Formal Remainders: Wordsworth, Brevity, and Being Cut Short

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This paper reconsiders a shrinking set of Lucy poems from Lyrical Ballads (1800) in light of the longer ballad that precedes them: “Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle.” Here Wordsworth thematizes death through a constellation of always working but not always living bodies. Moving throughout the corpus of each poem, these bodies embark upon trajectories not marked off by life but designated more simply by movement itself, by the turns and lines that shape the dead as well as the living. Be it the affect of the flesh, the linear gait of a horse, the orbit of the moon, or even the muted work of figures newly mantled by the earth, each metaphorical turn shadows the aesthetic work demanded by each line. Scripting a counter-intuitive formulation—you think that lyric poems are about people, they’re not—the poems reclaim the human body for deep time and ultimately announce the limits of what poetry and humanity as a whole can do.

Formal Remainders: Wordsworth, Brevity, and Being Cut Short [1] 

Michele Speitz
Furman University


How do we distinguish one face or countenance from another, but by the bounding line and its infinite inflexions and movements? … Leave out this line, and you leave out life itself; all is chaos again, and the line of the almighty must be drawn out upon it before man or beast can exist.

– William Blake, “Descriptive Catalogue” (58).

Death is afterwards sketched out with a no less bold and original pencil.

– Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (268).

1.         In the trinity of Lucy poems housed adjacent to one another in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth thematizes death within a constellation of always working but not always living bodies. [2]  Moving throughout the corpus of each poem, they embark upon trajectories not marked off by life but designated more simply by the turns and lines that shape the dead as well as the living. [3]  Be it the affect of the flesh, the linear gait of a horse, the orbit of the moon, or even the muted work of figures newly mantled by the earth, each metaphorical turn shadows the aesthetic work demanded by each line. [4]  Life is short, and poetry offers itself as eternal; therefore, life is a poor subject even for Romantic poetry, and Wordsworth’s way around this is to focus attention on inanimate objects as a way of metonymically reflecting the human back on to itself. Scripting a counter-intuitive formulation—you think that lyric poems are about people, they’re not—the poems exhibit a Wordsworthian geo-poetics that reclaims the human body for deep time and that ultimately announces the limits of what poetry and humanity as a whole can do. [5]  Wordsworth does not offer us a Keatsian claim that “Thou wast not born for death,” but rather a recognition that death is another turn in a story longer than the single human life (“Ode to a Nightingale” 61).

2.         Here I’ll consider one poem in full, “Strange fits of passion I have known,” but honoring the arrangement of these lyrical ballads and plumbing what Alan Liu calls their rich economy of shared images, my reading of moving bodies necessarily begins at an end (351). [6]  I start with the closing of the poem preceding “Strange fits of passion,” the finale of “Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle,” which paints the death of two lovers, Ellen and Adam Bruce. The poem’s curtain falls upon two graves, not two bodies, conceding the relative brevity of human life by commemorating their final remains, by highlighting the ground that holds them and the stones that remember them:

Now ye who willingly have heard
The tale I have been telling,
May in Kirkonnel church-yard view
The grave of lovely Ellen:
By Ellen’s side the Bruce is laid,
And, for the stone upon his head,
May no rude hand deface it,
And its forlorn HIC JACET. (49-56)

3.        Significantly, because of how Wordsworth arrays the words on the page, the reader ends with a capitalized “HIC JACET” (56). Laying directly above these words, and plotted directly behind the Latinate phrase meaning “here lies,” are emblems of the material but fleeting body that lies beneath them; the reader first encounters a negative image in “deface” with its evocation of a decaying visage, followed by “his head,” and then the depths where “the Bruce is laid;” each line of verse transforms into a virtual layer of dust that increasingly obscures the legibility of this body and its history (55, 54, 53). At the same time, as the entire body of Adam Bruce seems to fade further from the metaphorical surface, it is the most detailed remainder of the head and the threat of defacement that hover nearest to the headstone. The carved stone by proxy now carries the impossible task of offering a kind of legibility once manifested by a whole body, by the shape of a head, by the unique contours of one’s visage. After hoping that gentle readers might behold the graves of these lost lovers, the poetic persona makes its final request: “May no rude hand deface it / And its forlorn [here lies].” In this closing stanza, an insistent “Now” in the mouth of the lyric speaker gives way to what is only conjectural, to a couple of “May[s]” that betray an overriding sense of vulnerability and insecurity. Abandoning the body and its name to a space now lines away, Wordsworth privileges a phrase—“here lies”—that is both a place and an act, as the poem worries about immediacy and permanence, legibility and indeterminacy.

