Thursday, February 23, 2006

Weeks 04-05, W. and D. Wordsworth

Notes on William Wordsworth

The French Revolution. Wordsworth, like Coleridge, Blake, Southey, and many other democratic-spirited Englishmen, at first enthusiastically welcomed the French Revolution, and believed that it would amount to a “new dawn” for humanity. The Revolution (http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/) flowed in part from the Enlightenment ideal of progress, of the good life here and now: not in some displaced fantasy afterlife, not from the crumbs tossed our way from the king’s table as if we were dogs. If we have made our institutions, the idea goes, we should be able to change them at will and for the better. But in the wake of the extremist period of the Revolution (the Jacobin-inspired “Terror” of 1792-94), it became increasingly difficult to believe that the French upheaval was such a positive affair.

It has often been said that Wordsworth and his fellow poets didn’t really abandon their democratic hopes, but instead turned to their art as a way of expressing them, and even placed a great deal of emphasis on literary art itself as one of the main vehicles for promoting change. I think there is some justification for that understanding of British romanticism—Wordsworth himself, in the Prelude, offers many a verse observation that confirms it, at least with respect to his own development as a poet. If, in fact, the romantics more or less internalize the ideals of the revolution, weave them into literature, and then expect literature to help effect change (to put it baldly), it almost goes without saying that such a formula doesn’t solve the difficult question of how human societies make progress: do we start with the individual, or is that a bourgeois notion since progress can only happen when a mass movement or a revolution gets underway, as with America in 1776, France in 1789, Russia in 1917, or the recent anticommunist turnabouts in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Can any force short of a French Revolution influence the sensibilities of large numbers of individuals, and so help bring about eventual change? Let’s turn to Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads to see what he has to say about the relationship between literature and the prospects for meaningful change.

Literature and the Reformation of Taste. It has long been noticed that Wordsworth’s poems flow from a new, fundamentally democratic sense of life: his experimental Lyrical Ballads demand that we pay attention to a variety of humble people and outcasts who don’t come at us with a pinch of snuff and fancy aristocratic titles—the stuff of traditional poetry. “Liberty, equality, fraternity” are still Wordsworth’s ideals even in 1798, though no patriotic Englishman would be caught directly supporting France by that date. In the Preface, we can recognize Wordsworth’s intent to address the major eighteenth-century concern over “taste,” usually expressed in terms of “decorum,” a commonly available set of rules according to which polite society perceives, thinks, and lives. This issue of taste is by no means trivial, as we sometimes take it to be when we say, “there’s no accounting for taste.” Underlying notions of taste are notions of how people are to get along with one another even though they may not agree on everything.

Wordsworth as a reformer of the public’s taste in literature shows disdain for old-fashioned aristocrats, but also finds distressing the still relatively small but growing urban population of readers. The aristocrats—aside from their blatant adherence to an unjust and inadequate system that awards people for high birth rather than merit, are too favorable to the decorum-laden “poetic diction” that would abstract even the most particular individual fish into a card-carrying member of the “finny tribe.” This kind of language merely dulls the senses and removes us farther than ever from the material world and from healthy, pure perception of the breathing world. It turns poetry into a concept-making-machine instead of a means by which to connect with nature and other human beings.

But the urban multitude comes in for some sharp criticism, too—Wordsworth has no patience with these seekers of “gross and violent stimulation” and admirers of “sickly and stupid German tragedies.” They are the early romantic period’s equivalent of today’s crime-show and reality-TV addicts, I suppose—people who have become so desensitized to anything healthy (like nature and stories about good folks, for instance) that their minds don’t perk up for anything but lurid tales of wrongdoing and vulgarly competitive scenarios where people eat hapless insects and chase one another around on fake deserted islands. Our emphasis on these “Gilligans gone Wild” and on the misconduct of criminal brutes brings out the worst in us, one can hear him saying. Not to mention the ceaseless round of consumerist one-upmanship and all-around “fetishism of the commodity,” as Karl Marx will one day label capitalist society’s confusion over the relative value of people and inanimate objects. Wordsworth is no proto-Marxist, but his criticism of early industrialist culture has some affinities with later and more radical critiques: a commodity culture tends toward atomistic individualism and against social cohesion.

Poetry—the Universal Orphic Song. What is needed? Well, in his Preface Wordsworth suggests a move away from a false urban and utilitarian interiority based on shallow pleasure-seeking and acquisitiveness and towards a more genuine, healthy interiority that brings strong individuals together. The latter kind of interiority helps us rediscover our connection to nature and to others; it gives us back our common capacity to feel uplifting emotions. Wordsworth’s poetics is universalist—he takes it as a given that right operation of feeling and imagination is possible for all, and that it will lead to similarly positive results for the individual and for society. But the current urban public’s interiority is vulgar—its immediacy is not that of self-presence and a sense of the deep universal truths of the human spirit; it entails only “instant gratification,” a mere object-relation that turns the object seeker himself into just another object. As Walter Ong might say, urban anonymity is that of mere facelessness in the crowd, and it actually keeps us from experiencing the deep nameless intimacy of the “I,” as opposed to the socially given attributes owing to our proper name—John, Jose, Mary, whatever. The proper name is one compact but powerful instance of the “cultural scripts” that (from our very birth onwards) tell us what kind of beings we are, how we ought to relate to one another, what our relationship to objects and to nature ought to be, and so forth. We conceive of life’s purpose along lines fed to us by others. Shouldn’t we be able to erase the old scripts and replace them with new and better ones—can’t we make our world the way we want it to be: peaceful and purposeful?

Implicit in what has just been said is that false language, false understanding, and false living go together—problems with language are deeply implicated in broader problems of cultural coherency and change. As Gerald Bruns points out in his book Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language (New Haven: Yale UP, 1974), romantic theorists such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and others assume that human language is to be understood as deeply processive—words aren’t inanimate, discrete objects or “things” that we arrange into decorous patterns, as they are in ancient and Renaissance rhetorical theory. The romantic word doesn’t either stand in the way of truth or move out of the way so we can simply “get at” the truth. (The same conception of the word as an object can occur whether, like philosophical idealists, we mean by “truth” something in our heads—i.e. prelinguistic images or “ideas”—or whether with empiricists like Bacon we mean something “out there” in a world of objects independent of the human mind. Rather, language and truth are closely bound up together—who “we” are and how we understand the world around us cannot be considered apart from the fact that we are linguistic beings. In Bruns’ terms, the romantics see words less a medium than as a function, a process, and this process connects us vitally to the world “beyond” language. In the most optimistic formulations of romantic poetics, he points out, the poetic word takes on an Orphic, almost magical quality to be part of the reality it speaks—not just a set of symbols describing that reality.

