Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wordsworth's Revisions

I think Wordsworth's revisions as well as his preface in Lyrical Ballads were aimed toward a particular purpose. We've already discussed that the manner of the printing made the book one that clearly targeted an affluent audience. I think in addition to that some of the changes in sequence such as taking the Ancient Mariner from the beginning of the book served to make it a less "political" and more "artistic" work. He set forth this collection of poems as a break from the established norm and therefore worthy of study and credit as the beginning of a new school. There was also a very conscious effort of Wordsworth to refer to Coleridge as simply his "friend". Things such as this make me feel that Wordsworth's aim was a specific one, to garner acclaim for himself and to insert this collection of works specifically into the English canon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Response to Kathryn

Not only is it the story of a mariner, but it's about the sadness of returning home and the realization that it's not the place that has changed, but you. At the very beginning, a priest, who is not really supposed to judge anyone, looks at him from across the hill and is suspicious. I think this is one of the most painful parts for the sailor: the fact that he could return home and (almost) nothing has changed, while he apparently has changed so much that not even an old friend can recognize him. According to the priest, "the thought of death sits easy on the man/ Who has been born and dies among the mountains." Why? Because, as the priest later explains, his memory will be passed down in the memories of others: anyone from the village who died continues to live on. That's why they don't even have gravestones. But this only makes the fate of Leonard all the more tragic: he leaves the place he could have been loved, the place he could have lived eternally in the minds of others, to go back to the sea and to die there, unknown, all because he cannot stand to be in the place where he and his brother lived such happy years. Now that he has returned home, his fate at sea is all the worse: not only is his family all gone, but no one will remember him and he'll die alone.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Peter Bell

I am so incredibly confused about the relationship between these two poems. Obviously "Peter Bell the Third" is mocking "Peter Bell" because of the alleged author "Miching Mallecho" or mischief. However, Shelley does not dedicate or address Wordsworth in the preface. I don't understand the relationship between the two poems at all or the structure of Shelley's critique/mockery because it does not parallel the original poem. Perhaps the different parts of Shelley's poem model the initial "moon-boat" trip of Wordsworth? And what was going on with that anyways? It seems completely disconnected from the rest of the poem...Dr. Porter, please enlighten me!

Apology, etc.

"Apology for Absence," or, "A Lyric or Ballad on 'Lyrical Ballads' "

I will not be in class Thursday;
I'm sure I will be missed.
I'm writing this post anyway,
So Porter won't be pissed.

Wordsworth was this really cool bloke,
His preface tells me this.
In horror, he could see a joke,
And in sadness, real bliss.

Thus he set to writing verses,
On the sinister and strange,
On the plain life and on curses,
And pastoral ranges.

His stanzas twisted perception,
On laws and social class,
He poked holes with his inspection,
And kicked slavery's ass.

"Brothers" was a good one, but long,
As was "Old Man," in all.
Though cutting it, I think, was wrong,
He had the final call.

So I end this meager ballad,
With this in mind! Mind you;
My meter and rhymes are valid!
Thanks for suffering through.

- Sir Alec Jordan, 3/3/10

Gothic Connection Between Women and Nature

As I read Wordsworth's "Strange fits of passion", I was reminded immediately of Keats' poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (which I believe we're reading later this semester?). "La Belle Dame" is a mysterious nymph who seduces and abandons virtuous men. Wordsworth's Lucy is similarly alluring, not to mention similarly associated with nature and the night. Both works contain women who are supernaturally connected with nature, strangely in-tune with surroundings humans usually don't fully understand or may even find threatening. This supernatural connection does seem Gothic, but I wonder if it is in keeping with the fainting- damsel-in -distress character that also frequently appears in the gothic tradition. It seems to me that there are two female extremes in this tradition; either a woman must be good and completely at the mercy of her situation, or she is in some way evil and in control of men and nature alike. Since the female character in the Gothic is either light or dark, what comment does this make about women outside of these poems?