4.         These lines detail how we record the loss of human life, how the earth records it with bodies laid down side by side. Now marked, the future history of this body is hefted upon once fallow earth and stone. Yet the monumental charge of the Wordsworthian page differs from that of the headstone. The reader does not finally alight upon the name of an individual. The poet casts off the more reportable history of a man to face the more conjectural and foreign story of one’s remains. By lastly announcing the condition and placement of the body, its lying in the earth—in another language no less—the author stresses the limit of what language can capture and throws into question what we can hope to know about our own or any posthumous lying. If “here lies” is a place and an action, then laying to rest, which seems an end, is also the beginning of a defacement, a decay that gives birth, perhaps, to new life.

5.         Each of the following Lucy poems expands upon this model, though each one decreases in length, shrinking from 28, to 12, to 8 lines. In effect sketching a literary equivalent to withdrawing half-lives, each engages less and less with an individuated entity by the name of Lucy, and more and more with only the suggestion of the body as an ever-diminishing remainder of mortal life. [7]  The point to bear in mind is that death and elegy in these works rarely signal the end as much as they mark beginnings or continuances with varying degrees of human legibility. Wordsworth dramatizes loss of life in terms of ongoing actions. Tracking how Wordsworth narrativizes bodies in motion—particularly after he presents Adam Bruce’s body beginning its process of decay—allows for a consideration of these works that avoids a common hermeneutical snare.

6.         To illustrate that trap, in her examination of “Formalism and Time,” Catherine Gallagher offers that critics are perhaps influenced by Romantic poets who privilege epiphanic immediacy over the banalities of diachronic narrative.

The unending is not figured in the sand that ‘paves’ the ceaseless movement of the sea but is instead imagined as the submerged and effaced mark in the sand of a passing air current over the waters. The figure indicates an event so brief that it seems almost to participate in a negative temporality, to be over before it has begun; by the time the wrinkle has formed at the bottom of the water, the wind on its surface has ceased to be. (235)
While here she takes aim at Percy Shelley, she ultimately points to Aristotle’s Poetics for engendering this temporal bias, for ranking poetry above plot and history (234). Taking issue with what she calls “stop-action” analyses, Gallagher prescribes the following: “if we are ever to develop a concept of length that includes analytic insights into the temporal nature of narrative” we must shed our preoccupation with epiphany; we must become “less enamored of the end” (251). Wordsworth, for one, offers a corrective to this case. His lyric is ever a ballad, yoked not only to the contracted moment but also to the unfurling story. The unending—not an eternal place but an incomplete tale—may not be “figured in the sand” but it is deposited into the plot of this earth, figured in the alternating terrestrial orbs that populate this compressed sequence of lyrical ballads.

7.         Emphasizing movements inextricable from successive moments, Wordsworth reconciles the incongruent durations of human, animal, and stone. The unfolding sequence of poems counterintutively deploys a decreasing number of lines to highlight a broadening acknowledgment of deep time and geological process. Making full use of the lyrical ballad’s temporal hybridity, where it is home to the ephemeral and the enduring, with each poem Wordsworth revalues movements and events occurring both above and below the earth.

8.         “Strange fits of passion” picks up roughly where Wordsworth left off in “Ellen Irwin.” Framed by the setting of the previous narrative, its buried lovers and defenseless headstone, this poem continues a study of death, love, and language. As a tale of passions felt and daringly told, as a tale designated for “the lover’s ear alone,” it calls attention to the sensual textures of vocalization, listening, and reading (3). Also with this phrase, the text makes a lover of any reader, and importantly, of every reader. The poem ironizes the intimacy shared within the private economy of two lovers, suggestively redirecting the charged proximities and distances of lyricized lovers to the seemingly trivial arenas of motion and stillness, sound and absence.

9.         Following suit, the first stanza hazards to disclose not simply how these odd “fits” became “known,” but also what so movingly “bef[alls]” the lyric persona (1, 4).

