevitably to virtue: One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man; Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which nature brings; Our meddling intellect Misshapes the forms of beauteous things; — We murder to dissect. Enough of science and of art; Close up those barren leaves; Come forth, and bring with you a heart That watches and receives. The Tables Turned' These three stanzas capture many of the threads in this chapter: Wordsworth exchanges Godwinian moral philosophy for 'one impulse from a vernal wood'; he critiques the scientific method of inquiry, 'the meddling intellect,' that established the Enlight- enment; he echoes Rousseau's doubt that the arts and sciences have improved society; and, finally, he employs ideas on percep- tion influenced by Locke and Hartley to express his own vision of how communion with nature, what he later calls 'a Spirit in the woods' 'Nutting' 54 , may renovate humanity.

But the doubt is present from an early poem such as 'Lines Written in Early Spring' , in which he acknowledges that this com- munion frequently does lead to a sad wisdom about humankind, 'what man has made of man. If one considers The Prelude as Wordsworth's ultimate statement on nature and humanity, the certainty resounds the loudest; here, it is not dogmatic — though it frequently finds its expression in the reli- gious-sounding language of faith. More accurately, it is the lan- guage of perception at a particular moment, an early form of impressionism perhaps — like Constable's cloud studies.

It is only the recurrence of certain interrogations that make his articula- tions seem like articles of faith. Prior to the publication of Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge was more publicly engaged in political writing than Wordsworth was; as they both turned away from the French Revolution, their writing became more humanitarian and less specifically political.

But Lyrical Ballads does contain hints throughout of their previous radical engagements: how do the poems 'The Female Vagrant' and 'The Convict' reveal a more overt political agenda than do the other poems in Lyrical Ballads! One of Wordsworth's earlier poems to be included in Lyrical Ballads, 'Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree' was composed in after Wordsworth had renounced Godwin's cold intellectualism. Putting aside whatever notions you have of Romanticism, how might you read this as a poem of the Enlightenment? Instructed that true knowledge leads to love'?

Which knowledge is true and which is false? For Wordsworth, passion in poetry is not merely the subject of a poem but also the means of its expres- sion and its resultant effect. He believes strongly that the lan- guage, style, and form of a poem essentially achieve the passion the poem means to convey.

For many readers, however, the actual qualities of Wordsworth's style may be elusive. Wordsworth gave much thought to how he wanted his poetry to work on readers, not only to what he wanted to say to them, while at the same time doggedly pursuing his aesthetic of simplicity and a strip- ping away of ornamentation so that the style becomes invisible. Commenting on Wordsworth in , Matthew Arnold wrote, 'It might seem that Nature not only gave him the matter for his poem, but wrote the poem for him. He has no style' 'Mr Wordsworth' Indeed, Wordsworth believed that the language of poetry should be no different than prose, while main- taining a commitment to other formal and generic expectations for poetic practice.

In other words, Wordsworth still wants to write poetry that people will read as poetry, but he wants to alter the terms of the generic contract, what he calls the 'formal engage- ment' a poet makes with his reader by choosing to write poetry. This chapter sets up the basic tenets of Wordsworth's views on poetry; the next chapter will examine in depth his practice. Wordsworth largely is responsible for changing the idiom of poetry from deliberate artificiality to something more like the way people actually speak.

But during the s Wordsworth's admitted experiments with more conversational language raised suspicions in some readers about the political and social implica- tions of his poetry. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard' 'Mr Wordsworth' As far as his 'levelling Muse' is concerned in practice, even at the level of language, Wordsworth's poetry asserts an egalitar- ian claim.

Wordsworth is most famous for his criticism of ornate, overly elaborate poetic diction and his practice of using simpler, humbler language; the 'levelling' a reader sees in poetic technique points to a more overtly political engagement as he develops his literary agenda during the s. But Wordsworth ultimately asserted that what his critics perceived as a class issue was more a matter of aesthetic truth. The formal engagement supersedes the political one. Many of Wordsworth's contemporary critics also saw his style as a degradation of literature. In , Wordsworth's great antagonist, the critic Francis Jeffrey, for example, complained that 'new poets' such as Wordsworth were 'furnishing themselves from vulgar ballads and plebeian nurseries' when they ought to be 'borrowing from the more popular passages of their illustri- ous predecessors' Woof What Jeffrey really seems worked up about is the potential 'levelling' of poetic decorum in the borrowing from illegitimate sources.