A Grave Spirit

While the broad relationship of Wordsworth's "The Two April Mornings" to the natural world is in itself an interesting compendium of imagery surrounding the pastoral and its role in the poem, Wordsworth's invocation of the interplay between the sky and the ground specifically speaks to the condition of death within the reality of the poem. By beginning with the confluence of "morning sun" and "the will of God," Wordsworth connects the celestial air and God, bringing up associations of the afterlife and eternal bliss that are continued in "the self-same crimson hue/Fell from the sky that April morn,/The same which now I view!" This meditation on the sky and its similarities in different situations is formally stopped by the imposition of the ground, in all of its solid reality as "coming to the church, stopp'd short/Beside my Daughter's grave." I feel in this transition as though I am physically moving towards the ground as I progress deeper into the poem, an impression that is further strengthened by the idea of a grounded nightingale. This sense of descent into the earth continues even in the face of a girl who seems a parallel to the lost daughter and the light and air that she could bring. The narrator turns to language of "pain" and "confine" in the face of "no fountain from its rocky cave/E'er tripp'd with foot so free,/She seem'd as happy as a wave/That dances on the sea," eventually taking a final resting place in the ground beside his daughter, a change wrought permanent in Matthew's own descent into the grave. The sky and the sense of the eternal and the afterlife that it seems to promise is thus placed as antithetical as compared to the real eternal, the earthly grave.

"Hart-Leap Well" - A Gothic critique

After reading the "Hart-Leap Well," I think it clearly fits into the Gothic category, rather than anti-Gothic. Immediately, we are introduced to a knight - this coincides with our previous comparison of Gothic literature to "fairy-tales." The descriptions are full of nature images, so I couldn't immediately place this ballad into either category. However, the line "This race it looks not like an early race" (27) almost blatantly tells the reader that this is a Gothic poem. We are set up to expect the supernatural effects from nature, but perhaps most importantly, Wordsworth uses these elements as a social critique...

Obviously, this poem is about a hunt, a popular English past-time for the aristocrats of the time. Part one of the poem portrays Sir Walter in a stereotypical gallant way in his hunt. However, in Part two, Wordsworth begins "The moving accident is not my trade. To curl the blood I have no ready arts..." (97-98). I take this to be a critique against this inhumane treatment of animals. His describes a once gloriously beautiful land, which is now "curs'd" and bloody because of the hunting. I think the Gothic elements further this critique of hunting...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tone change

I find it remarkable that The Ancient Mariner and Old Man Traveling are published in the same collection. The former shocked the world with its total weirdness, the latter is extraordinarily calm and peaceful. The total reversal of Gothic themes surprised me, since these poems are written at about the same time. Rather than drama and plot driving this scene, the poem is a descriptive passage of a slow, methodical old man. In my mind, the sense of time struck me. Whereas Gothic lit hurled through time and space, this poem simply meanders down the path. Words like subdued, quiet, settled, patience, mild, and peace produce a tranquilizing effect. Even though the old man is going to see his son die, the poem shows no anxiety or urgency that we see in the Gothic poems we have read. The effect is quite profound. In 1815, Wordsworth even removes the only active part of the poem, the last 5 lines about the dying son. This sketch captures a beautiful expression of peace with the universe.

Strange fits of passion and the Combination of the Gothic and Anti-Gothic

I found parallels between the three poems on pages 316, 317, 318 (Strange Fits of Passion, She dwelt, A Slumber), and the way Wordsworth describes the women in these poems.

In his Preface, Wordsworth states that his goal in his Poems was to "make the incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them...the primary laws of our nature: chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement" (174).
He then continues in this thread by narrowing what "common life" meant, and that was "Low and rustic life was generally chosen because in that situation the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity [and can] speak a plainer and more emphatic language" (174).

And what is poetry, if not "essential passions of the heart?" In the three poems mentioned above, Wordsworth describes being in love in very simple terms. He is not eloquent, and he compares the woman (presumably Lucy), in each poem to nature. In "Strange fits of passion" Lucy is compared to being "Like a rose in June," and the persona of the poem is guided by the gentle light of the moon (316). The moon, however, seems to be an ominous omen as he keeps descending, and the magic of the night appears to be slipping away, and at the end, it seems very out of place when Wordsworth says "O mercy! to myself I cried, / If Lucy should be dead!"
I was confused by this point, but I think that after reading the next two poems, it is clear that they follow in a similar vein, where the persona mourns the loss of his dead lover.

