Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Wordsworth, Revision, and the Blessed Babe: Reading the Mother in Book 2 of the Prelude

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Wordsworth, Revision, and the Blessed Babe: Reading the Mother in Book 2 of the Prelude

Article excerpt

Intersubjective theory suggests that in early versions of The Prelude, Wordsworth views poetic power as predicated on the child's relationship with the mother. But in his revisions Wordsworth objectifies the mother, hesitates to associate poetic power with her, and emphasizes the child's relationship with personified Nature.

Imagining the infant's early development is a curious task. As psychoanalytic theorist Daniel Stern notes, it is "something like wondering what the universe might have been like the first few hours after the big bang" (3). Traditional theories of early psychological growth, such as those of Sigmund Freud, Margaret Mahier, and Jacques Lacan, conceptualize identity development as a progression from a state in which children are said to be merged with their mothers and have no awareness of difference from them or the outside world. Children's development of self then proceeds on a linear path from renunciation of the connection with their mothers to an awareness of difference and identification with their fathers. A more current view, the relational perspective, initiated by theorists such as Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott and developed by researchers such as Stern and Jessica Benjamin, holds that children do not begin to develop from an experience of merger, but instead have some awareness of difference from birth. Children's development of a sense of self and other occurs through their interactions first with mothers and then with others. In the traditional view, primary caregivers, usually mothers, are important mostly as objects from which to separate, and achieving autonomy is the primary concern, but in the relational view, mothers are important as objects to both separate from and identify with so that both autonomy and relationship with others are important. Both views have important implications for how one conceptualizes language acquisition. The traditional view sees language acquisition as occurring when children perceive their difference from their mothers; thinkers such as Lacan view language as predicated on a mother's symbolic "death." On the other hand, relational theorist Arnold Modell argues that affective awareness of the mother precedes language acquisition (234), and Stern sees language acquisition built on both separation and relationship: "With each word, children solidify their mental comm onality with the parent and later with the other members of the language culture" (172).

Although William Wordsworth explores identity formation, relationship, and language throughout his oeuvre, I want to focus here upon one of the most forceful representations of these issues: the "blessed babe" scene in book 2 of The Prelude. This is an ideal text through which to examine identity formation, relationship, and language because it foregrounds a moment in which an infant negotiates his relationship with his mother as critical to the development of poetic language. Barbara Schapiro has shown the importance of the relational perspective in understanding Wordsworth's poetic development. She shifts the focus from weighing the relative importance of subject and object, self and other, and inner and outer worlds which other critics have debated to the relationship between these binaries. She says that "Wordsworth's poetry demonstrates how it is the very solidity and otherness of nature that promotes the full development of subjectivity, allowing for symbolic thinking and imaginative growth" and argues that "his work traces the intricate relational patterns and interactive dynamics that constitute his developing poetic and moral consciousness" ("Wordsworth" 29, 30). Schapiro's interest rests in exploring how this relational dynamic sheds insight on the visionary, religious, and moral dimensions of Wordsworth's poetry. However, I will show how Wordsworth alters his representation of the child's early relationship with the mother and the poem's depiction of identity formation, self-other relationships, language acquisition, and poetic creation in the 1805 and 1850 versions of book 2 of The Prelude (the thirteen-book Prelude of 1805 was based on the two-part Prelude of 1799, and the 1850 edition, the only version intended for publication, was posthumously based on major revisions in 18 16/19, 1832, and 1839 revisions). …

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.