After 17 years of critical abuse, what he calls 'unremitting hostility,' Wordsworth defends his practice in the Preface to his collection of Poems and points out that 'every Author, as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed' MW Although he was writing out of frustration with the taste of his time and his sense of being unpopular, Wordsworth's eventual success made it impos- sible for poets to return to the artificial diction of the past and have any hope of capturing the interest of readers.

Creating taste finally is more a matter of style than substance, particularly Wordsworth's poetry of the so-called great decade, In later chapters, we shall see the implications of Wordsworth's stylistic and generic agenda for his work of 'the great decade,' especially Lyrical Ballads, and for his sense of his vocation and legacy as a poet. He lamented 'the artifices which have overrun our writings in metre since the days of Dryden and Pope' Prose 2: While he was not the first to write in a simpler, more conversational style, he was the first to be mercilessly attacked for doing so as a fundamental principle see Chapter 4.

His most famous articulation of this principle is the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, which first appeared in the second edition of and which Wordsworth expanded in ; it is customary to read the Preface to Lyrical Ballads as something of a manifesto for Wordsworth's poetry and for Romanticism as well.

Readers should keep in mind, however, that the Preface is not really a blueprint for Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth wrote it for the second edition in order to explain and defend the poetic principles he felt he shared with Coleridge in writing the poems of the first edition. But for that first edition of , Wordsworth was already keen to announce the innovation he and Coleridge had developed, anticipating the shock his readers might feel in having the generic expectations surrounding their appreciation of the poetry thwarted. The Lyrical Ballads opens with a word 'Advertisement' that Wordsworth wrote to explain what the volume was attempting to accomplish: The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments.

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They were written chiefly with a view to ascer- tain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in read- ing this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and aukwardness [sic]: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title.

LBRW2X What is experimental here is not so much the use of 'the lan- guage of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society' in poetry; so-called peasant poets Stephen Duck, Ann Yearsley, and, of course, Robert Burns had already introduced working-class 20 STYLE, LANGUAGE, AND FORM vernacular into poetry; and the ballad revival that began with Thomas Percy's popular collection Reliques of Ancient English Poetry had already familiarized folk traditions to an educated, literary readership The novelty is the conscious, delib- erate 'adaptation' of it by two poets well-versed in the conven- tions of what we would call today 'high culture.

Wordsworth here is following Rousseau, who believed that lan- guage began as poetry, in the passionate utterance of primitive people who felt before they thought.

A Study of Poetic Authority

No less a poetic genius than Burns himself had capitalized on the novelty of his poetic per- sona, 'the heaven-taught ploughman,' as a kind of poetic noble savage, which many readers considered merely a charming liter- ary curiosity. But Wordsworth is making a more significant play not only in promoting a simpler style of language but also in challenging 'our own pre-established codes of decision' — the prevailing standards of taste.

And this includes an attack on what he deems 'the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers. He does not specify which 'modern writ- ers' he finds guilty of the charge, although we might look directly at the popular poetry associated with Robert Merry, who wrote under the pen-name 'Delia Crusca,' from the s and into the s.

The highly ornate style of the Delia Cruscans, as they were called, had been ferociously attacked by satirist William Gifford in his poem The Baviad as 'false glare, incongruous images. Reviewers of Lyrical Ballads immediately perceived a departure from the Delia Cruscans as well: one magazine, the Monthly Mirror, praised Wordsworth's and Coleridge's volume for its 'sentiments of feeling and sensi- bility, expressed without affectation' in contrast to the 'pompous and high-sounding phraseology of the Delia Cruscan school LBRW Read in its own context, it is an impressive first book, full of allu- sions to and echoes of such poets as Milton, Spenser, Thomson, Cowper, and Charlotte Smith.

But read in relation to Wordsworth's later strictures on poetry, particularly the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, it reveals many stylistic tendencies — particularly inverted syntax and allegorical personifications of abstract ideas such as Content, Quiet, Hope, and Memory — that readers since the Preface find difficult to appreciate. For example, Wordsworth's passage describing a rooster on a mountain farm is hilariously bad, overwrought as it seems to us today: Sweetly ferocious round his native walks, Gazed by his sister-wives, the monarch stalks; Spur-clad his nervous feet, and firm his tread, A crest of purple tops his warrior head.

