Friday, December 17, 2010

more romanticism...

I love a post like that last one, or at least the reactions to it – here, read this, read the other... It's like having a real, you know, community, people to talk to & get ideas from, brains to pick, and so forth.

Kent's comment bears pretty directly on one source of my recent Romanticism interest – I've been dipping into Simon Jarvis's Wordsworth's Philosophic Song, a product very much of that Cambridge nexus. (Prynne's own Field Notes, a longish essay on "The Solitary Reaper," is on the shelf waiting to be read.) I'm not ready to full-on tackle Jarvis's book quite yet, but his discussion of the critical issues surrounding Wordsworth got me thinking about my own deficiencies in the Romanticism department. So I've been looking at Abrams's Mirror & the Lamp and Natural Supernaturalism (which I seem to have read much of at some point, as I'm finding quotations that I pillaged for some of the poems in Anarchy), leafing thru some of the essays in Stuart Curran's Cambridge Companion to English Romanticism, & reading pretty closely in Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Revolution.

Aside from Bob A's enthusiastic endorsement of Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre's Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity, I'm struck by how many recommendations are of biographies, single or group. (I'm also struck by how many biographies of these chaps I've already read – Holme's 2 volumes of STC [his Shelley, a wedding gift of all things, sits on the shelf waiting to be read], Ackroyd's Blake, Gill's Wordsworth, Gittings's Keats. Thanks to you, Norman, I picked up a copy of Hay's Young Romantics last night.) That is, while many of us in this conversation are scholars of one stripe or another, I think we tend to primarily identify as poets, & find a kind of immediate access thru biography, rather than thru more austerely critical works – at least I didn't hear anyone recommending Paul de Man. Would it be self-interested of me to say that I find this investment in the biographical to be a very heartening thing?

The Cambridge "school" & Wordsworth – now that's an interesting conjunction that bears thinking about on a kind of meta-critical level. We – at least we alt-poets in the US – tend I think to regard Wordsworth as the most canonical of the canonical, a sort of zero-degree of institutional verse, utterly impervious to the sorts of recovery operations carried out so successfully on Whitman, Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, even Shelley (I recall one memorable MLA talk on PBS by Michael Palmer some years back). He simply can't, that is, be recuperated for the avant-garde. He has no place in the lineage of the modernist revolution, except as a baseline to be reacted against.

But what if one were to read Wordsworth, as I think Prynne & Jarvis do, as a magnificent, deeply subtle, & deeply strange poet; and furthermore, to read one's own work, not as a reaction against a canonical "mainstream," but as the simple furtherance of tendencies already present within a poet like Wordsworth? (A version of what Bunting is doing – thanks, Bill – ie placing his own work within a tradition in which Wordsworth is a magisterial exemplar.) I suspect that something like this is at play in Prynne's & Jarvis's critical work on WW (including the Chicago Review essay Kent cites, which I haven't read but have heard, at least if it's the same talk he gave at U Chicago a few years back).

In the end, it's hard to resist quoting J. K. Stephen's Wordsworth sonnet (the source, I suspect, of all of Pound's dismissals of WW as a "bleating sheep"):
Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
At other times--good Lord! I'd rather be
Quite unacquainted with the ABC
Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.


Archambeau said...

"But what if one were to read Wordsworth, as I think Prynne & Jarvis do, as a magnificent, deeply subtle, & deeply strange poet; and furthermore, to read one's own work, not as a reaction against a canonical "mainstream," but as the simple furtherance of tendencies already present within a poet like Wordsworth? "

One result would be John's "A Self Reading and a Reading of Self," the essay he mentions in the comment on the prior post.


Archambeau said...

"Modernism Against the Tide of Modernity"??

You mean Romanticism, I think. But the slip-up is great, revealing your irredeemably Modernist bildung!

Mark Scroggins said...

A slip-up too good & revealing to leave unfixed...

Vance Maverick said...

That people should recommend biography as a way of approaching Romantic poetry doesn't seem strange on first glance, or on second. Don't the most basic explanations of what distinguishes or unifies this work have to invoke a special engagement with personal experience? It's not the only thing going on in these texts, and they're not the only ones that do it, but it's pretty hard to ignore completely.

Prynne's "Mental Ears", focusing on Wordsworth, is great, but he uses the term "phonology" rather strangely (admittedly, its meaning inside linguistics departments is sufficiently arcane that I got my BA from one without grasping it).

Janet Holmes said...

Mark, I think my colleague Martin Corless-Smith is writing in that extension of the Wordsworth tradition, at least as I understand it.

Mark Scroggins said...

Okay, okay -- things have been recommended enough times -- I'm off to read JHP on Wordsworth. Just pulled down that copy of Field Notes.

Yeah, absolutely, Janet. Our workshop did Swallows this semester (a really ravishing book). I'm keen to read MC-S's latest, when I get around to getting it (& getting around to it).

Kent Johnson said...

Janet mentions Martin Corless-Smith, a fabulous poet. I had great pleasure of spending time with both Janet and Martin in Boise a number of years back. I wrote of that experience and Martin's tremendous, strange books Swallows and Nota (Prynne comes into this piece, too). This came out in the Chicago Review early this year or sometime last year, can't exactly recall, and was reprinted recently in a book concerning a mystery surrounding a famous work ascribed to Frank O'Hara. Corless-Smith is an amazing poet. The section in Nota on/by Thomas Swan is spectacularly gorgeous (I seem to be using lots of modifiers here). And yes, Martin's work is unabashedly and refreshingly trellised through the tree of Romanticism.

Michael Peverett said...

There has long been a kind of debate - well, it's more polite than that - one the one hand, there is Jeffrey Side's fairly cogent connection of Wordsworth with the mainstream empiricist tradition ( - on the other hand, writers like Peter Larkin , Amy Cutler , as well as Prynne et al., - well, to speak for myself, it is not a matter of saying nor even thinking that Wordsworth is good stuff exactly, it just happens that some aspects of his meditation connect up quite well with certain BritPo preoccupations about e.g topography (Fisher), space (Prynne), grief, perception, and concepts that don't have words. I don't know what Peter Riley thinks of Wordsworth, probably not much, but I think I read their poetry in some similar ways and get some similar things from the poetry. (For me it's not really until the 20th Century, maybe Hardy, that I begin to clearly identify a vein of poetry that I think of as in some way "theirs" and not mine.)