Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Wordsworth's Poems of 1807 and the Haunting Cry of Alice Fell

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Wordsworth's Poems of 1807 and the Haunting Cry of Alice Fell

Article excerpt

Originally delivered at the 2007 Wordsworth Summer Conference in Grasmere, UK, the occasion of this essay is the bicentenary of Wordsworth's Poems in Two Volumes, published by Longman in May, 1807. With 115 poems, twice the length of the Lyrical Ballads, 1800, Wordsworth was concerned, as he wrote to Sir George Beaumont, with his reader's response: "There is no forming a true estimate of a Vol. of small poems by reading them all together; one stands in the way of the other" (MY 95). Nonetheless, he told Sir Walter Scott he had confidence in these "small pieces" (MY 06). Although the collection as a whole is available in several editions, the scholarly Cornell volume edited by Jared Curtis, the paperback edited by Alun R. Jones, and the Woodstock facsimile produced by Jonathan Wordsworth, the poems are mostly anthologized and known separately, out of the collection in which they were first published.

Wordsworth organized the poems into eight groups. creating mini-hooks or reading Millions, that foreshadow the classification system he developed in 1815. His best known poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," sits unobtrusively in the Poems of 1807 in the middle of the section on "Moods of My Own Mind." Although the Daffodil poem, as the Word-sworths called it, bewildered some early critics, it has become one of the most memorized poems of all time (Jones 31; Woof), it now has a second life for the You Tube generation in a "rap" video produced by Cumbria Tourism in honour of the two-hundred year anniversary of its publication (which can be found on the website golakcs.co.uk). This witty take on the poem, with its Beatrix Potter-esque hip-hop squirrel, shows the way that the music of the poetic line, and its visual counteipart in the "host of dancing Daffodils" (4), could appeal to readers in 1807 or 2007. This performance shows the sense of play among contemporary Wordsworthians, the versatility of the musical form, and the intrinsic power and attraction of the poem itself, the rhyme, rhythm, and dreamy narrator.

In one of three poems to the celandine in the 1807 collection, Wordsworth explained that he would not sing of a distant star or an Egyptian pyramid, but of the humble things beside him. From the ''Birds, and Butterflies, and Flowers" in "The Green Linnet" (17) to the impassioned social protest in the sonnets, the key to Wordsworth's perspective on the world and on human nature appears in the very last lines of the Intimations Ode, "the meanest flower" and the "human heart" with which the collection concludes.

"Alice Fell" the poem that precedes "Resolution and Independence" in the collection is one of the ''small poems" of humble life, a "meanest flower" conveying "thoughts too deep for tears." When the poem was republished in the 1815 edition, Wordsworth added a subtitle, calling it "Alice Fell; or Poverty." An exceptional poem on its own, "Alice Fell" has attracted contemporary scholars for its relevance to issues of class and gender.

In 1801, along with a copy of Lyrical Ballads, 1800, Wordsworth explained to Charles James Fox, humanitarian and Member of Parliament, that he wrote "Michael" and "The Brothers" "to shew that men who do not wear fine cloaths can feel deeply" (EY 315), which applies to the Leech-gatherer and others in the 1807 collection. But in "Alice Fell" Wordsworth shows that girls who do not wear fine clothes can feci deeply too. When the narrator meets Alice, she is crying because her cloak is tangled--ruined beyond repair--in the wheels of a coach. The poem ends with the narrator paying for Alice to have a new cloak. Despite this good resolution, the sound of Alice's crying haunts the reader "long after it was heard no more" (32), as Wordsworth was haunted by "The Solitary Reaper," Wordsworthian encounters between a middle-class speaker and those who are poor and live on the margins reveal what Gary Harrison calls the "human face" of poverty (60), one of Wordsworth's greatest achievements. …

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