Bright sparks his black and haggard eye-ball hurls Afar his tail he closes and unfurls; Whose state, like pine-trees, waving to and fro, Droops, and o'er canopies his regal brow, On tiptoe reared he blows his clarion throat, Threatened by faintly answering farms remote. To us today, the effect is gimmicky and pretentious, but it is important to remember that Wordsworth published the poem hoping to make money from it because he knew he had written it in a style that suited the tastes of contemporary poetry consumers. It would take a few years for Wordsworth to realize that the conventional poetic language he himself had used — phrases such as 'finny flood' for fishing stream or 'fleecy store' for sheep — was no longer sufficient 'Salisbury Plain' , He would come to the conclusion that ornamental language inter- feres with the poem's ability to communicate truth.

By , Coleridge had begun adopting a more conversational style influ- enced by William Cowper's The Task for his poetry, thus influ- encing Wordsworth in turn. And in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth singles out for attack a sonnet by Thomas Gray that contains many similar poeticisms to those above, going so far as to select only five of the 14 lines as having 'any value' because they are free of the 'curiously elaborate' poetic diction found in the rest of the text LBRW Wordsworth defends his rejection of poetic lan- guage on the grounds that 'the language of a large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must nec- essarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ from that of good prose' LBRW A reviewer of the second edition of Lyrical Ballads described Wordsworth's earlier poetry as 'obscured by diction, often and intentionally inflated,' but recognized the value of the innovation announced in Lyrical Ballads: 'His style is now wholly changed, and he has adopted a purity of expression, which, to the fastidious ear, may sometimes sound poor and low, but which is infinitely more correspondent with true feeling than what, by the courtesy of the day, is usually called poetical language' Woof For at least one critic, Wordsworth made an important change in poetic expression; but for others, the rejection of 'poetical language' was a major defect of this and several of Wordsworth's subsequent volumes.

But giving Wordsworth all the credit for banishing gimmicky poetic diction risks burying the influence of eighteenth-century poets such as Mark Akenside, Joseph Warton, and William Collins — and more immediately that of Charlotte Smith, Coleridge, and William Cowper. As we pursue Wordsworth's late-eighteenth-century influences, surprising connections will continue to come to light.

During the s scholars such as William D. Brewer and Mary F. Yudin, for example, re-examined playwright Joanna Baillie's 'Introductory Discourse' to her volume, A Series of Plays, showing how it shares many of the same concerns with poetic language, and how it prefigures Wordsworth's expanded prefaces to Lyrical Ballads in and Wordsworth similarly asserts, 'Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men'; the poet, therefore, 'must express himself as other men express themselves' LBRW Feldman suggests Moreover, these ideas may have been the inevitable result of the rise of the novel and revo- lutionary politics coinciding in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Obviously, he is invested in the act of writing poetry, not prose.

Prose and Criticism in Romantic Period: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley (ENG)

Wordsworth is a much more formal poet than he may appear to be at first; by calling him formal, I mean to emphasize that his selection of poetic form — simple lyric, sonnet, ode, blank-verse meditation, epic — is far from arbitrary and that his techniques — meter, rhyme, syntax, enjambment — deliberately serve and enhance the meaning of his poems. He admits that 'by the act of writing in verse,' the poet 'makes a formal engagement': an implicit agreement that the poet will 'gratify' the reader's expec- tations for what poetry usually says and does.

To some readers of Lyrical Ballads, it may seem that he has not 'fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily contracted' LBRW He establishes that poetic diction should not differ from the language of prose, so he must go on to justify the arrangement of words in meter, stanza, and rhyme. If he employs, as he repeat- edly asserts, 'the language really spoken by men,' Wordsworth must then explain how this accords with the use of other artifices of verse composition that are foreign to conversation or prose.

Wordsworth is a poet of pleasure.


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  7. Wordsworth's poetry springs from his own pleasure, and it has no more important object than the giving of pleasure to his readers. If his diction is no different from that of prose or of ordinary conversation, Wordsworth calls upon his imagination and his poetic skills to make the poems interesting and pleasurable. In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth writes that his 'principal object' was 'to chuse incidents and situations from common life' and 'to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way' LBRW But because he hopes 'to keep my Reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall interest him,' he abandons poetic conven- tions such as 'personifications of abstract ideas' except in the occasional case of 'a figure of speech.

    Style and substance, he suggests, are frequently at odds in the poetry of other writers; so, how can he reconcile them? Wordsworth still wants to preserve the elements of poetry that he believes enhance passion and pleasure. Tools of poetry such as meter and rhyme obviously contribute to any poem's effect; but Wordsworth understands, as he explains in a letter to John Thelwall, that 'the passion of metre' — that is, the way the words are organized into metrical units — may create sonic effects 'not called out for by the passion of the subject' Early Years The problem is how to make 'the passion of metre' and 'the passion of the subject' work in tandem.

