Wordsworth and the Motions of the Mind

Wordsworth and the Motions of the Mind

Wordsworth and the Motions of the Mind

Wordsworth and the Motions of the Mind

Synopsis

Every great Poet is a Teacher; I wish to be considered as a Teacher or as nothing. So wrote William Wordsworth in 1808. This book examines the poet's several methods and aims as a teacher in a variety of his poems; his trust in, and high expectations for, his reader's mental activity; and his part in a significant shift in artistic taste and awareness which still affects us all. It is a study of a great poet's lifelong effort, as he said, to teach as Nature teaches by setting the human mind in motion.

Excerpt

"Didactic poetry is my abhorrence," wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley in his preface to Prometheus Unbound. Most modern readers, at least readers of some sophistication, probably share that attitude. But didacticism has not always been considered a poetic evil. Joseph Warton in his 1756 Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope praised that great eighteenth-century poet for his excelling in a species of poetry "for which our author's genius was particularly turned, the didactic and the moral" (1782 ed., 1.3.101). Yet just less than one biblical lifetime later, three score and ten years, minus two, in 1824 Thomas Dibdin was writing in his influential and massive handbook to literature, the impressively titled Library Companion, or the Young Man's Guide and the Old Man's Comfort in the Choice of a Library, of his disdain for "the dullest of all possible didactic and moral poetry" (682).

The supposition which underlies Wordsworth and the Motions of the Mind is that much of the cause of this development in attitude and readers' expectations has to do with Wordsworth and with his approaches to poetry and to readers. There is an irony here, for there are university students in these days who come away from an undergraduate encounter with Wordsworth having some doubts about our poet on these very grounds of didacticism. Those culminating lines of the 1850 Prelude, for one example, about "what we have loved, / Others will love, and we will teach them how" (14.448-49), the insistent promise that the poet's job is to "Instruct them" (14.450), those frequent reminders from . . .

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