If any such thing is the case, it is vital that we “get it right” in our relationship with language. If our language is false and corrupted, we will live and understand falsely and corruptly. Since we can’t wish language away, what, then, can purify our relationship with it? You guessed, it—poetry. Wordsworth’s and Shelley’s and Coleridge’s kind of poetry, to be precise. At its best, and even if all writing amounts to a “cultural script,” romantic poetry is the bearer of a new gospel, a new and better “script” by which humans can live together. So when Wordsworth, as he says in his Preface, goes back to the rural countryside and listens to the speech of farmers, he’s doing it for philosophical reasons: the rustics are more sound in their ways and speech than city folk, so they have a living “script,” we might say, and not a mass of corrupted words with no relation to anything in the human heart or physical nature. Wordsworth really isn’t returning directly to nature, but rather to human nature in its best state.

Nature. I have placed this key romantic concern right after my comments on language to make a point. The point is that the romantics may privilege the human relationship with nature, but they are not (in the main) primitivists who think we can shed “civilization” the way a snake sheds its skin periodically. We can’t just “go back to nature.” Going to the countryside is good, of course, but when Wordsworth does this, there’s usually some human artifact (like, well, a ruined abbey) nearby. We can’t go back to nature in the simple sense because we were never really in it in the first place. Wordsworth doesn’t collapse “human nature” into oneness with the natural world of hills and dales, flora and fauna. He puts it into close affinity with the natural environment, but doesn’t say they’re exactly the same. His attitude is perhaps a kinder, gentler version of Ignatius of Loyola’s idea that nature is at best a vehicle for spiritual realization, at worst a hindrance. And Wordsworth finds that it isn’t a hindrance—it’s a great help.

Further, you can see by Wordsworth’s insistence upon the principle of selection from “nature”—from rural speech patterns and from the details of landscape, that is—just how far he is from any doctrine of primitivism. Nature may be our original “source,” but we can only repair to it for a time, not stay there permanently. The closest thing to it that we can return to in a more or less permanent way would be those “rural speech patterns” and to the profound truths of the human heart, those “essential passions” with which they are so closely bound. To be fair, however, the “essential passions” are indeed closely allied with what Wordsworth calls “the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.”

All in all, I don’t mean to say that nature isn’t a profound concern for most of our romantic poets: Wordsworth and Coleridge, we might say, are in fact the first true “environmentalists,” and would in their own ways agree that the wilderness is what Thoreau later says it is: “the salvation of mankind.” They accept neither the medieval sense of nature as something fearful, hostile and alien, nor the industrialist instrumentalism that sees nature as a “resource” to be tamed and used as we see fit. They are much closer to the enlightened way of looking at nature some environmentalists promote today—as something endangered, something that must be respected and protected rather than conquered and used. How about, “ask not what your countryside can do for you, ask what you can do for your countryside”? The romantics, writing at ground zero of the Industrial Revolution, knew this was a difficult argument to make, and it continues to be difficult today. Most environmental groups gear their rhetoric towards the idea that we should preserve nature “because it’s useful to us” or “for our children’s children’s great grandchildren’s grandchildren.” It comes down to the same thing—for us, not for nature in its own right. What I have described may be a necessary rhetorical strategy, but it cedes a tragic amount of ground to crass Utilitarians who see only “timber” even in the midst of an old-growth redwood forest.

Science. Not all of the romantics are as scathing when it comes to science as William Blake, with his diatribes against the unholy trinity of “Bacon, Newton, & Locke,” but in general they interpret the advent of scientific discourse and practice disturbing. In his Preface, Wordsworth suggests that the poet’s song take us back almost to a new Eden, while the scientists labor in the fields, still with much of the sorrowful Old Adam and Eve in their hearts. Science, in Wordsworth’s view, “murders to dissect”—it takes things apart in an effort to understand and control them. Those dominant powers Reason and Social Utility demand such efforts at mastery over nature. Sir Francis Bacon’s empirical project was by no means as godless as Blake makes it sound—it follows the dual prescription of promoting god’s glory and ameliorating the human condition. But even in the Baconian emphasis on “experimenta lucifera” (pure science, “experiments of light”) rather than on “experimenta fructifera” (science for the sake of near-term improvement in living conditions), we can easily see the roots of romantic criticism against the scientific stirrings of their time: science, based upon building up knowledge from sensory observation and rational system-building derived from that observation, tends to become a pursuit for its own sake—yet another “system,” as Blake might say, that becomes its own justification without regard to the human beings who are supposed to benefit from it.

All of the romantics take issue with science as tending towards this condition—a snare for the naively optimistic rather than a vehicle for perpetual human improvement. They keep insisting that there’s something closer, more proper, to human beings than whatever lies at the far end of some grand march to knowledge and control. Perhaps what we really need “lies about us in our infancy,” and is never very far. The greatest wisdom is not to dissect things but to perceive their unity and not violate it. And how do we define progress anyway? Does it have to with production—i.e. with clever new ways to satisfy old desires and even create new ones, to gain mastery over the natural environment, to amass huge stocks of quantifiable, empirically verifiable knowledge? It isn’t self-evident what “progress” is, and the issue will become a major one from Wordsworth’s time forwards.

Below are some thoughts on the status of the poet and on poetic process.

The Value of Creative Imagination. I should mention first of all Meyer Abrams’ excellent study The Mirror and the Lamp, which offers an exhaustive intellectual history about the difference between mimetic (i.e. imitative) neoclassical theories of artistic creation and romantic expressive theories that privilege creative imagination. The key difference is that the mimetic theorist believes art mainly copies the external world, while the expressive critic says artists mostly express (that is, externalize) inner feelings, thoughts, and memories. As Abrams’ metaphor implies, the lamp seems to burn from an inner source, while the mirror reflects an image from the world outside. Romantic poets, then make available to us the inner workings of their own being, and in this act of spiritual publication lies the real value of art.

