More romantics: Wordsworth

December 28th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Wordsworth, however, is a poet I’ve never been able to make mean something. The main reason, probably, is that I have no time for the pastoral. I’d rather see allusive intensity in the cities I love than in a natural world with which I find no connection.

But the above-linked article by Adam Kirsch turns up other reasons. Apparently “many of what we now see as the Victorian virtues—earnestness, mature optimism, easy authority—are first incarnated in his poetry“. And, perceptively:

If his first readers turned against him because he was undignified, today we are more likely to turn away from him because he is too dignified. He knows what he knows so surely, so completely, that he cannot think against himself; no poet besides Milton is as devoid of humor.

His emergence as the great, challenging poet of natural sympathy and his subsequent decline into dull institutional benevolence form one of the key instructive dramas of modern poetry.

And then, there’s the politics. Shelley embodied it with Queen Mab and the Masque of Anarchy. Byron died for it in Greece, and even Coleridge kept up some level of political involvement through his life. Wordsworth did absorb the afterglow of the French Revolution, but as a spectator rather than an actor. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive” is no attempt to change the world, just a thrilling to the work others were doing around him. And even here, argues Kirsch:

“The Prelude” was written as an act of convalescence from and penance for politics, which he finally comes to see as “a degradation” fortunately “transient”

[Kirsch, admittedly, then goes on to praise Wordsworth’s “struggle to transcend the radicalism of his youth, to rescue its benevolent impulses while escaping its shallowness and intolerance“.]

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