Wordsworth's anxiety concering the material world

Wordsworth's anxiety concering the material world - John...

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John Williams: Wordsworth’s anxiety about the material world i) Fear of dissolution in “Resolution an d Independence” Among the things which still tend to puzzle, if not infuriate, readers of Wordsworth, is his tendency to labour points of seemingly inconsequential detail... If the reader has a problem here, it is equally true that Wordsworth himself is registering a difficulty, albeit of a different order. Taking the reader first, we find that Geoffrey Hartman provides us with a clue to the nature of the problem. Wordsworth's 'open and natural style', he suggests, 'can be so plain as to be anti-literary'. Behind this lurks the fundamental issue of how we come to have a view on 'literariness' in the first place. Wordsworth does frequently offend our 'literary' expectations, and when he does so it is more often than not because of a perverse attention to detail... The point at issue here for the reader relates to the 'literary' consequences of Wordsworth's endeavour to restructure poetic language. The point at issue here for the poet - that of shifting the language of poetry away from established structures of literary convention to reveal the 'naked simplicity' of his vision - is arguably more disturbing. If the poetry loses its reader, the reader may respond by observing the demise of the poet. Wordsworth, driven to abandon literary convention and established structures of feeling, faces the possibility of being a poet bereft of language itself. It was a problem, he suggests, that had already taken its toll on British poets. Robert Burns, 'who walk'd in glory and in joy/Behind his plough' (11.45-6), and Thomas Chatterton, 'The sleepless Soul that perish'd in its pride' (1.44), were both poets whose deaths were understood to be directly attributable to the incompatability of their imaginative, creative selves with an unsympathetic 'real' world. It was not just a loss of language that was at stake here, it was potentially a loss of sanity, even of life: 'therefore comes in the end despondency and madness' (1.49). To the concern for structure, therefore, is added the experience of fear, a real, palpable fear of mental dissolution without resolution. Faced with this prospect, attention to detail may well constitute a means of retaining a hand- hold on 'reality'. Fear becomes an essential part of poetry which explores the extremities of consciousness, the borderlands between 'truth' and how through language we attempt to realise that truth... It remains clear that the subject of the poem he was writing was not a subject which even two readers who knew him well were expecting. Wordsworth's capitulation in this instance was, however, more accurately an act of strategic withdrawal which allowed him still to address the frightening prognosis of a fragmented structure of literary form and feeling.
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