As Wordsworth explains in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, the value lies here because expression is exactly the power that ordinary, unpoetical city folk have forgotten they possess, thanks to the “multitude of causes” (mainly the bad effects of living in a depersonalized urban environment and the political and military tumult of the late eighteenth century) that Wordsworth specifies in the Preface. There are many sophisticated formulations of what poets can do for us, but one of the most straightforward is Wordsworth’s claim in the Preface that the poet sings a song in which everyone can join. Poets are said to be in touch with nature and, therefore, with certain primal human passions, chief amongst them “love.” Poets are the individuals least “damaged” by modernity and the ones who can, therefore, think and feel in the absence of frenetic stimulation. They can still commune with the natural world and trace the unwritten laws of the human spirit—this power gives the broadest possible scope, thinks Wordsworth, to the vital operations of the imagination, that binding capacity we all have, at least in potential, even if circumstance has kept us from honoring or encouraging the gift.

Wordsworth, like the other British romantics, is firmly in the expressivist camp, but offers an interestingly modified version of expressive theory. He implies that the healthy functioning of the imagination requires the mind (and body) to open up to a “wise passiveness” wherein the perceiver soaks in every sensation round about, without reflecting or intellectualizing it into a grand synthetic whole, a moral emblem, or anything else. There is a trace of good old-fashioned empiricism in the poetic practice and theory of Wordsworth.

By empiricism, I refer to the science-tending doctrine that says what we know comes first from our five senses—not from abstract reasoning power all by itself. Imagination in faculty psychology terms is the image-making power; it’s the capacity that lets you see images even if there isn’t any direct sensory stimulus in your field of vision. If you’ve ever read Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, you might recall the villain Archimago—the “arch image-maker” who keeps fooling Red Crosse Knight with all those false appearances. Well, empiricists like John Locke say that all our knowledge comes from sense experience: we see things that are out there in the world, and our simple perceptions get “associated” and combined into more and more complex, abstract, and general ideas. Memory stores all this idea-stuff, almost like a hard drive in our modern terms, and we can work with it and build on it intellectually, broadening our stock of knowledge. Locke is perhaps an early version of “information technology,” with the mind like a calculating machine with data storage capacity. The movement of information-processing runs from the particular to the general—thus the validity on “inductive method” in empirical writers like Sir Francis Bacon. That’s the way the mind works, and that’s the way we should patiently build up systems of knowledge. It’s good to keep this in mind when we consider the way Wordsworth deals with his immediate perceptions of nature. But Wordsworth isn’t simply an empiricist—what he suggests is that we “half create, and half perceive” (“Tintern Abbey”) the “mighty world of eye and ear.” Or as he writes in The Prelude, Book 11, the poets “build up greatest things / From least suggestions” (lines 98-99). Ultimately, and again in The Prelude, Wordsworth asserts the priority of mind over mere nature, and so in this way he approaches the proposition of Coleridge in “Dejection: an Ode” that “in our life alone does nature live.” What must the poet do for the people? By Book 13 of The Prelude (1805), the task is this: “Instruct them how the mind of man becomes / A thousand times more beautiful than the earth / On which he dwells….” However Wordsworth ultimately ranks mind over nature, his poetry promotes a gentle interplay between them. He is not suggesting that imagination creates new worlds in its own fiery crucible and that it takes us away from nature altogether into the exalted realm of free creativity. On the whole, Wordsworth talks about poetic creation and readerly pleasure in terms of a properly functioning mind, one in which sensory perception, memory, and the capacity to feel all work together. The result of this proper attunement is peace within oneself and harmony with others. Pleasure is the aim of life—it alone signifies internal and external health. As Freud would tell us, if we can’t feel pleasure, there’s something deeply wrong in our emotional state.

Wordsworth’s Method of Composition: Meditation. “Meditative” is perhaps the best way to describe Wordsworth’s account of how poems get composed in the poet’s head and then written down. Much of Wordsworth’s poetry seems to be based upon long-standing Christian meditative practices, at least indirectly. Meyer Abrams describes the structure of Wordsworth’s great odes by saying they begin with a meditation on a particular place. This act of contemplation helps the poet to remember and analyze a problem that he or she has been experiencing, and finally an “affective” or emotional resolution is achieved. The pattern goes something like this:

1) Our senses and imagination stir up memories, not all of them good ones;

2) Our power of analysis sets to work on the problem at hand

3) Our rekindled emotions help us resolve the problem, or at least show the way.

You will find this an accurate description of poems such as “Tintern Abbey” and “Intimations of Immortality.”

What I have just described is similar to the structure of the Spiritual Exercises (http://www.ccel.org/i/ignatius/exercises/exercises.html) advocated by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius has exercitants begin with “the composition of place,” and through that vivid recollection or imagining of either a real place or one associated with the life of Christ, he expects that meditators will begin to understand the gravity and repetitive quality of their sinful ways, and finally that this awareness will lead to a colloquy with Christ, a dialogue that should leave a person with hope for the future.

The Spiritual Exercises are supposed to clear away the mental errors and worldly confusions that are getting in the way of salvation, which requires devotion to God above all else. Theologically, we could say that the exercises help realign the will away from “the world, the flesh, and the devil” and allow a person to follow God’s plan more closely. From this meditation should flow a sense of spiritual peace and devotion, as well as a clearer sense of one’s proper vocation. What profession to follow? Should I take holy orders, or go on living as a business person or whatever, only with greater charity towards others and a better sense that my own desires and concerns aren’t as important as I used to think? The choice will depend upon the individual.

Well, meditation’s goal is always something like that, with or without the specific theological trappings: we must withdraw into ourselves for a time, removing ourselves from the corruptions that have set in thanks to the badness of our society and our own inner failings, and through intense contemplation arrive at a state of emotional and spiritual health and equilibrium. Clarity of perception might be another benefit, if we want to speak less of emotion and more of intellection. Buddhist meditation, for instance, is largely about letting “unconfusion” happen, opening oneself up to the discovery of truths that have always been right next to us. Wordsworth’s “wise passiveness” in the presence of nature, his soaking up the sights and sounds around him, has something of that quality to it. Except that his own background is more Christian-tinged; he probably wouldn’t find Eastern “self-annihilation” congenial but might instead opt for the retooling of the individual self and its purposiveness. At this point in his career, of course, Wordsworth isn’t exactly talking traditional theology—his God is “Nature,” and he isn’t trying to instill in us a sense that we have sinned against the light, either. I just mean that in general what seems to underlie romantic meditation is a long tradition of Christian meditative theory and practice.

