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The Unremarkable Wordsworth

The Unremarkable Wordsworth

Geoffrey H. Hartman
Foreword by Donald G. Marshall
Volume: 34
Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Unremarkable Wordsworth
    Book Description:

    Fifteen essays draw upon a wide range of contemporary theoretical approaches, from psychoanalysis to structuralism, from deconstruction to phenomenology. ". . . in teaching us to read Wordsworth it teaches us how to read." --The Wordsworth Circle

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8186-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: Wordsworth and Post-Enlightenment Culture
    (pp. vii-xxiv)
    Donald G. Marshall

    The appearance twenty-five years ago ofWordsworth’s Poetrymarked an epoch in the study of that poet and of romanticism generally. It was perhaps the last moment at which a reputation in literary study could be made solely by commentary on a single canonical poet. Hartman’s essays on Wordsworth written in the intervening quarter century and gathered here are once again revolutionary, though their character and importance are much less likely to be perceived and absorbed. This difference tells us a great deal about the evolution of criticism, about Hartman’s own career, and perhaps something also about Wordsworth.

    Above all,...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xxv-2)

    I have never been able to get away from Wordsworth for any length of time. The moment I was obliged to read him during high school in England, he reflected back my own sense of nature: rural nature, but more generally a world that felt as ancient and immemorial as “rocks, and stones, and trees,” that encompassed, inanimate yet animating, the mind in its earth-walks. But the discovery prompting me to write about him was that he could brood about himself in a way that nurtured rather than violated a “culture of feeling.” No one before him had so naturally...

  5. 1 Wordsworth Revisited
    (pp. 3-17)

    When Wordsworth was fourteen, the ordinary sight of boughs silhouetted against a bright evening sky left so vivid an impression on his mind that it marked the beginning of his career as poet. “I recollect distinctly,” he writes as a man in his seventies, “the very spot where this first struck me. It was in the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside, and gave me extreme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetical history for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country.”...

  6. 2 A Touching Compulsion
    (pp. 18-30)

    In recent years psychoanalytically oriented criticism has become increasingly harder to do. Yet more and more people are doing it.

    The reason interest has grown lies perhaps in the heightened difficulty of the venture. As the psychoanalytic study of art has become problematic, it has also become more worthwhile. Today no one can line up writers or their books according to clinical categories or an applied science model. Nor are we intrigued by how many sexual images lie behind the screen of words.

    What, then, can psychoanalysis tell us about literature? Even if we overcome methodological and moral scruples, it...

  7. 3 Inscriptions and Romantic Nature Poetry
    (pp. 31-46)

    The earliest genuinely lyrical poem by Wordsworth bears an elaborate title: “Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree, which stands near the Lake of Esthwaite, on a desolate part of the shore, yet commanding a beautiful prospect.” The poem reached its final form between 1795 and 1797 and appears as the first of Wordsworth’s productions in theLyrical Balladsof 1798. Its structure is simple: an apostrophe to the passing traveler commends a solitary spot in nature; this is followed by a moral and biographical epitome of the recluse who so loved this spot and its view that he...

  8. 4 False Themes and Gentle Minds
    (pp. 47-57)

    The writers of the Enlightenment want fiction and reason to kiss. They are inexhaustible on the subject. “Buskin’d bards henceforth shall wisely rage,” Thomas Tickell announces, foreseeing a new Augustan age.¹ “The radiant era dawns,” writes Akenside, when the long separation of imagination and science shall be overcome, and wisdom shall once more “Imbrace the smiling family of arts.”² The anonymous French author ofPoésies philosophiques(1758) admonishes the new school of poets to invent “believable marvels”: “Sans marcher appuyé du mensonge et des fables / Venez nous étaler des merveilles croiables.” Another explains more curiously his desire for chaster...

  9. 5 Wordsworth and Goethe in Literary History
    (pp. 58-74)

    Whatever the sources of historicism, the Ossianic fragments and similar “Lieder der Wilden” were of decisive importance for the person we consider its principal founder. “I may soon persecute you with a Psychology drawn from the poems of Ossian,” Herder warns the reader in his letters on German Art published in 1773.¹ The psychology he refers to is clearly what we now call historicism. “The human race is destined to undergo a procession of scenes, of types of culture and manners: woe to the man who does not like his part in the drama in which he must act out...

  10. 6 Blessing the Torrent
    (pp. 75-89)

    If the two opening lines of this sonnet had been an untitled fragment, their referent would be uncertain. Whom is the poet talking to, what “thou” is addressed? Is the force natural or divine? And why should the act of naming be important?

    But the lines are part of a sonnet titled specifically “To the Torrent at the Devil’s Bridge, North Wales, 1824.”¹ Moreover, as line 2 runs into line 3, the “force” is identified as a “force of waters,” that is, a river or, more precisely, a waterfall. (“Force” was dialect in the North of England for “waterfall.”) Describing...