I feel like these poems combine the Gothic and the Anti-Gothic. The Anti-Gothic is that he describes in plain terms the beauty of his lover compared to the beauty of nature, it is very realistic. However, the Gothic element still evident in the poem is the death of a beautiful young woman, and I think that both of these factors will eventually give rise to Romanticism, but it's not quite there yet.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Versions

At first glance, there may not seem to be much difference between the two versions of Wordsworth's "Animal Tranquility and Decay." In fact, the only real difference is that in the earlier version, the old man is quoted, where as in the second version, what he says is merely reported by the narrator. This may seem like an insignificant detail, but in my opinion it changes the entire poem.

In the first part of the poem that remains unchanged, Wordsworth describes an attribute of an old man. To summarize how I understood it, the man seemed to have an easiness about him and a sense of comfort in the world despite what else may be going on; it seems to be implied that this is partially due to his age. This characterization is what makes the quotes in the first version of the poem so powerful. This ease, this acceptance of events, even applies to his sick son. This ease, almost a disconnect, with all the possible outcomes of his son's hospitalization, reflects back on the nature of the man in such a way that we assume that he himself is comfortable with such misfortunes. While a discomforting thought, going back to the man's age, it could be reasoned that the man is simply more accepting due to his time spent in the world and the knowledge that it may soon end for himself. This seems to mirror the idea of "Animal Tranquility" mentioned in the title; the instincts for fight or flight and survival in general have simply "decayed" as the inevitable end approaches.

In the second version, however, these lines are not quoted, but rather just reported. This creates a sense of disconnect with the narrator rather than the old man, and in my opinion, takes away much from the poem as a whole. The narrator could simply be creating the detachment because he has no feelings one way or another for a man he's never met, or because he isn't comfortable speaking more in depth on such topics - these possibilities take away from the analysis of the human experience over time that is present in the first version.

Nature and Two April Mornings

As I was reading "Two April Mornings," I couldn't help but notice the key element of nature. For example, in the first stanza the morning sunrise gives the reader an image of the setting of the poem. Almost every stanza has some reference to nature which is crucial to understanding the meaning behind the poem. Matthew even refers to his daughter with ideas of nature. "And then she sang!-she would have been a very nightingale (lines 35-36)" or "A blooming Girl, whose hair was wet with points of morning dew (lines 43-44)". I found a really interesting article on JSTOR about the structure and meaning behind this poem.

The author of this article, Anne Kostelanetz, explains that the purpose of the introduction of nature at the beginning is two fold: to describe an actual setting and to convey the narrator's idea of nature. She also shows that the traveller's joy is present in nature (the sun is bright and red) and not projected onto it. The contrast of Matthew's attitude is striking because of the suffering he has been through. When Matthew rejects the other girl in the church yard, I wonder if Wordsworth is thinking back to when he rejected/left the woman who was pregnant with his daughter. We have talked a lot about Wordsworth's guilt and the way he dealt with events in his life and I wonder if this poem also relates to that idea. Just a thought!

The supernatural, or lack thereof, in "The Brothers"

While this post sort of responds to Kathryn's, I didn't want to include it as a comment because I have some insights of my own. I agree that the idea of loneliness/homelessness as connected to the life of a sailor provides important insight into this poem. I hesitate, however, about the interpretation of the lightning strike in Wordsworth's "The Brothers" as a "supernatural" event. Obviously, the two streams are meant to represent the respective lives of the two brothers, and the extinguishing of James' stream by a bolt of lightning is no coincidence, but I think that this can be symbolic without being supernatural.

I think my hesitancy to incorporate the supernatural into this poem stems from my hesitancy to view the poem as Gothic. Even if we interpret the lightning strike and James' unusual sleepwalking as "unnatural" occurrences, this poem clearly lacks the characteristically Gothic traits that mark the poems we have read over the past couple weeks. There are no spirits, skulls, or murders; and although there is death, I find its circumstances to be more tragic than supernatural. While I find that Wordsworth is making inquiries into the notions of home, loneliness, abandonment, longing, responsibility, and regret - I see no need to incorporate the supernatural in order to interpret this poem. I do however, find the role of the unnatural (in terms of Leonard leaving his natural home, way of life, etc.) to be an important theme in the work.