The Status of the Poet—Prophet or Merchant? Almost everyone admires the romantic formulation of why literature is (or should be) valuable not only to poets but to everyone else. But we should also keep in mind the unpleasant notion of Marxist critic Raymond Williams that this formulation of the poet-prophet healing the ills of the community is partly the effect of the very causes it tries to overcome. Williams’ idea is that the more threatened and marginalized literary artists became, the more insistent and even grandiose became their claims about the value of their activity. The point is, how does a poet respond to the threat of being either eliminated as silly and anachronistic, or forced to adapt poetry’s message to what the growing and economically powerful middle classes want, or having to play the isolated “voice crying in the wilderness” all the more defiantly for lack of an audience? None of the choices offer much consolation, it seems—elimination, adaptation (i.e. selling out), or marginalization to a street-corner preacher in some dingy corner of London shouting at indifferent passersby, “what doth it profit a man if he gain the world, and lose his soul?” The father of capitalist ideology, Adam Smith (see his book The Wealth of Nations), predicted some such thing when he said that his principle of the “division of labor” logically applies to thinking, not just to physical employments. And if we can pay people to do our thinking for us, it makes sense to say as well that one day we will also pay people to do our feeling for us. In effect, that kind of statement acknowledges that even grand romantic poetry is one commodity amongst many others, and that as always in the marketplace, people will choose as it pleases them, for whatever reason or no reason at all. In a sense, art remains part of life, but by no means a privileged one—there are plenty of other things to do out there in a modern urban community, especially in one that follows the utilitarian line that the goal of society is the pursuit of undifferentiated individual pleasure. Jeremy Bentham puts it eloquently: “all other things being equal, pushpin [a game less sophisticated than checkers] is as good as poetry.” Evidently, we aren’t the first society to say, “do it if it feels good” or “whatever turns you on.” Bottom line: in Williams’ view, the effect of capitalism is to marginalize, specialize, and commodify the act of writing poetry. The poet is a specialized worker, not an exalted demigod. Modern literature continually confronts this problem of “social value,” and the simple fact that people (critics, moralists, the public) come up to literature with their hands in their pockets and make such a demand shows that Williams’ claims about literary “marginalization” have some genuine explanatory power.

Notes on The Prelude

Book 1

How to read a long work like The Prelude: the text – even as we have it in relatively short selections from all fourteen books, can be something of a challenge for those used to enjoying Wordsworth’s shorter poems. A work of such length, as Coleridge might remind us, is bound to contain some rather prosaic material along with its most excellent flights of verse. I tend to think Wordsworth is at his best when he’s waxing philosophical, so that’s what I most enjoy in The Prelude. Many of the epic’s passages in this vein are as fine as anything in “Tintern Abbey” or “Intimations of Immortality.” I suggest that if this is your first acquaintance with The Prelude, you might do well to read each one with a yellow marker close by – it is easy to get lost in reading a long work, and reading without marking off favorite passages and jotting down your best ideas is not much better than not reading the work at all.

In this opening book, the poet’s vocation is, of course, already clear – his difficulty lies in the exact choice of subject: will he write a traditional epic about high things in English history (the sort of thing that Milton considered in his youth), “a Tale from my own heart” (222), or “some philosophic Song / Of Truth that cherishes our daily life” (229-30). Well, thanks in part to such musings, the subject has already begun to define itself – this epic will conjoin the two latter possibilities: it will be a philosophical poem about the development of the author’s poetic powers, both from their native source in infancy and nature and with an eye towards the way they have been both challenged and enhanced by the pressure of circumstance and maturity. To put the matter somewhat humorously, The Prelude will be a long work of poetry about how the author came to write a long work of poetry. There’s nothing unusual about that for a romantic artist whose understanding of art is primarily genetic and expressive: what is the source of poetry, and how does poetic inspiration or feeling come to be “expressed” to others? Further questions to be explore are, What limitations always seem to be threatening to make an end of the mind’s imaginative acts? What difficulties might the poet have in harmonizing inspiration and utterance – feelings and language? Where to begin, and where – if at all – to end? The best romantic poetry seems insistently to turn its own medium into an object of reflection and to question its own assumptions about the representation of space and the flow of time. Wordsworth will be doing plenty of all that in The Prelude.

Book 2

This book reflect on the stages of a child’s developing relationship with nature – if I read him correctly, the speaker describes how he went from glad animal sensations in nature’s presence to seeking out and loving nature in a more devoted manner. The speaker says that at first he loved the sun not because of its symbolic suggestiveness as “a pledge / And surety of our earthly life” (179-80), but instead because, while in a state of pure joy, he had seen the sun “lay / His beauty on the morning hills” (183-84). The scene and the joy here seem to be reciprocal – nature hasn’t been singled out for its own sake. This reciprocity preserves the infant’s fundamentally creative first perceptions of the world, as the speaker describes them from 256-264.

When the somewhat older youth begins to seek out nature and treats it with religious devotion, the relationship becomes still more complex: it might seem that nature is now sought “for its own sake,” but I suspect such a phrase needs qualification – the speaker has become so devoted to nature because he senses an affinity with or reciprocity between his own aspiring imaginative powers and “that universal power / And fitness in the latent qualities / And essences of things, by which the mind / Is moved with feelings of delight” (325-328). Nature itself “feeds” this growing “religious love” in the young Wordsworth, as he explains from 353-59. This book’s account of the speaker’s developing relationship nature is sophisticated, and I don’t know that I can do it justice here. But in general, I find that Wordsworth is cagey in speaking of this relationship between the natural and the human – he isn’t shy, at philosophical culmination-points in his lyrics and narrative poems, of privileging the imagination over the matter with which it works – but my sense is that he writes such passages with such confidence because he knows they must be placed in context with other, less “us-exalting” stretches of his verse. He’s been accused by no less than John Keats of falling into the “egotistical sublime” mode of poetry, but when I read him, I tend to think that “fair and balanced” is his overall line with regard to the alliance between mind and nature.

