Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Veiled Movements in the Vale of Esthwaite

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Veiled Movements in the Vale of Esthwaite

Article excerpt

The Vale of Esthwaite (1787), Wordsworth's first sustained effort at original composition, was first published in 1940 by Ernest De Selincourt in Poetical Works of Wordsworth as an example of the juvenilia. Among scholars who have treated the De Selincourl version of the poem, Geoffrey Martman's account in Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787-1814 is the fullest, which argues that The Yale of Esthwaite turns upon the mind of a poet enthralled by nature despite signs that his imagination may well be independent of nature (76-89). Other treatments of De Selincourl's edition appeared in F. W. Bateson, Paul Sheats, Thomas Weiskel, James Ave rill. Jonathan Wordsworth, Kenneth R.Johnston. and Kurt Fosso. The latest edition appeared in Earlier Poems and Fragments, 1785-1797 (Cornell, 1998), edited byjared Curtis and Carol Landon, and described by Duncan Wn as "the most accurate and carefully edited text of the poem that we are ever likely to have" (3). One can learn much about Wordsworth's evolving practice from this text, experimenting as he does with description, moral encomia, and personal reflection/retrospection inspired by Virgil's Georgics and contemporary Gothic and local color. Incomplete and underdeveloped as the poem is, it parleys an initiation whereby the young poet recognizes his poetic calling, as Jonathan Wordsworth first surmised in "Two Dark Interpreters: Wordsworth and De Quincey" (224).

Comprised of three major sections or movements in manuscript, the poem could be read as an anthology of visual and visionary scenes, as Landon and Curtis have remarked, but there is a certain cleverness about it that makes it more than discrete imitative exercises. The "argument," to adapt a Romantic convention, may be sketched hvpolhelically as follows:

  View of Esthwaite--Superstition--Spirits, as Might Be Heard by
  a Minstrel--Mystic Twilight--Veil of Night--Melancholy--Power
  of Fancy--Storm Visions--Spectral Visitations--Remembrance of
  Grief following the Death of the Author's Father--Whispering
  Voice--I lope for Peace at the Close of Life--Faith in Friendship
  --Consolation in Nature and Memory--Homage to Native Region--Filial
  Love--Homage to a Friend.

These headings could be faithful to the poem as it exists in manuscript and as the young Wordsworth might have formulated them for An Evening Wath and Descriptive Sketches (both 1793). For all of the lapses or shifts in theme, tense, and tone, particularly in the third movement, a line runs through the first two movements, one that turns upon the young poet's place in literary tradition, which in turn impacts the final movement.

Wordsworth cleverly and self-consciously acknowledges over the course of the poem the literary tradition that precedes him, and gestures toward the origins of his own poetic calling with an opening verse paragraph that I call a "View of Esthwaite" (1-24) that foregrounds the georgic inquisitiveness inflecting the first section by describing some of "the larulskip's varied treasure" (2). The narrator finds himself in the "gloomy glades" of "Superstition" (25 ff.), where "the ringing harp" of "druid Sons" (31-32), moves him to ask "Why roull on me your glaring eyes/Why fix on me for sacrifice" (33-34, echoing Wordsworth's Irregular Fragment). The question imparts a sense of foreboding, trading as the passage does in English druidic folklore. "Then musing onward would I stray/Till every rude sound died away," the speaker observes to lead off verse paragraphs that I have tagged "Spirits, as Might Be Heard by a Minstrel" (43 IT.), which exhibit further awareness of other English folklore along with a knowledge of Virgilian and contemporary poetics:

And oft as ceased the owl his song
That screamed the roofless walls among
Spirits yelling from their pains
And lashes loud and clanking chains
Were heard by minstrel led astray
Cold wading thro' the swampy way
Who as he flies the mingled moan
Deep sighs his harp with hollow groan
He starts the dismal sound to hear
Nor dares revert his eye for fear
Again his harp with thrilling chill
Shrieks at his shoulder sharp and shrill
Aghast he views. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.