    Managing the effect of meter and rhyme is a subtle skill that justifies the poetic practice laid out in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads. One of the most abstruse sections of the Preface shows the difficulty Wordsworth has in explaining how, in Pope's words, 'the sound must seem an echo to the sense' Essay on Criticism For Wordsworth, sound meter and sense meaning have a complex psychologi- cal interrelationship because of the excitement, the emotions, the pain or pleasure, poetry imparts to the reader.

    Wordsworth wants his poetry to be an emotional experience for the reader, but he wants to distinguish it from the overly effusive, soggy manner of the Delia Cruscans, whose style he would consider to be not 'manly' He is concerned that, without some restraint, 'the excitement may be carried beyond its proper bounds. This is what makes poetry art: while he wants to strip away ornamental language in order to facilitate apprehen- sion, Wordsworth is not after realism; he does not want the chaos of emotion, sensibility, to interfere with the pleasure of receiving artistic expression, so he admits that the formal construction of sentiment as poetry will 'divest language in a certain degree of its reality' and 'will throw a sort of half consciousness of unsub- stantial existence over the whole composition' Although he does not say so explicitly, the effect he describes is dream-like in the suggestion that versification aids the achievement of a subconscious pleasure.

    In addition to the ways in which ideas expressed in rhyme may give the impression of being more deeply true, Wordsworth suggests that the regularity of meter orders the emotional matter so that it may give more pleasure — partic- ularly if, as is the case with many of the Lyrical Ballads such as 'The Last of the Flock,' 'The Mad Mother,' or 'Ruth' , the pathos associated with the subjects may be painfully unpleasant.

    Rhyme and meter, or 'the music of harmonious metrical language,' temper 'the painful feeling which will always be found intermin- gled with powerful descriptions of the deeper passions' Conversely, in poems on lighter subjects, according to Wordsworth, the 'ease and gracefulness with which the Poet manages his num- bers' or meter is the 'principal source of the gratification of the Reader' So, in other words, versification makes painful subjects more endurable and lighter subjects more artful.

    This is why, where the subject is the same, 'the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once' The formal characteristics of poetry, then, give ideas greater longevity than if they were expressed in prose. Such a carica- ture is largely due to one of Wordsworth's most memorable phrases, 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,' which he uses twice in the Preface. Without those qualifications, Wordsworth's phrase would seem to legitimize a lot of really terrible adolescent poetry.

    But as his attention to form confirms, Wordsworth did not believe poetry only to be an outpouring of emotion, nor did he think of spontaneous as unpremeditated or impulsive. He is describing, instead, the act of composition, in which a poet voluntarily summons powerful feeling in order to furnish the poem with 'a worthy purpose' Overflow, moreover, is not the same as overspill: the 'pow- erful feeling' originates as 'emotion recollected in tranquillity' [sic] The operations of the mind 'our thoughts' reconsti- tute the emotion so that the poet finds himself in 'a state of enjoyment' conducive to composition and through contempla- tion discovers 'what is really important to men' , Note the emphasis on metrical restraint, on how his powerful feeling comes under the ordinance of his craft.

    The evolution from the Advertisement to the Preface parallels the movement from what M. Abrams calls the eighteenth-century 'pragmatic' theory, which considers poet- ry's effect on the audience to be the goal, to what has come to be thought of as the more Romantic or 'expressive' theory of art, which Abrams describes as 'the internal made external' Mirror The Preface also exhibits Wordsworth's emerging conception of himself as a poet.

    As the passages added in show, Wordsworth thought of the poet, and of himself, as 'a man speaking to men' but also as a man who possesses 'more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind' But again Wordsworth wants to distinguish himself from the poet of Sensibility whose emotions, or 'immediate external excitement,' occasion an unthinking poem; and while he believes that the poet is inherently gifted to a certain extent, he also asserts that the poet has to earn his position through practice and skill, acquiring thus 'a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels' The poetry of 'the great decade' illustrates the competing claims upon him as he shaped a poetic identity, the tension between his enjoyment of writing in shorter lyric forms and his ambition to write longer, narrative works.

    Even the title Lyrical Ballads implies a principle that I elsewhere have called 'formal paradoxy' in the juxtaposition of two contrasting, even contra- dictory forms, the lyric and the ballad. The lyric is classical in origin, deriving from Greek songs sung to the accompaniment of a lyre; these are short poems that develop subjective themes, insights, emotions. The ballad has folk origins and is narrative; it tells a story in a rustic vernacular.