Wordsworth’s caginess might be explained (if a bit too easily) by reference to one of the standard things critics say about romantic doctrine both British and Continental; namely, while we can acknowledge nature as a source, we shouldn’t lose sight of our prime directive as human beings: to make something of what we have been given, to transcend our source in nature without disrespecting or abandoning it. Humility must walk beside advancement. Mankind, the idea goes, is not alien from nature but is instead best understood as “nature becoming fully conscious of itself.” We alone can self-consciously praise and admire the excellence of what nature brings forth. In On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature, Friedrich Schelling refers to a “bird that, intoxicated with music, transcends itself in soul-like tones” (Hazard Adams, Critical Theory since Plato, revised ed. San Diego: Harcourt, 1992. 459), but it takes an appreciative human being to grasp the bird’s transcendence.

Of further interest in this second book is the confession that even though The Prelude is an imaginative reconstruction or history of “the growth of a poet’s mind,” we can’t really know everything about such a development: “Who knows the individual hour in which / His habits were first sown, even as a seed?” (206-07)

Book 3

The young Wordsworth comes to Cambridge, and it all seems like a dream to him. At this point he retains his full power to walk with nature, something that helps to keep at bay his feeling that this isn’t the time or place for him (81-82). But the withdrawal into his own mind can’t last because there’s too much experience ahead, and his “heroic argument,” which is ultimately not of this world – “Not of outward things / Done visibly for other minds” (176-77) – must nonetheless embrace this world and all its variety, its outward forms, it call to society, etc., in order to return to the meditation on genius and imagination that constitutes the heroic argument. The yield for this necessary detour will be a certain socialization of the individual powers Wordsworth celebrates – his particular gift will be more easily shared with others once this return is completed. His own personal gifts will be rendered paradigmatic and universal; they will become models for emulation and vehicles for the enhancement of spirits other than his own.

Book 4

The speaker half-laments, half-explains, his youthful “inner falling-off” (278) from purer communion with “books and nature” (299) in his even younger days. The close alliance of books and nature is interesting and very sensible – there’s no doubt that when we are very young, a book “sinks in” and influences us, influences the very formation of our identity, in a way it probably wouldn’t later in life. So a work of imagination – a Shakespeare play or something of similar quality – might well operate with almost as much power as haunting or breathtaking scenes in nature. A child is delightfully serious about “make-believe,” and doesn’t know how to maintain a barrier between “fact” and “fiction” the way adults do. In any case, trivial social pursuits become the order of the day for an adolescent Wordsworth. This is represented as a loss, but not a complete loss, as we can see from the episodes that follow: on his way home from a dance, he intuits his future vocation as a poet. Then he meets a poor discharged soldier – one of the human faces he will later learn to appreciate fully as something of even more value than physical nature, and converses with this figure of solitude, who tells him without apparent feeling a story of great pathos. The soldier’s response to concern for his safety comes straight from the Gospel – we recollect Jesus’ advice in Matthew 6:34: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Book 5

As for “the dream of the Arab,” Wordsworth’s speaker is reflecting on the different kinds of knowledge promised by science (Euclidean geometry) and poetry – the stone and the shell, respectively. The stone represents geometry’s power to create a world all its own – mathematics is its own truth, we might say, and it brings people together and commands their assent in the realm of pure reason. But the Arab says that the shell’s poetic utterance is “something of more worth” (90) – it has the power to prophesy destruction and to bring calm to the human spirit. The shell is a physical, natural thing that generates effects far beyond the physical realm – it replicates the suggestive power of ocean waves. So there is here both relationship and transcendence – a contrast with the abstract realm of mathematical truth. The imaginative book has a power that Euclidean geometry lacks.

The Arab is also Don Quixote himself. The knight-errant awakens from his madness only to die peacefully as a good Christian in his bed, an event that comes to pass since Cervantes is out, he says, to put an end to the foolish prating of books about such knights. Here in Wordsworth’s dream, which has arisen from his reading of Cervantes’ epic, Don Quixote flees before the deluge that will engulph the world. I’ve read in deconstructive criticism how this episode might be interpreted – the idea is that Wordsworth’s meditation on the fragility of the vessel that must bear poetic inspiration – books – involves an admission that ultimately all such inspiration must submit to transmutation into writing. We notice that at the end our selection, the speaker awakens in terror, and the two things he sees are the Sea and the actual Book (Don Quixote) that he was reading when he fell asleep. What’s the suggestion in all this? Could it be that the speaker’s dream betrays genuine anxiety that his claims about “the mystery of words” – their power of bringing home to us a genuine feeling of contact with the divine—is just such a delusion as beset poor Don Quixote? If the flood of time, or the damaging effects of the written form of language, is bound to erase the poet’s gains, what’s the point of the whole endeavor?

As for “the Boy of Winander,” the speaker relates a remarkable experience on the boy’s part wherein he calls to the owls, and nature does not respond as he expected – he hears not owls but silence, and then “the voice / Of mountain torrents” (385-86). Quite abruptly, his death is announced, and he becomes an invisible object of the speaker’s contemplation. The Village Church and its Thronèd Lady are heedless of the boy’s passing; they hear only the glad noises of living children at play. The speaker’s optimism is for the race of innocent boys like the Boy of Winander – “May books and nature be their early joy!” (425) The passage is optimistic and moving, but I’m reminded of Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H., where the poet in his grief addresses an “Old Yew, which graspest at the stones / That name the underlying dead.” Wordsworth understands as well as Tennyson that Nature is “careful of the type” or species, and “careless of the single life.” The optative voice in the Winander passage is perhaps not quite convincing; it may even suggest what we can infer from Tennyson’s poem—a wish to become as unconscious as the Yew Tree, or, in Wordsworth’s case, the Village Church and its decorative Lady. We will have to wait for Book 14’s philosophical claims about the power of imagination and “spiritual love” to reconcile all that seems unfortunate in human affairs (and all that seems terrible in nature) with joy and beauty.