The Anti-Gothic

In the Preface, Wordsworth says that "all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (LB 175). I think this is a perfect description for the Gothic and Anti-Gothic genres, although the two genres, in my opinion, invoke much different feelings and emotions. In the Gothic genre we had death interacting with the supernatural, creating "pleasantly terrifying" experience as Jarrett and I described in our presentation of Alonzo the Brave. However, in the Anti-Gothic genre I found that the pleasant and suspenseful emotions I felt were replaced with feelings of sorrow and pity. In addition, the supernatural was replaced with the beauties of nature, making the poems illustrate a much more realistic view of death. I'm not sure if this is why these poems were called "Anti-Gothic," but that was my interpretation.

The Two April Mornings: Inevitability of Memory

In Wordsworth's poem, "The Two April Mornings," I loved the parallel between the two days and the two daughters. First, as the two men are walking along at the beginning of the poem, one stops and says "The will of God be done!" and remarks about how the colors of the sky on this morning looked so alike to another day he remembered from his past. On the day in the past, he was visiting his daughter's grave when he came upon the figure of another young girl, who was beautiful and happy and alive.

The parallel between these two events is as follows: the bright sunrise vs. the sunrise of the day he visited the graveyard, the young girl vs. his own dead daughter who had just recently died. The parallel works to bring about the main idea in the poem: the fact that memory is inescapable, and that something will always trigger what we have attempted to forget.

I thought the scene in the graveyard is particularly powerful because I feel like he stares at the girl a long time because he subconsciously thinks about replacing his own daughter with the other little girl ("I looked at her and look'd again.") Then, once he realizes what he is thinking, he immediately rejects the idea and says "And did not wish her mine." He realizes that there is no way you can replace something you've lost, no matter how much you wish it to be so, but you still have to live with repeating what you have lost over and over again in your head.

In the last stanza, the author talks about how the man is now dead, but it is almost as if he can still see him standing with a "bough/Of wilding in his hand." This poem is all about memories and the way we miss people once they are gone. It is about the impossibility of forgetting - and the sadness that comes with inevitable memory.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Mariners seem to be a common theme in the poetry we’ve been reading, and I found it interesting that this theme is connected to homelessness—or a sense of displacement and loneliness—in the poem “The Brothers.” At the beginning of the poem, the reader learns that Leonard did not enjoy his time as a mariner, but longed for his home and former profession as a shepherd—“…and he is his heart / Was half a Shepherd on the stormy seas” (ll. 42-43). He feels out of place on the sea, and longs to return to the familiar and comfortable “verdant hills” (l. 60). Later, it is revealed that Leonard and his brother, James, were orphaned first by their parents and then by their grandfather. When Leonard leaves to try his fortune as a mariner, James is passed from house to house—“…we took him to us. / He was the child of all the dale—he liv’d / Three months with one, and six months with another…” (ll. 338-340). James is traded from house to house almost like a doll. I find it ironic that the brothers are in similar situations, even if they are in two very different circumstances: Leonard is literally tossed around on the waves—an unstable, ever-changing environment—while James is also tossed around even though he is on firm, unchanging ground. Leonard does notice, however, that something is different about the landscape of his hometown, and the priest admits that one of two brother fountains was struck by lightning and has since died. This touch of the supernatural to mimic James’ death and Leonard’s continued life is interesting, but I digress… At the end of the poem, Leonard realizes that “This vale, where he had been so happy, seem’d / A place in which he could not bear to live” (ll. 421-422). Because of his brother’s death, he is once again homeless and returns to the sea as a mariner—forced to wander forever in that changing, rootless territory. This reminded me loosely of the Ancient Mariner’s need to wander and tell others about his story. There is something about the sea and a lack of firm identity or stability—both the Ancient Mariner and Leonard are nomads and unhappy ones at that.