Strange fits of passion I have known,
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befel.
When she I lov’d, was strong and gay
And like a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath the evening moon. (1-8)
Kinesthetically echoing the pulsating iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines of the poem and its back-and-forth abab rhyme scheme, “Strange fits of passion” first “befel” the lyric voice, pressing down as if with the unwavering force of gravity, only to be buoyed by a soundscape that acoustically registers singer and lover alike arising in June (4-5). The levity of this buried pun too is short-lived, and by the close of the stanza the lyric subject is “bent,” sandwiched “Beneath the evening moon” and the earth, but all the while “on [his] way” (7, 8, 7). This gesture establishes the poem’s rhythm of rise and fall, and, thus, the following segment flirts with fixity only to undercut it. As the reader works from line to line, the Wordsworthian wayfarer struggles forward, “fix[ing an] eye” onto a likewise travelling moon (9, 10-12). And again, the opening of stanza five suggests punctuated fits and starts that ultimately lead to a story of enduring movements: the horse’s labors, with its ceaseless trudging, grants nearer proximity to familiar paths that lead unsurprisingly to another plot, a plot soon knitted to Lucy’s future home in the earth but that is more quickly wedded through rhyme to a span above ground, to Lucy’s cot (13, 15).

10.         This lyrical ballad becomes a Wordsworthian model of the ebb and flow of existence, lodging Lucy, the horse, and the lyric speaker into its rolling abab lines, where they work against stasis and counterpoise the moon, now figured above the earth, now below, all granted only the illusion of stillness. Each oscillates back and forth, moving with the natural arc of a sine curve either in the form of bodies transiting above and below the horizon or as bodies transforming above and below the ground: “[W]e climb’d the hill, / […] The moon descended still;” even in sleep coupled with dream, “Nature’s gentlest [uplifting] boon” finds its complement in the pull of “the descending moon” (14, 16, 17-20). And further still, a horse rises, a planet drops (21-2, 24). A readerly pairing of Lucy’s life exclusively with the moon that deserts the wanderer overlooks the wider company of sojourners Wordsworth juxtaposes with this “planet,” and furthermore misses the point. Just as promiscuously as the poem makes a lover of every reader, it also attunes joint narrative trajectories of man, animal, and rocky globe—all fittingly enough for lyric—against the measure of movement and a line. The poem spins a ballad of its various hard working, ceaselessly moving voyagers, lovers, animals, and planets all read relative to potentialities only made possible by a line—the line of the horizon, the surface of the earth, each stroke of verse. In recognizing the line, the limit, we glimpse life beyond man’s limitations, not just a human end, but a seemingly never-ending story of the motion of earth and all its living things.

11.         A parallel emerges in the poem, yoking the migratory pattern of the lyric subject to patterns of language and thought. At the beginning of the journey narrative, when the traveller first bends his way and first spies the moon, the momentum of the poetic lines next leads to a “wide lea” (10), that is, to “a tract of open ground, either meadow, pasture, or arable land” (OED “lea,” n.1). In the long tradition of elegiac verse, “lea” recurrently figures a meadowed clearing. [8]  One way to account for this word’s ubiquity within elegy and its broader association with the graveyard would be that in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the word also evoked the scythe. Lea-sands and lea-stones were common scythe sharpeners (OED “lea,” n.3). While “lea” widely stood for a clearing, a 1781 glossary entry for this term lists only scythe (Hutton 92). Thus, during this period “lea” signifies on at least these two levels: it is a plot of unsown earth giving rise to wild grasses; it is a tool used to cut down what rises from the earth. It scaffolds life and takes life; it is the expanse and the edge.

12.         Quite aptly then, the quatrain that bears this term arranges the traveller’s course. The earthly plane on which the “horse trudg’d on” appears already to tug on both animal and man. Pointedly, “All [occurs] over the wide lea,” over a field of fallow earth couched in one of the least resolvable lines of the poem.