    Both forms take their origin in music and therefore rhyme as songs today do. The ballad had become popular again with the publication in of Percy's hugely successful Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. By the time Lyrical Ballads appeared the ballad was ubiquitous, so much so that Wordsworth, in the Preface, suggests that what 'distin- guishes these Poems from the popular Poetry of the day' is that they are ballads that are uniquely lyrical in the emphasis on the subjective experience of the speakers, who may or may not be adequate narrators: he explains that in Lyrical Ballads 'the feel- ing therein developed gives importance to the action and situa- tion, and not the action and situation to the feeling' LBRW Plot is subordinate to lyrical insight, in other words.

    But also, as Paul Sheats suggests, plot is subordinate to the lyrical versatility of Wordsworth's variously impassioned meters Sheats, moreover, is correct in reminding us that, in the case of the Lyrical Ballads, which employ throughout narrators who are not necessarily the poet, Wordsworth's practice, using Abrams' terms, is still pragmatic and not yet expressive It diverted his readers' eyes from the confederate power of Tennyson's ghost, unacknowledged, assisting him behind a screen.

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    Eliot's contemporary, Ezra Pound, was more open about his own stage assistant, Browning's spirit, as was Yeats about Shelley's and Blake's. In his essay of , Eliot declared that a poet must "develop or procure" a consciousness of the past, maintaining that if we moderns do indeed know more than dead writers, it is precisely they--the dead writers--who constitute what we know.

    Harold Bloom of Yale, an interpretive scholar of English and American romanticism, has for years been propounding a view of literary history and its relation to creative originality quite antithetical to the allied formulations of Eliot and Pound. Along with his own teachers, Northrop Frye and Meyer H.

    Abrams, but in very different ways, Bloom has helped to make the study of Romantic poetry as intellectually and spiritually challenging a branch of literary studies as one may find. The recent study of the romantic tradition has corrected the modernist dogmas about romanticism--the very word evoked the imprecise, the vague, the rhetorical--and argued for the centrality of the major English poetic line which modernism rejected.

    Eliot hankered after the Christian orthodoxy, classicism and royalty; the tradition he turned away from, the line running from Spenser, to Milton through the romantic poets to Browning, Tennyson and Yeats, was protestant, visionary and, save at its terminus, revolutionary. Now in a remarkable, short, frequently difficult book, Bloom has gone beyond tracing the ways in which this tradition descended from one major poet to another a question beautifully handled by W. He has extended it to a general theory of what he calls "poetic influence.

    Bloom's book is true to its subtitle, "A Theory of Poetry," primarily in its association of a theory of creativity usually calling for something like a depth psychology , with a theory of the dynamic of poetic history. This is an area where will, personality and the presences of the dead in the legacy of their works are all engaged in a struggle.

    For Eliot, the dead, the last of these, banished the first two: in the proper development of a true poet's career, he said, "What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. But here is one of Bloom's central principles: "Poetic Influence--when it involves two strong, authentic poets--always proceeds by a misreading of the prior poet, an act of creative correction that is actually and necessarily a misinterpretation.

    The history of fruitful poetic influence, which is to say the main traditions of Western poetry since the Renaissance, is a history of anxiety and self-saving caricature of distortion, of perverse, willful revisionism without which modern poetry as such could not exist. On the surface of it, this is most strange. To speak of one major poem resulting from a "reading" or "interpretation" of a prior one is not a usual concept of literary history; to go on to specify the relation between forebears and followers as "misreading" seems even stranger.

    But for an elucidation of the central concept, a glance at some more traditional formulations of the influence relation may perhaps help. There is ample evidence from literary history that the greater the poetic magic, the more the question of tradition seems to condense into the relation between a major poet and a major predecessor--a father, so to speak, rather than merely one of a line of teachers.

    For Virgil, taking it upon himself to provide Rome with a cultural heritage as rich as that of the Greece it had conquered and envied, Homer was there first. The Aeneid is "modeled," a historian would say, on both the Homeric epics. But what can this mean in the darker realm of intentions, hopes and fears?

    Was Homer a dead king in whose clothes a usurper paraded himself? Was his an unclaimed treasure, rather, which a Bold One seized and spent on building something new? Was Virgil the "true," rather than merely a biological, descendant of Homer, his heir across seven centuries? The language of older notions of poetic tradition would have it so.