Book 6

This has the “Simplon Pass” episode. The movement begins with disappointment at nature’s failure to match our imaginative vision, and the failure of experience or action to yield immediate understanding. Mont Blanc isn’t as sublime when you actually see it as when you imagine it or read about how others have imagined it and described it. Neither do you realize the significance of an event like “crossing the Alps” while you’re accomplishing it. “Meaning” or significance is an after-the-fact construction. But as always with Wordsworth, “for such loss” comes a reckoning of blessings and a declaration of “abundant recompense.” The poet recovers from the Peasant’s disappointing announcement (he’s sort of like that messenger in Oedipus Rex, isn’t he? – or he would be if the poet didn’t overcome his tragic recognition of human finitude). He goes on to bear witness in a magnificent passage about “woods decaying, never to be decayed, / The stationary blasts of waterfalls,” etc. All that appears and occurs in the natural environment turns out to be an integrated set of “types and symbols of Eternity.” Nature had seemed to disappoint – but the disappointment is overcome by an imaginative burst and a reflection upon that burst, which results in a sublime passage that combines description, typology, and prophesy. We might say that imagination and then poetic utterance have rescued nature from its own limitations and finitude, or perhaps that imagination and poetic utterance have reoriented us towards the proper way of perceiving and communing with the natural world. Is this a way of saying that “in our life alone does Nature live,” to borrow a line from Coleridge’s “Dejection: an Ode”? The entire episode may be cast as a meditation on sublimity: and the poet’s romantic realization is Kantian in its implications – sublimity’s seat is in the human mind, not in nature itself. But Wordsworth, being a poet of nature, of course, and not a philosopher like Kant, gives more credit to the natural environment: if you recognize the source of sublime experience, nature will respond; she will show you and tell you what you want to see and hear. Kant implies a correspondence between mind and natural things that accounts for our capacity to render the world intelligible, but in a poet such as Wordsworth this correspondence is treated in a vital manner, given more of an emotional emphasis.

I recall that deconstructive critic Paul de Man reflects on the way Wordsworth’s “romantic rhetoric” tries to overcome the effects of time and space and suggest a sense of eternity and infinitude in nature’s processiveness – but in the end a careful reading shows that his verse re-invokes what it would banish. The simple point is that it’s inevitable we should confound language and “the world,” supposing that our efforts in language have somehow explained and exalted the realm of things. Part of the poet’s strategy of overcoming is to displace his experience in nature to sublime words, which become the object of meditation and sustenance, the source of romantic optimism about man and nature alike. The experience of nature (in perception and as event) then retains its value as the source, in turn, of this “transformational translation” from things to words, simultaneously canceling and preserving what has been displaced.

Book 7

How to make sense of London’s barbarous din, its riotous sights, sounds, amusements? It takes a poet to raise a village into unity, according to this selection. Wordsworth’s eye construes the scenes – all that human diversity in appearance, a maelstrom of incompatible desires – with the kind of eye he describes in “Tintern Abbey” (one made steady and tranquil by Nature). Partly what’s interesting about this passage is its affinity with Baudelaire’s ideas in The Painter of Modern Life about the artist’s need to venture into the crowd, and catch a sense of permanence from ephemeral sights and sounds. What allies both authors is the belief that an artist shouldn’t reject the human world for the solitude of nature – this isn’t something new to the immediate precursors of modernism; we can find it as an element in the British romantics. Even so, of course, it’s also clear that with Wordsworth and his colleagues, the master of clarity and the repository of the eternal and infinite isn’t London; it’s the natural environment that primarily and most intensely inspires us, sustaining us when we venture into great cities. But a question to raise might be, “what about the ‘lower minds’” who are experiencing the whirl of Bartholomew Fair pretty much “as-is,” without the steadiness the speaker brings to his experience? What do they get from it all? Something like animal pleasure? Certainly not intelligibility or a sense of unity, to judge from this episode. The oneness available to them, I think, is that of “trivial objects, melted and reduced / To one identity, by differences / That have no law, no meaning, and no end….” To look on that scene too long would “weary” the ordinary eye.

Book 8

The shepherd here appears as a purified type of humanity, though subordinate to nature in Wordsworth’s affections. Wordsworth often exalts imagination over nature, but on the other, he sometimes grants nature great significance, especially by comparison to his interactions with other human beings. The point here is that Wordsworth expresses his thanks that early experiences with other people came to him in the form of innocent shepherds, and this memory of a purer kind of humanity is something he finds sustaining later on. As always (see 342-47), the capacity to enjoy nature for its own sake isn’t so much a capacity we have at birth, but rather a capacity we develop as we grow up and begin to move away from thoughtless immersion in our natural surroundings – to appreciate “Nature … / For her own sake” requires that you be able to differentiate between your own self-absorbed pursuits and natural processes going on around you. As we begin to separate from nature, we may (if our upbringing and conditions are right) appreciate it all the more. This notion brings Wordsworth closer to Coleridge on the issue of philosophical reflection than is usually apparent: nature is a vision and an experience that is only fully appreciated at some remove.

Book 9

In this selection, Wordsworth moves to Paris just in time to sample the revolutionary ferment – it must be right before the massacres of September 1792. He becomes a patriot, supporting the ordinary people’s cause after having dabbled in high society for a time. His detachment from the great events is worth noting – Wordsworth is an Englishman sojourning in France during its time of promise and crisis, so it takes a while for his affections to take root in the common people’s cause.

Book 10

Here Wordsworth, by now a passionate supporter of the Revolution, must confront Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, culminating in 1794. It is a violent shock for a British citizen to realize that his country is at war with a nation whose ideals and promise he reveres; worse yet, that nation begins to betray its own progress, descending into giddy genocide. Wordsworth seems to experience the period of 1792-94 as one of deep personal crisis. He sounds alienated from his own countrymen and from France as well, where his favored Girondins have lost their battle with Jacobin extremists. Paris is “Defenceless as a wood where Tygers roam.” The phrase reminds me of Blake’s “tyger burning bright” – the Revolution has become a sublime terror from which Wordsworth withdraws into his own nightmares, his own anguished soul. The quotation from Macbeth at line 87 is apt—the Revolution is as starkly transformed at this period as is the character of Macbeth, whose violent act against Duncan transforms him all at once from a loyal (and rather introspective) thane with a great future before him to a cold-blooded murderer. We are confronted in the play, of course, with the Augustinian truth that “sin generates its own consequences” and traps the sinner in adamantine chains of spiritual error. By implication, there’s no more use for philosophical excuse-making – it will not reverse the chain of events; Macbeth’s own further introspections during his crisis do nothing to save him since his path is already set – blood draws on blood. Wordsworth experiences this in his nightmares – his “orations” (411) in the name of moderation and recuperation accomplish nothing but his own desolate confusion.