Upon the moon I fix’d my eye,
All over the wide lea;
My horse trudg’d on, and we drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me. (9-12)
The significance of this earth, requisite with its seductive, gravitational pull, suggestively recalls the final lines of the ballad of Ellen Irwin, its graves and its inadequate surface reminder of what remains resident in the earth. Wordsworth neatly deposits the sweeping indeterminacy of the phrase “All over the wide lea” into the brief space of a trimeter line. A compressed, janus-headed line and phrase, it doubles as both surface of play and receding yet inescapable horizon. For, all of us as readers, as lovers, trudging in tow with itinerant and horse “All over the wide lea,” for each of us, sojourners all, “we draw nigh those paths so dear,” we draw ever closer to an intimate but otherwise unknowable, unutterable, and illegible earthly futurity.

13.         Under the rubric established by “All over the wide lea,” moving bodies that to the reader’s ear “rose in June” bend back and promise to move anew. The capacious aesthetic of this stanza joins the only other stanza that is punctuated by expansive colons and semicolons and that explicitly figures the work of the horse in terms of trudging or moving on. The penultimate stanza pulses with both epiphanic and prosaic temporalities. Alternatingly, the lines harness the rhythm of the lyrical ballad’s contracting and expanding gait to reveal a horse that does not stop for death.

My horse mov’d on ; hoof after hoof
He rais’d and never stopp’d :
When down behind the cottage roof
At once the planet dropp’d. (20-24)
Even though—and as, and after—the planet drops, the horse moves, something remains. The simultaneity afforded by poetic syntax enables Wordsworth to draft a horse that endures even with irreconcilable loss.

14.         Bearing in mind the distinct nature of the plane on which the horse rides, that of the earth that pulls it and entreats it to return, Wordsworth’s horse in motion resembles the final stanza’s “fond and wayward thoughts” that likewise operate along a plane, “slid[ing] / Into a Lover’s head” (25-26). These are fond thoughts precisely because they are wayward, anticipating death, the ultimate union with nature, the transformation promised by a lea that is always both loam and sickle. Here Wordsworth installs a visual pun, one that blurs easy distinctions between life and line, one that refuses to reduce linearity to mere flattening. With horse and thought driving parallel trajectories, thoughts wanted and unwanted find their way into the “Lover’s head,” bodies work like poetry moving hoof after hoof, foot after foot all along the way, the line, the wide lea. And adjacent to this lover’s head is just that, the extended space of a long, silent dash, the writer’s penned equivalent to a marked but unspeakable expanse that recalls not just the surface of the earth, but also what traveled above and what turns below:

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover’s head—
“O mercy!” to myself I cried,
“If Lucy should be dead!” (25-28)
Finally the poem transitions into the high lyric mode of the apostrophic. An expression of the mind intrudes upon what is otherwise a catalogue of the overlap between life and death, aesthetically restyled in terms of emergence and retreat. Wordsworth transports the reader to “what might be called a timeless present but is better seen as a temporality of writing” (Culler 149). The apostrophe is a verbal event, one that for Jonathan Culler “stages the drama of the mind” and harbors a deep “connection” to “embarrassment” (148, 140). For Culler “to apostrophize is to will a state of affairs;” at issue is the “power of poetry to make something happen” (139, 140). The indiscreet call of the lyric voice—“‘O mercy!’ to myself I cried, / ‘If Lucy should be dead!’”—could seem a blot upon the page, particularly a page that sang elegy as a song between separated lovers and danced death along the arc of revolving bodies (27-28).

15.        This embarrassing blot might be read two ways. For most, this final cry is a loving and foolish exclamation of a wayward lover who has so identified the traveling moon with his pursuit of Lucy that the loss of one prompts the fear of the loss of the other at the very moment when the lover can make real his fits of passion. But the “should” might be read as an ethical imperative: it is right and a mercy that Lucy be dead, perhaps because the lover cannot bear to invest so much passion in what is after all only the fit of a fleeting life. We seem caught between sophomoric illusion and narcissistic sadism.

16.         Yet, knowingly or unknowingly Wordsworth leaves us another way. The root of the term “lea” is either “leuq- to shine (whence Latin lūcēre , English light … [as in a] clearing);” or it comes from the Greek and Latin “leu” meaning “to loosen” (OED). The history of the word “lea” is bound to light and looseness, both of which resonate associatively and acoustically in the name Lucy. If Lucy goes, with Lucy goes the lea, the clearing on the ground, the wild grasses, and the scythe. With Lucy goes the expanse and the edge at home in the lyrical ballad. How does one account for or begin to express the loss of the play of light, the end of the play of the line, the loss of the looseness and pliability necessary to defend against the ultimate stopping, not death but fixity? How does the poem find itself half in love with unceasing death while fighting fixity to the very death?

