Comfortably Numb

How to Save "Tintern Abbey" from New-Critical Pedagogy (in Three Minutes Fifty-Six Seconds)

Close study of popular music introduces students to the complexity and pleasure of lyric experience more effectively than a New Critical definition of the form. It can be a particularly valuable introduction to Wordsworth, whose directness of statement is better judged by the standards of song lyrics than of imagism. But a pedagogy based on this connection needs to be wary of idealizing immediacy and authenticity. Popular music is not necessarily more accessible to students than Romantic texts. The form is more familiar, but effort is still required to move from uncritical to articulate appreciation. A juxtaposition of contemporary and Romantic lyric forms also provides an opportunity to grapple with the paradox of Wordsworth's attitude to the popular culture of his own time, and with anxieties about "mass culture" that our students share with contemporary criticism.
February 2002


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