Book 11

Wordsworth describes the split psyche he experienced during the breakdown of the Revolution’s initial high hopes. He plays the critic with social theories, and for a time seems convinced that Reason must be abstracted into an isolated ground for faith in human progress. Reason, he comes to believe, must be separated from the passions and made an object of the passions. But that is an extreme position, and easily leads to advocacy of the greatest violence as in the case of Robespierre himself: a fanatic for Reason. The point, in any case, is that events warp a somewhat naïve Wordsworth’s ideas and feelings and lead him to a period of intense speculation, which ends only in despair – he abandons reason altogether when it is most needed. I think the movement is circumscribed as follows: initial denial of a conflict between ideals and events, and then a rather extreme flight into speculative fancy to deal with the conflict when it has become too obvious to ignore; finally, the radical poet throws up his hands over the whole affair because there’s no resting place in sight. At last, Dorothy comes to him at Racedown and reminds him that after all, his vocation is poetry, not political philosophy or direct action.

Book 12

Wordsworth returns to the blessings of the “correspondent breeze” (in its various degrees) that has been operating all through his life. Nature has always been a presence for him, a “counterpoise” (41), even when he was trying to get away from it by means of immersion in politics or grand philosophical notions, or foolish critical overemphasis on “the picturesque,” or when he was preoccupied or otherwise troubled with the world.

Wordsworth connects the C18 cult of the picturesque with the tyranny of the eye, “The most despotic of our senses” (129). In general – and before we move to the role of vision in art—why is the eye the most domineering of the five senses? Well, the simplest way to appreciate this claim is to point out that, if confronted with the hypothetical loss of any one sense, most healthy people will say they’re most afraid of losing their eyesight – losing our hearing, our sense of smell, tactile sensation, or taste, would be unfortunate, but we could still get by without one or more of them. Beethoven, after all, had gone completely deaf by the time he composed his Ninth Symphony. But take away our vision, and “how great is that darkness,” as the Gospel says! The point is that most of our sense of reality, of “how the world is,” comes from what we take in with our eyes. The empirical tradition from Sir Francis Bacon on through John Locke and afterwards posits that all of our knowledge initially comes from sensory perceptions – our senses give us “data” from a world that is what it is before we even come to it, and then our mind’s faculties set to work combining (“associating”) and arranging that objective data so that we can render the world intelligible. Simple perception lies at the basis of what we call “thought,” and our eyes are the most powerful data-gathering instruments our bodies have. Yet these instruments by no means rescue us from the dilemma that philosophers who find the empirical tradition oppressive identify: the eye is yet another mechanical device that remains entirely dependent on the external world for its information. Nature is the superior here – not human beings.

That sense of inferiority, that threat of being overwhelmed by the world or enslaved to it, can be overcome in part by positing that Reason raises us above mere nature, but such a strategy of overcoming seems to swing too far in the opposite direction – that is, it seems arrogant of us to be so dismissive of the natural world in order to privilege one of our own capacities. Lord Bacon was wise to call the grandiose thought-systems Reason builds up so many “cobwebs” to be cleared away before humanity could begin the search for genuine understanding.

But let’s move on and discuss Wordsworth’s problem with his brief infatuation with “the picturesque” in painting. The picturesque is, we might say, a gentrified or tidied-up version of sublime experience: to borrow from the framework of John Ruskin in Modern Painters (a good article on Ruskin and the picturesque may be viewed at http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ruskin/atheories/3.2.html; on the picturesque more generally, see http://www.laits.utexas.edu/sisterarts/picturesque/picPaintIndex.htm) the picturesque singles out certain kinds of “roughness” (of line and color, for example) in natural scenes; it glories in the broken or irregular places of nature, in the ruins of cottages and stately buildings, etc., making them pleasant objects of perception at an appropriately “aesthetic” distance. Furthermore, the artist and perceiver collaborate to blend in a degree of moral tone and sentiment with this prettified depiction of a rough natural scene. A well-done picturesque scene is certainly a fine thing to behold, but romantic authors like Wordsworth seem to dwell more upon what is lost than what is gained. Why? Well, because a picturesque painter seems to be drawing attention more to his own clever way of dealing with the rough places of nature and the quaintness of humanity than with the objects themselves – the picturesque, in other words, involves an essentially reductive “taming” of what is wild; it probably also amounts to a narrowing of vision to things that are only “a little bit wild” in the first place. (I’m not an expert on the visual arts, so perhaps someone who knows more than I do about picturesque painting would disagree on that last point.) It seems as if, however pleasantly the task is accomplished, picturesque art mixes rather reductive acts of “seeing” with already familiar ethical principles that are in turn linked to fashionable doctrines about the value of emotional response. None of this seems particularly imaginative, and even if the artist manages to overcome what might be disturbing in nature or in human scenes, the cost is explainable in the philosophical terms mentioned above: the painter of picturesques enlists “reason” as an instrument with which to subordinate nature, to “see” it in a way that ultimately isn’t seeing at all. The eye here is the slave of the intellect and its fashionable doctrines, with the appropriately sanctioned sentiments obediently coming along for the carriage-ride. The picturesque-seeking eye is tyrannous because it reduces the variety and uniqueness of natural objects to order, even if it admits a dollop of roughness to that order. We feel at home with a partially “methodized” nature; we feel superior to our surroundings without being truly creative.

The British romantics generally distrust such tidy ways of seeing. Blake says in his Annotations on the Work of Joshua Reynolds that a real artist must “look thro’ (i.e. “through”) the eye and not with it.” To look with the eye would be to accept the passive mind / objective nature scheme of the empirical philosophers, and we know that Blake is always taking aim at the Unholy Trinity of “Bacon, Newton & Locke,” whom he considers advocates of our enslavement to a dead world of “little things” and to an equally tyrannical and duplicitous agent of overcoming that world, Reason. To see rather through the eye, in Blake’s terms, would be to give imagination or truly poetic vision its due. When Coleridge writes in “Dejection: an Ode” that “in our life alone does nature live,” he must mean something similar – imagination brings an otherwise dead world to life; we realize the excellence and “unity-in-multeity” of nature, and thereby do something for nature that it cannot do for itself. A generous act of imaginative vision helps us to complete the creation God generously began, if we want to employ directly theological terms. And the same is true of the following fine passage in Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” “we are laid asleep / In body, and become a living soul: / While with an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, / We see into the life of things” (45-49). One cannot achieve this kind of epiphany with a merely empirical eye – with that kind, we see only in order not to see at all, to become comfortable with the world’s objects, to regularize them into familiar and useful constellations.