17.         If the apostrophic mode “makes a spectacle” of both the speaker and “the event which the poem is attempting to be” (Culler 142, 149), then this verbal blush is for verse itself. The vocative act self-effacingly announces poetry’s own horizon. Although the poem centers around recycling, revolving bodies and repatterning lines, the call at the end of the poem underscores an insufficiency at home even in the expansive agency of lyric. [9]  In terms both poetic and planetary, each horizontal trudging and rising invites and propels a turn toward a wordless, vertiginous depth. “Here lies” seems to signal a fixed end against which continuation appears as defacement, but the Lucy poems explore a larger ecology of movement that repositions human life and death within the course of animal kind, the trajectory of planets, what Shelley would call “The everlasting universe of things” (“Mont Blanc” 1). It is not that the loss is denied. Here even poetry is not sufficient to alleviate the psychic toll of experiencing, working through, and recognizing the ongoing limitedness that underpins each enduring movement. While poetry may grant its readers a reprieve from various fixed ends, it cannot erase the brevity of a life, the precarity of each line, all over the wide lea. Wordsworth cannot preserve Lucy without losing her. [10]  Poetry cannot detach the scythe from the lea without forgetting itself. What it remembers and re-members is a humanity that finally belongs not just to human words such as “here lies” but also to the more than human “diurnal course,” pursued by earth, “rolled round” “With rocks, and stones, and trees” (“A slumber did my spirit seal” 7, 8).

Works Cited

Culler, Jonathan. “Apostrophe.” The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1981. Print.

Gallagher, Catherine. “Formalism and Time.” MLQ 61.1 (2000): 229-251. Print.

Gray, Thomas. Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard. Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. David Fairer and Christine Gerrard. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 354-358. Print.

Hutton, John. A Tour to the Caves, in the Environs of Ingleborough and Settle, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. London: Richardson and Urquhart, under the Royal Exchange; J. Robson, New Bond Street; and W. Pennington, Kendal, 1781. Print.

Janowitz, Anne. Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.

Jarvis, Simon. “Thinking in Verse.” Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry. Eds. James Chandler and Maureen McLane. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 98-116. Print.

Kaufman, Robert. “Lyric’s Constellation, Poetry’s Radical Privilege.” Modernist Cultures 1.2 (2005): 209-234. Print.

---. “Lyric’s Expression: Musicality, Conceptuality, Critical Agency.” Cultural Critique 60.3 (2005): 197-216. Print.

Keach, William. “Rethinking Romantic Poetry and History.” Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 217-238. Print.

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” Keats’s Poetry and Prose. Ed. Jeffrey N. Cox. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. 456-460. Print.

“lea, n.1”. OED Online. June 2013. Oxford UP. 5 July 2013. Web.

“lea, n.3”. OED Online. June 2013. Oxford UP. 5 July 2013. Web.

Levinson, Marjorie. “Notes and Queries on Names and Numbers.” Romantic Circles Praxis Series (2013): 1-35. Web.

Liu, Alan. Wordsworth: The Sense of History. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1989. Print.

Murray, Chris. “Coleridge and ‘Real Life’ Tragedy.” The Coleridge Bulletin 29 (2007): 50-64. Print.

Percy, Thomas. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: Consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs and Other Pieces of Our Earlier Poets, Together with Some Few of Later Date. Philadelphia: F. Bell; Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co., 1855. 427-428. Print.

Shelley, Percy. “Mont Blanc.” Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. Eds. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. 96-101. Print.

Stewart, Susan. “Romantic Meter and Form.” Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry. Eds. James Chandler and Maureen McLane. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 53-75. Print.

Wolfson, Susan. Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1997. Print.

Wordsworth, William. “Ellen Irwin, or The Braes of Kirtle.” Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797-1800. Eds. James Butler and Karen Green. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992. 159-161. Print.

---. “She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways.” Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797-1800. Eds. James Butler and Karen Green. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992. 163. Print.

---. “Strange fits of passion I have known.” Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797-1800. Eds. James Butler and Karen Green. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992. 161-162. Print.

---. “A slumber did my spirit seal.” Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797-1800. Eds. James Butler and Karen Green. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992. 164. Print.

