Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787-1814

Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787-1814

Copyright Date: 1971
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1bh4bg4
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    Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787-1814
    Book Description:

    The drama of consciousness and maturation in the growth of a poet's mind is traced from Wordsworth's earliest poems toThe Excursionof 1814. Mr. Hartman follows Wordsworth's growth into self-consciousness, his realization of the autonomy of the spirit, and his turning back to nature. The apocalyptic bias is brought out, perhaps for the first time since Bradley'sOxford Lectures, and without slighting in any way his greatness as a nature poet. Rather, a dialectical relation is established between his visionary temper and the slow and vacillating growth of the humanized or sympathetic imagination. Mr. Hartman presents a phenomenology of the mind with important bearings on the Romantic movement as a whole and as confirmation of Wordsworth's crucial position in the history of English poetry. Mr. Hartman is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Iowa.

    "A most distinguished book, subtle, penetrating, profound."-Rene Wellek. "If it is the purpose of criticism to illuminate, to evaluate, and to send the reader back to the text for a fresh reading, Hartman has succeeded in establishing the grounds for such a renewal of appreciation of Wordsworth."-Donald Weeks,Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-21465-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. Retrospect 1971 (pp. xi-xx)

    It is seven years since this book appeared; and as books have their own fate, this one too has been interpreted in ways its author could not foresee. There have been many generous comments, also some misunderstandings. One critic, quite upset, reduced the book to the interesting if bloody-minded argument that Wordsworth needed to kill or violate nature in order to achieve his moments of visionary poetry. I must admit that poetry can exact a price, but I would not put it so high. Indeed, I thought my book had argued almost the reverse: that Wordsworth, deeply wary of visionary...

  4. Preface (pp. xxi-xxvi)
    Geoffrey Hartman
  5. I. Thesis:: The Halted Traveler
    • 1. “The Solitary Reaper” (pp. 3-18)

      Wordsworth records in “The Solitary Reaper” his reaction to an ordinary incident. What others might have passed by produces a strong emotional response in him, therefore the imperatives: Behold, Stop here, O listen! His response rather than the image causing it is his subject, yet he keeps the latter in mind and returns to it, especially in the last stanza, so that our attention is drawn to a continuous yet indefinite relationship between mind and image, each of which retains a certain autonomy.

      To value Wordsworth’s emotions is sometimes hard. Coleridge, his most sympathetic critic, is surely right in saying...

    • 2. The Boy of Winander (pp. 19-22)

      The tumultuous mimicry of the Boy of Winander is interrupted by a pause which parallels the other haltings. The pause affects the youngster by gently foretelling, and already fashioning, a later state of mind. His relation to nature must change from glad animal movements to a calmer and more conscious love. The episode went originally with others from the poet’s childhood found in Books I and II, and illustrated how the child is moved gently and unhurt toward the consciousness of nature’s separate life, this being an early step in the growth of the mind.

      InPreludeV there is...

    • 3. “Strange Fits of Passion . . .” (pp. 23-25)

      We turn again to a traveler. The first stanza of this Lucy poem differs in tone from the others: its “fits” and “dare” contrast with the understatement that follows and show that the poem is a “lyrical” ballad, preferring mood to the ballad-mongers’ stock-in-trade of supernatural or extraordinary incidents. “To freeze the blood I have no ready arts.”¹ The poem ironically evades the broadside crudity announced in its prologue.

      Yet Wordsworth’s innovations are always more than rhetorical. We can say of him that he grounded rhetoric in the heart, as Yeats grounded (or felt he did) mythology in the earth....

    • 4. “Tintern Abbey” (pp. 26-30)

      The halting of the traveler in “Tintern Abbey” is felt more in the slowed rhythm and meditative elaboration of its first lines than as part of the casual frame. We begin with “Five years have past,” a phrase as quietly elegiac as “There was a Boy,” and again a countervailing movement is felt at once. It is expressed by a peculiar type of redundance and indicates resistance to abrupt progression. The feminine caesurae (winters, waters, murmur) plus echoing sound enrich our sense of inwardness and continuity. It is no single means that produces the lingering or “lengthening” effect also present...


    Many readers have felt that Wordsworth’s poetry honors and even worships nature. In this they have the support of Blake, a man so sensitive to any trace of “Natural Religion” that he is said to have blamed some verses of Wordsworth’s for a bowel complaint which almost killed him.¹ Scholarship, luckily, tempers the affections, and the majority of readers have emphasized the poet’s progression from nature worship or even pantheism to a highly qualified form of natural religion, with increasing awareness of the “ennobling interchange” between mind and nature and a late yielding of primacy to the activity of the...

  7. III. The Chronological Pattern
    • The Argument (pp. 73-75)

      It was once the custom to attach to one’s book a summarizing emblem, a kind of pictorial machine disposing the argument into an easily intuitable form. What device can help us follow Wordsworth’s growth so that its pattern is not lost in the details? The image of a Mutilated Bower comes to mind.

      I take it from “Nutting,” a sketch written in the winter of 1798–99, and published in theLyrical Balladsof 1800, though originally intended for Wordsworth’s poem on the growth of his mind. Close to a turning-point in English poetry, “Nutting” recalls the Romance tradition at...

    • 1. “The Vale of Esthwaite” (pp. 76-89)

      Wordsworth’s first sustained original poem, “The Vale of Esthwaite,” was finished at the age of seventeen, and prior to his departure for Cambridge. Its measure, octosyllabic couplets, is that of Milton's “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso”; from these poems Wordsworth also borrowed the opening exorcism and perhaps the ambulatory scheme. But he is the melancholy and cheerful man in one, and his poem expresses a precarious interplay of opposing moods.¹ De Selincourt’s text is a composite of several manuscripts, and the editor indicates that we have to do with a fragmentary work, originally of greater length than the text he prints,...