But to return to Book 12 of The Prelude, Wordsworth pays his respects to his wife, Mary Hutchinson (a companion since childhood), who, in the presence of nature, “welcomed what was given and craved no more” (158). Right afterwards, he explains how a properly functioning imagination sanctifies and “stores up” what is given to the eye – a process most unlike the merely picturesque: “there are in our existence spots of time” (208), writes Wordsworth, and he goes on to extol their restorative virtues and give a few examples of what he means. From around 225-71, he describes paired experiences that go together to make up a spot of time, or perhaps two closely related spots: first there is the haunted scene where a murderer was hanged long ago, and an impressionable young Wordsworth sees a girl straining to keep a pitcher upright as she makes her way through a strong wind. But later visits with Mary Hutchinson at his side make that same dreary place a cheerful one, and “So feeling comes in aid / Of feeling, and diversity of strength / Attends us, if but once we have been strong.”

It seems that both the “visionary dreariness” (256) and the subsequent “golden gleam” (266) are vital to Wordsworth’s imaginative fiber – both combinations of remarkable scenery and strong feeling will stay with him and remain associated agents of restoration for his soul. They are spots of time, I think, because they are so suffused with imagination and a sense of consequentiality that they stand outside the ordinary flow of temporality – in essence, Wordsworth is describing a religious moment of epiphany, an instant in which the usual limitations imposed upon us by time fall away and we make contact with absolutes, with the ultimate significance of our lives, even, perhaps, with God. From the ephemeral comes something permanent, and we hold on to it for the rest of our days. Perhaps this is another way of demonstrating our superiority to nature (the romantics are often accused of doing this at nature’s expense, or at the expense of proper regard for nature, to speak more accurately). But at least, Wordsworth, might say, it comes closer to being an earned superiority than the lesser and more contrived way of achieving it on display in the picturesque (which subordinates the scene to one-dimensional Reason and to trivialized sentiment – something like C18 “Chicken Soup for the Soul”). I’ll let Wordsworth speak for himself: the spot of time “This efficacious Spirit chiefly lurks / Among those passages of life that give / Profoundest knowledge how and to what point / The mind is lord and master – outward sense / The obedient Servant of her will” (219-23).

Book 12’s concluding spot of time (287-335) has to do with a prospect on a windswept summit only a short time before the schoolboy Wordsworth returned home from Hawkshead only to lose his sole remaining parent, his father. He had looked forward impatiently to spending the holidays at home, and had no idea what would await him not long after he made it there. The scene certainly speaks to what Dr. Johnson would call “the vanity of human wishes” – just the sort of sad uncertainty that the Preacher in Ecclesiastes keeps telling us is fundamental to the human condition. But at the same time, the scene and the strong feelings inextricably blended with it turn out to be “kindred spectacles and sounds” to which Wordsworth would often return and “drink / As at a fountain” (325-26). The tempest on that barren Crag is yet another one of the “correspondent breezes” with which Book 12 began, sustaining the speaker’s inner life with a mysterious kind of reciprocity: “thou must give, / Else never canst receive” (276-77).

Book 13

Wordsworth writes that nature gives both the energy to seek truth and the tranquility to receive it. It serves the religious function of attuning human ambitions to aims not discordant with humility (this is like Augustine’s notion of the need to align one’s will to god’s plan). Nature teaches us as well to value “a temperate shew / Of objects that endure” (31-32), which gives us our basis for a return to the human realm, knowing now what we are to seek there. Wordsworth’s clarification of his poetic task is as bold as Milton’s reorientation of his own task as an epic poet to the fall of Eve and Adam: “Argument / Not less but more Heroic then the wrath / Of stern Achilles” (Paradise Lost, beginning of Book 9), and the aim is similar: “That justice may be done, obeisance paid / Where it is due” (Prelude 13.236-37). Justice is to be done, that is, to the human heart itself, just as Milton meant to “justify the ways of God to men.” The vision of Salisbury Plain that follows (311 onward) is an instance of imagination working on ordinary things – in this case on ancient ruins; but most significantly, it is (as Coleridge had implied) an example of the particular insight and gift for which Wordsworth has been praying – he wants to speak and write like a prophet, and here he has brought the distant past to life, drawing an extraordinary and inspiring human vision from bare stone.

One other passage worth noting is 282-292, lines that prepare the way for Wordsworth’s declaration of his hopes for that special poetic gift. The speaker says that while the “visible form” of external things is mainly what passion makes of them, there is another, perhaps more Platonic, kind of form to be reckoned with: “the forms / Of Nature have a passion in themselves / That intermingles with those works of man / To which she summons him” (289-92). I find this passage similar in implication to what Wordsworth writes about “the beautiful and permanent forms of nature” in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads.” These eternal and invisible forms mingle with the primary human passions and are indeed the source of what is permanent in us. As Wordsworth becomes more orthodox in his religious views, I suppose he would say that these forms are that element of nature in which God allows something of himself to be discerned, at least indirectly.

Book 14

The passages on the ascension of Mount Snowdon in Wales rivals in its implications and intensity that of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc.” The moon (and perhaps the roar of waters flowing down) is taken by the speaker to be “the type / Of a majestic Intellect” (66-67) reflecting on its own infinite and eternal being, and “transcendent power / In sense” flows without interruption, it seems, to “ideal form” (75-76). The whole scene is described as a “Resemblance” (89) of the power of sovereign human imagination, which seeks everywhere the image of itself. In this final book, there is no doubt that mind or imagination is superior to the world of nature; this statement of superiority encompasses the gentle reciprocity between mind and nature so often invoked at various points in The Prelude. Apparently, though nature is the source or our being, that being comes to supercede the source; only mind can truly appreciate the glories of nature.

Wordsworth also addresses in this book the relative value of the beautiful and the sublime, which he deals with by way of the terms “love” and “fear.” Nature gives rise to both feelings in its presence, but ultimately love subsumes fear and transvalues it – the Norton editors equate this movement to Milton’s justification of evil and pain by reference to the ultimate redemption of mankind. That makes sense to me since, at base, romantic optimism is recuperative. It teaches us to reorient our understanding of our relationship to the natural world. Both fear and love have taught Wordsworth not to stray too long or far from his source, which is nature. In the 1850 version, this source is allied with orthodox divinity. Imagination is vital to the “spiritual love” that arises when one experiences the most joyful events and scenes in nature, whereby we are raised to contemplation of our relationship with God.

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