  11. 7 Words, Wish, Worth
    (pp. 90-119)

    Thinking of walking with Dora in the English countryside, Wordsworth is waylaid by a Miltonic image fromSamson Agonistesthat makes his twelve-year-old daughter an Antigone leading the blind Oedipus:

    A LITTLE onward lend thy guiding hand

    To these dark steps, a little further on!¹

    Wordsworth suffered from severe eye-strain and feared to go blind. The fact is alluded to when he calls himself “not unmenaced” (9), but this merely qualifies a surprise he insists on: the usurpation of that text on his voice, and the anticipatory, proleptic nature of the thought. He records an involuntary thought having to do...

  12. 8 Diction and Defense
    (pp. 120-128)

    I wish to discuss a poem Wordsworth wrote in 1816, when he was forty-six and his daughter Dora, twelve. We perceive only dimly the personal circumstances: the Continent had opened up again to English travelers after Napoleon’s fall; Wordsworth was thinking of going back for the first time since the Peace of Amiens of 1803, when he had visited his illegitimate daughter Caroline (from a liaison with Annette Valon contracted during his 1792 stay in revolutionary France); Dora is approaching puberty; and his eyesight is troubling him. As he is enjoying the idea of walking with Dora in the English...

  13. 9 The Use and Abuse of Structural Analysis
    (pp. 129-151)

    Michael Riffaterre’s essay on Wordsworth’s “Yew-Trees” is, in substance, the best commentary on that poem yet written and ranks with the best commentaries on any Wordsworth poem.¹ Moreover, in the exposition of a method of analysis, it is an equally impressive act, whose significance for the study of poetry—not only descriptive poetry of Wordsworth’s kind—is considerable. My own comment here can only be supplementary to Riffaterre’s, but it will try to locate certain limits of the structural-semantic method he employs. I am also interested in the role played by history—or assumptions about it—in this kind of...

  14. 10 “Timely Utterance” Once More
    (pp. 152-162)

    “It would be not only interesting but also useful to know what the ‘timely utterance’ was,” Lionel Trilling wrote in 1941. He eventually does “hazard a guess.”¹ Time has not diminished our fascination with the phrase: the guessing continues, while Trilling’s interpretation has become part of the poem’s aura and entered the consciousness of many readers. Just as we find a ring of cosmic junk around planets, so it is with interpretive solutions stabilized by the gravitational field of a well-known poem. Moreover, Trilling’s critical style is itself of interest. To “hazard a guess” indicates a modest attitude (he does...

  15. 11 The Poetics of Prophecy
    (pp. 163-181)

    In our honorific or sophomoric moods, we like to think that poets are prophets. At least that certain great poets have something of the audacity and intensity—the strong speech—of Old Testament prophets who claimed that the word of God came to them. “The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah... To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah...” It is hard to understand even this introductory passage, for the word for “words,”divrein Hebrew, indicates something closer to “acts” or “word events,” while what the King James version translates as “to whom...

  16. 12 Elation in Hegel and Wordsworth
    (pp. 182-193)

    Let me confess that I have used “elation” in the past to render the Hegelian word “Aufhebung,” which is usually translated “sublation.” By this sleight of terms I suggest, against Hegel’s own tendency in the last section of thePhenomenology,which passes from “Religion in the Form of Art” via “revealed Religion” to “Absolute Knowing,” that the basic move in his dialectic is, even here,aesthetic—without defining that elusive word. My procedure of associating an unclear term, “Aufhebung” (“elation”), with an obscure concept (the “aesthetic”) will not seem promising at first. My experiences are not those of a trained...

  17. 13 Wordsworth Before Heidegger
    (pp. 194-206)

    I am a language being; nothing in language is alien to me, not even Heidegger’s German. It is true that most translations of Heidegger’s work are rejected by English as if they were failed transplants. Yet the effort to English Heidegger may be similar to that which characterizes his own project of translating Being into Time by a special diction that takes time. The tightness of that diction is remarkable: a Milky Way of constellated sound that we try to space out. The mind needs more air for even such simple sentences as “Das Dasein entwirft als Verstehen sein Sein...

  18. 14 The Unremarkable Poet
    (pp. 207-220)

    It is a general proposition in semiological analysis that signs are not signs unless they become perceptible, and that their perceptibility as signs depends on a contrast set up within the signifying system. Some parts of the system are “marked” and some “unmarked”; this contrast shapes perceptibility, and there is a conventional rather than inherent relation between linguistic features and their marked / unmarked status. Now this matter of perceptibility (or noticeability) affects the reader as well as the writer: in remarking what has been written the reader may see a different set of contrasts than the writer. Doubtless there...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 223-238)
  20. Index
    (pp. 241-247)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 248-249)