    • 2. An Evening Walk (pp. 90-101)

      An Evening Walkwas published at the same time asDescriptive Sketchesin 1793, although its composition may have begun as early as 1787, shortly after “The Vale of Esthwaite” was concluded.¹ It borrows many images from the latter and continues the same concerns. Again a topographical poem, it serves to provide a frame for a multitude of images and sensations culled from nature, either by direct observation or via the eyes of unusually exact observers whose travel books Wordsworth had read.² In plan it is the history of a poet’s evening, though admittedly a composite of evening walks through...

    • 3. Descriptive Sketches (pp. 102-115)

      Though drawing on several Wordsworthian rambles,An Evening Walkstill preserves quasi unities of place and time, and depicts the poet walking at particular times of day, in one season, and with the imagery of the Lake District predominant.Descriptive Sketches, which really draws on a single sustained walk through the French and Swiss Alps, does not yield any such impression of unity. The reason, besides the long excursus on Liberty at the end,¹ is that the poet untiringly depicts a vacillation between mighty opposites that are far removed from the milder weathers and continuities of the English countryside. Fidelity...

    • 4. From “Salisbury Plain” to “The Ruined Cottage” (pp. 116-140)

      Certain turns in a man’s life seem to conspire with fate. History holds up a mirror to him, as if greatness were the capacity to recognize in it ade te res agitur. The opportunity for such selfrecognition is not rare. Wordsworth by the beginning of 1793 had matured for shock; a birth was due and came:

      Amid the groves, under the shadowy hills,

      The generations are prepared; the pangs,

      The internal pangs, are ready.¹

      Descriptive Sketches, finished in the autumn of 1792, prefigures Wordsworth's inner preparedness for a break with nature: his imagination is increasingly forced back on itself,...

    • 5. Lyrical Ballads (pp. 141-162)

      Considering theLyrical Balladsinitially not in their own light but in that of Wordsworth’s previous development, it is striking that many are built around a “spot,” whether in nature or in the psyche. In a curse poem like “Goody Blake and Harry Gill” the spot is primarily a mental thing: something heard fixes itself through imagination on the physical organism. In “Michael” or “The Brothers” it is primarily a place, a straggling heap of stones or an unmarked grave, both slight yet drawing the mind by a premonitory fear or strong associations. In “The Thorn,” Wordsworth’s most experimental poem,...

    • 6. Toward The Prelude (pp. 163-207)

      A series of fragments in blank verse from the Alfoxden period (July 1797 to July 1798) are probably our best link between “The Ruined Cottage,”Lyrical Ballads, andThe Prelude. They are roughly contemporaneous with the first-mentioned poem but relieved of the burden of sustained narrative. Published only in 1949, they have attracted relatively little notice because they appear to be overflows from “The Ruined Cottage” rather than a new departure.¹ It is remarkable, however, that Wordsworth is now recording various impressions in situ: the fragments indicate that a present sensation has become the matter of his song. It is...

    • 7. The Prelude (pp. 208-259)

      A mighty maze isThe Prelude, but not without a plan, if we believe its author. Doubting yet not lost, he treads the complexities of his theme.¹ He sometimes falters, however, and at two points honestly confesses he has lost his way.² Can we follow after him though there is no common myth to guide us, no clear enunciation of The Argument? A poem without proper name, of obscure origin, mazy as a river, stretches its casual magnificence to epic length. It has never been subdued to one great theme.

      Wordsworth begins by taking stock of himself as a man...

    • 8. 1801-1807: The Major Lyrics (pp. 260-291)

      The years that followed the second edition ofLyrical Balladswere not immediately taken up by Wordsworth’s “poem on his own life/but saw the appearance of many short and middle-sized lyrics. Coleridge, in fact, lamented that his friend should squander himself on occasional poetry: “Of nothing but ‘The Recluse’ can I hear patiently.”¹ It was not till the beginning of 1804 that Wordsworth resumed his long poem with enough zest and vigor to complete it by June of the following year.

      The lyrics composed between 1801 and 1807 were gathered in a collection called Poems inTwo Volumes(1807). Here...

    • 9. The Excursion (pp. 292-323)

      Concerning The Excursion, the worst has already been said by Jeffrey, Hazlitt, and others.¹ One must admit that to read carefully its nine books is a massively depressing experience, and it is hard to think of a corrective forthatdespondency. Though a radical slenderizing would saveThe Excursionfrom dying (like a dinosaur) of its own weight, nothing can remove the haunting suspicion that it is a second-rate work which might have continuedParadise Regainedto become the greatest humanistic poem in the language. The betrayal of possible sublimity is impossible to forgive; for even if we exclude Book...

    • 10. Epilogue (pp. 324-338)

      In 1807, at the end of his great decade, Wordsworth wroteThe White Doe of Rylstone. As “Nutting” is a fit emblem to stand at the threshold of the fruitful years, so this romance can introduce the leaner years. Not published till 1815, it marks an epoch in Wordsworth’s career, though less by the date of composition or publication than by its special character as a poem.

      The White Doeis still a lyrical ballad. Its interest does not derive, even in part, from the report of heroic event or “moving accident,” and this despite the fact that it tells...

  8. IV. Critical Bibliographies and Notes


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