Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections

By Neil Fraistat | Go to book overview
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Stuart Curran


Multum in Pairvo Wordsworth's Poems, in Two Volumes of 1807

It is a paradox of history, at least of literary history, that what is arguably Wordsworth's greatest collection of verse, the Poems, in Two Volumes of 1807, has not simply gained less attention than the original Lyrical Ballads but has, as a collection, been virtually ignored. Yet its contents form the staples for both anthologies and critical commentary on the poet. Many of the famous short lyrics on natural subjects were first collected in the Poems, in Two Volumes, as were "Resolution and Independence," the "Ode to Duty," "Elegiac Stanzas," and the "Ode: Intimations of Immortality." Moreover, in the first of these volumes appeared the most impressive group of sonnets to be published in England since those included in the Poems of Mr. John Milton of 1645: "Miscellaneous Sonnets" and "Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty." Poems, in Two Volumes was the mature Wordsworth's first true venture on his own, at the ripe age of thirty-seven, and, though it came forth without a statement of principles comparable to the preface rewritten for each edition of Lyrical Ballads, readers immediately discerned a "system" underlying the volumes. Most of them did not like it, but the hostility of the notices paradoxically established Wordsworth's preeminence among contemporary poets. 1

The voices who rose to Wordsworth's defence recognized as well how systematically his Poems, in Two Volumes had mounted a radical assault on the received standards of poetry. In less than a decade, however, Wordsworth, stung by the hostile criticism, had rewritten a number of the poems, and in the collection of his poetry published in 1815 he wholly rearranged them. Only recently have the two volumes been restored in a responsible modern edition, allowing us to trace their evolution and to read them with the sense of dramatic development and of nuanced interconnection that Wordsworth clearly intended his original readers to experince. 2 What we can ascertain in this retrospect is the intricate nature of the system by which Wordsworth hoped to revolutionize not simply the language of poetry, but its subject matter and the way it was read as well.

The complex interior balancing that recent criticism has illuminated in the Lyrical Ballads is replicated and even extended in the elaborate formal

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