Notes

[1] I would like to thank Jeffrey N. Cox, William H. Galperin, Michael Gamer, Daniel O’Quinn, Aaron Ottinger, and Jordan Alexander Stein for their questions and contributions. My gratitude equally extends to David L. Clark and Jacques Khalip for inviting me to participate in their NASSR 2013 Special Session: “Brevity.” BACK

[2] The question of Lucy’s body and its seemingly absent presence is an old but recurrent problem. To address this puzzle, I move that we turn to a familiar Wordsworthian sourcebook: Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. In it we find the poem titled “Lucy and Colin” by Thomas Tickell Esq. that prefigures concerns central to “Strange fits of passion” and that will find its echo in the buried lovers of “Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle.” More specifically, the following lines suggest that Wordsworth follows Percy in his concern over the play and movement of the poetic line and what it brings to bear on the nature of human life, on its seeming beginnings and earthly or geological endings:

She spoke,she died; --her corse was borne,
The bridegroom blithe to meet;
He in his wedding-trim so gay,
She in her winding-sheet.
Then what were perjured Colin’s thoughts?
How were those nuptials kept?
The bride-men flock’d round Lucy dead,
And all the village wept.
Confusion, shame, remorse, despair,
At once his bosom swell:
The damps of death bedew’d his brow,
He shook, he groan’d, he fell.
From the vain bridge (ah, bride no more!)
The varying crimson fled,
When, stretch’d before her rival’s corse,
She saw her husband dead.
Then to his Lucy’s new-made grave,
Convey’d by trembling swains,
One mould with her beneath one sod,
For ever now remains. (45-64)
BACK

[3] For Simon Jarvis “Wordsworth’s verse itself continuously explores, explicitly as well as implicitly, the question of what verse is. […] It is a quality of Wordsworth’s thinking in general to pay attention to the slipperiness and subtle intermediateness of nature and culture, and upon no topic more so than meter. He wishes for ‘an art … that shall be life,’ and knows how much he is wishing for. The model for it is that ‘human history’ possessed not, as it happens, only by some human beings, but by a clump of trees.” It would be a music whose human character would reside not in its ability to work the world over, filling it with human meanings, but in its capacity to receive meaning. And it would be able to do this just because meter itself cannot be confidently assigned, from a Wordsworthian view, either to nature or to culture (111, 112 emphasis in the original). See also Alan Liu on how an exclusively formalist approach risks leaving behind pressing questions about historically constitutive components of human being; he writes, “We need to find a strategy […] to read […] humanity as a historical formation. [… Particularly, a] humanity that suddenly seems, from a differentiated view point, inhuman. Only at this point will the historical form of Wordsworthian humanity emerge, signaling the need to turn our gaze from the iconic text to the context generating the need for imagery in the first place” (312, 313). BACK

[4] See Janowitz. BACK

[5] Here Wordsworth in effect confronts Romantic poetics, where for Susan Stewart “issues of the fixed and living dimensions of meter became inextricably tied to questions of the connections between poetic forms and other life forms, the possibilities for representing emotion, and the role of poets’ voices in an increasingly literate culture” (53-54). BACK

[6] Marjorie Levinson’s recent account of the Lucy poems also recognizes their special affinities and endorses their joint consideration. BACK

[7] As those familiar with “A slumber did my spirit seal” will recall, whatever it is that might be the “she” of these poems will finally go home to an unmarked but continuously revolving and transforming grave. BACK

[8] “Lea” recurs throughout elegiac verse, appearing in Thomas Gray’s iconic “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751, 2); it inhabits Robert Burns’ 1793 collection where the word’s tie to mourning is made explicit (“Elegy on Captain Mathew Henderson” 25). The term is also deployed in part one of the macabrely titled “The Three Graves” (1809), a collaborative endeavor Wordsworth would abandon and Coleridge would expand but leave unfinished. For a more detailed discussion of this particular Wordsworthian and Coleridgean project, see Murray. BACK

[9] See Kaufman, Keach, Stewart, and Wolfson. BACK

[10] Alan Liu’s analysis of the Lucy figure operates in similar fashion. On this figure’s relation to the external world he writes, “What does it mean for Nature to foster Lucy? It means to kill her” (308). BACK

Published @ RC

May 2016