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Wordsworth and the Poetry of What We Are

Wordsworth and the Poetry of What We Are

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Wordsworth and the Poetry of What We Are
    Book Description:

    In this original book, distinguished literary scholar and critic Paul H. Fry sharply revises accepted views of Wordsworth's motives and messages as a poet. Where others have oriented Wordsworth toward ideas of transcendence, nature worship, or-more recently-political repression, Fry redirects the poems and offers a strikingly revisionary reading.Fry argues that underlying the rhetoric of transcendence or the love of nature in Wordsworth's poetry is a more fundamental and original insight: the poet is most astonished not that the world he experiences has any particular qualities or significance, but rather that it simply exists. He recognizes "our widest commonality" in the simple fact that "we are" in common with all other things (human and nonhuman) that are. Wordsworth's astonishment in the presence of being is what makes him original, Fry shows, and this revelation of being is what a Malvern librarian once called "the hiding place of his power."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14541-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. 1 Introduction: Wordsworth’s Originality
    (pp. 1-22)

    This introductory chapter begins with a section that will not at first seem introductory. Before explaining my approach to Wordsworth, that is, this section explains instead why my approach for the most part avoids issues related to history and politics. It is an “apology” of the sort that seems necessary in today’s academic climate, but it is also a sincere admission that these topics interest me more, and engage more of my attention, than may appear at times elsewhere. Powerful revisionary thinking about Wordsworth along political and historical lines has dominated the classroom and the academic press for the past...

  6. 2 Wordsworth in the Rime
    (pp. 23-41)

    The purpose of this chapter is to indicate that from the beginning of the friendship and collaboration between Wordsworth and Coleridge, Coleridge correctly and disapprovingly diagnosed Wordsworth’s preoccupations as I have introduced them in Chapter 1: his vocationally empowering realization that the ontological unity of human and nonhuman things appears in the moment when the differential significance we confer on things is bracketed by the underdetermination of significance in lyric utterance. As I shall eventually enumerate them, Coleridge in the dialogue that wasLyrical Balladslevels six charges against Wordsworth, all implicit inThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The...

  7. 3 Jeffreyism, Byron’s Wordsworth, and the Nonhuman in Nature
    (pp. 42-59)

    In this chapter I wish to suggest a new way of understanding Jeffrey’s attacks on Wordsworth, and to point out the degree to which these attacks, viewed in this way, influenced Byron’s 1821 dispute with Bowles and the earlier Dedication and first Canto ofDon Juan. I shall claim that Jeffrey balks at the ascription of ontological importance to the realm of the nonhuman. As an Enlightenment humanist, well versed in the writings of the Scottish successors to Hume and firmly opposed to idealism in philosophy, Jeffrey rejects any valuation of the natural world either for its own sake or...

  8. 4 Green to the Very Door? The Natural Wordsworth
    (pp. 60-74)

    There is dazzling and varied revisionism in the Wordsworth criticism of the past thirty years, yet all the most influential rereadings of every kind have but one refrain: Wordsworth was not a nature poet. The seventies commentaries stressing visionary apocalypse took their point of departure from the dialectic between the tyranny of the senses and the dark, unpleasant moments of “blank misgiving” in “the abyss of idealism,” moments when as a child Wordsworth had to grasp a wall or a tree to be sure that such things existed.¹ The rhetorical analyses suspending anthropomorphic language rather than imagination over this abyss...

  9. 5 The Novelty of Wordsworth’s Earliest Poems
    (pp. 75-90)

    Wordsworth scholarship has not ignored his earliest poems, which it is not improper to call juvenilia. The long poems especially have always been read with interest,The Vale of Esthwaite(1787) andAn Evening Walk(1787–89) as decent if belated contributions to the stroll orSpaziergangtradition stretching from Thomson to Cowper with a dollop stirred in of equally retrograde horror-gothic, andDescriptive Sketches(1793) as a rehearsal forPrelude 6.TheValetoo anticipates a Spot of Time, “Waiting for Horses,” whileAn Evening Walkgains biographical and even literary interest as a first address to Dorothy. Yet...

  10. 6 Hoof After Hoof, Metric Time
    (pp. 91-118)

    There is a widely accepted way of thinking about time both in and out of the romantic tradition that does undoubtedly cover a great deal of the territory. Poems according to this view are, in the expression of Harold Bloom, “lie[s] against time.”¹ Which is to say, poems strive to resist time. In Sharon Cameron’sLyric Time,a formidable, now classic work chiefly devoted to Emily Dickinson, one finds Cameron saying things like: “Dickinson’s poems fight temporality with a vengeance,” and “the lyric is to substitute a more satisfying order for the dreaded temporality.”² There are three premises that make...

  11. 7 The Poem to Coleridge
    (pp. 119-145)

    In saying that “The Poem to Coleridge,” the working title by whichThe Preludewas always known in the Wordsworth circle, needs to be taken still more seriously than it has been, I don’t mean that the title suggested by Wordsworth’s wife and agreed upon by all involved when the poem was published in 1850 is wrong or even misleading. But before turning to the title that makesThe Preludea conversation poem, it is worth stressing why “The Prelude” is indeed a good title. It does not just promise whatever long poem it may be that Wordsworth has in...

  12. 8 The Pastor’s Wife and the Wanderer: Spousal Verse or the Mind’s Excursive Power
    (pp. 146-175)

    Because a decent amount of insightful criticism has lately been written aboutThe Excursion, it may no longer seem necessary for anyone taking it seriously to announce the rescue of Wordsworth’s drowsy, frowsy poem from oblivion.¹The Excursionhas by now earned what it should never have lost: entitlement to careful reading. This is not to gainsay its manylongueurs, or even to announce that it will “do” after all. No matter how thoughtfully we read its conversations, their prolixity endures; and no one can ignore Wordsworth’s elephantine dispatch of narrative business. It is not easy to explain how verse...

  13. 9 Intimations Revisited: From the Crisis Lyrics to Wordsworth in 1817
    (pp. 176-199)

    In developing the argument of this book I have written only in passing about the central lyrics of the Great Decade, “Tintern Abbey” and the Intimations Ode. Nor have I extensively discussed “Resolution and Independence” and “Peele Castle,” poems that unfortunately I shall not be able to consider at sufficient length here either. But in beginning with a few generalizations, I shall discuss the four poems as a group, a procedure that is justifiable in itself and that is warranted too by the fact that the retrospective odes of 1817 with which I shall conclude recall all four both openly...

  14. Afterword: Just Having It There Before Us
    (pp. 200-204)

    As I remarked in Chapter 4, one of Wordsworth’s shrewdest early twentieth-century debunkers was Irving Babbitt, whose New Humanist attack on the “primitivism” of the romantics forms the theme of his then highly influentialRousseau and Romanticism. From our retrospect, it is easy enough to see that Babbitt had a long pedigree, traced back to Matthew Arnold by T.S. Eliot (who was mainly irritated by the New Humanists’ non-religious appeal to Christian ethics),¹ but visible still farther back if the lines are drawn more closely to those that shape this book. Hazlitt then looms into view, with his equally withering...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 205-225)
  16. Index
    (pp. 226-240)