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In short, the interiorized, remembered landscape of the Wye, originally charged with "sublime" energy in , has, over the succeeding five years, intermittantly induced in the poet something very like "critical sleep. Thus much for the first moment--chronologically, not narratively--of dread-induced blockage and sublime release in "Tintern Abbey.


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The initial blocking agent here is apparently the resulting discordance of present and remembered images: as an object of the waking, exterior senses, the Wye valley can no longer serve as the baquet or reservoir from which Wordsworth has drawn vital, transcendental sustenance over the previous five years.

In short, the memory of Wordsworth's present experience will become, like "the picture of the mind" he has carried with him from his first visit, a Mesmeric baquet for "future years. In some instances of the Romantic Sublime in Wordsworth and Colerlidge blockage is not removed for many years, and then only through the agency, it would seem, of language, as in the "talking cure" enacted by the Ancient Mariner's repeated narration of his literally arresting tale. In them it can perceive its own inner power as "lord and master" over "the outward sense," which is "but the obedient servant of [its] will" Prelude This is a "renovating virtue" that the poet hopes to make available not only to his own mind, but to the minds of his readers, and of one reader in particular, Coleridge, the "Friend" to whom the entire Prelude is presumably addressed.

Of course, the same thing can be said of "Tintern Abbey," wherein Wordsworth, in turning to address his "dear, dear Sister," Dorothy, thereby addresses his poem to her as well. Such mutually reciprocated "renovating virtue" is a power, like that drawn from the "spots of time" in the Prelude , that has been finally collected--or rather, "re-collected"--in the charged baquet of a poem called "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey," to be made available to all future readers as well.


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In some of his most famous and deceptively naive reflections on the poetic process, Wordsworth described poetry in the "Preface" to the edition of Lyrical Ballads as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," adding, "it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility" At first glance, this looks like the rather cliched version of spontaneous composition once associated with the "eruptive" school of English Romanticism, e.

At second glance, however, it appears that Wordsworth's "spontaneous overflow" must be allowed to run its course in order to be "recollected in tranquilty" and become poetry. The tranquil "blessed mood" incited by the "picture of the mind" that Wordsworth took away from his first visit to the Wye would seem, according to this account, to have arisen from just such an original overflow, the "aching joys and dizzy raptures" occasioned by that visit, now "recollected in tranquilty" on the poet's second visit. There is a third possibility, however, which requires that we read Wordsworth's first sentence literally and keep its sense intact as we proceed: the poem " is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," but this "spontaneous overflow" "takes its origin," ultimately, from a quite separate, past "emotion" that is only now "recollected in tranquility.

But if that is the case, then it seems that this later overflow of feeling is not really as "spontaneous" as we might think. Wordsworth goes on to say that the original emotion. This is a somewhat ambiguous account, but several things seem clear. First, Wordsworth does not believe in spontaneous composition, but in composition "voluntarily" undertaken in tranquil "contemplation" of a previously experienced emotion. Second, the emotion that is made to "actually exist" in the contemplating mind, in the present moment, is not the original emotion, but a simulacrum that gradually comes to disturb or destroy that mind's "tranquility.

In this state of joy the simulacrum "produce[d]" by memory disturbs the tranquility of the mind contemplating it and yet does not interfere with the mind's power to describe it "voluntarily. But if the newly charged simulacrum of the original emotion comes to "actually exist" in the poet's mind by means of tranquil "contemplation," in what sense can it be said to "overflow," spontaneously or otherwise, and what can it be said to be "flowing over"--or into--in the process?

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According to the implied topology of Mesmeric flow, feeling must "overflow" the poet's mind, the site of its present "re-collection" in the emotional simulacrum, and to "flow over" into a material form, specifically, into the verbal "description" that is the poem itself. We are almost back in the ranks of the "eruptive" poets, but not quite. For in what way can such an "overflow" of the simulated emotion be said to be "spontaneous" if the poet is "voluntarily" attempting to describe the simulated emotion? Only in the sense, I would argue, that the poet is "voluntarily" experimenting so as to arrive at a poetic form that will "spontaneously" elicit that "overflow," somewhat in the way a lightning rod deliberately constructed, positioned, and properly grounded might "spontaneously" draw down the scattered energies of a highly ionized atmosphere.

Powerful feelings, then, do not erupt from within, but are drawn out of the poet by, and stored in, the material form of a "voluntarily" constructed poetic artifact. Wordsworth had announced in the "Advertisement" to the Lyrical Ballads that his readers were to look upon these poems as "experiments" designed to "ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure" 7.

That is, the poems were experiments in creating linguistic Leyden jars or baquets out of common materials for the eliciting and subsequent discharge of feeling. We can conceive of "Tintern Abbey," then, as something like a verbal device designed by means of "experiment" more the trial-and-error type of experiment to be found at Thomas Edison's Menlo Park, perhaps, than the controlled testing of hypotheses characteristic of modern science in order to draw from the mind of the poet, retain in the lines of the poem, and later discharge into the mind of the reader a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.

Of course, it's not just indiscriminate "feelings" that particular poems discharge, but specific passions, and these are not always reducible to simple joy or fear, "Terror or Love" Prelude 3. David Miall has reminded us of the "primacy of feeling" "Wordsworth," in the Prelude , and has renewed discussion of the ways in which Wordsworth's "affective scripts" contribute to his self-constructive poetic enterprise. Coleridge's statements on the active imagination, too, says Miall, "are understandable only within the context of an agency that embodies the processes involved.

To judge by his earlier more explicit accounts of the matter, that agency can only be feeling" "Coleridge," This version of imaginatively self-projective Romanticism was described succinctly by Robert Langbaum as far back as "The process of experience is for the romanticist a process of self realization, of a constantly expanding discovery of the self through the discovery of its imprint on the world" Langbaum's and Miall's accounts correspond to Wordsworth's announcement, elsewhere in the "Preface," that his "principal object" in the Lyrical Ballads was to make "the incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them.

Wordsworth's language is drawn from the associationism of Locke and Hartley, filtered partly through Coleridge's transcendental preoccupations and applied to a subjectivist poetics. Because an individual's emotions affect the manner in which his or her "ideas" of the world are "associated" or arranged into coherent wholes, the wholes that result register the specific impress of the emotional energy by which they were first "associated.

In "Tintern Abbey," as we have seen, an original, emotionally charged association of ideas is revived as a "picture of the mind"--that is, a picture both of the mind as expressed in its original imaginative concatenation of "beauteous forms" in , and within the mind now beholding these forms in In Mesmeric terms, this present picture, a complex image of a past perception that has drawn to itself the emotional "charge" originally invested in that perception, is now discharging its accumulated energy as "a state of enjoyment," "the joy of elevated thoughts" that "disturbs" the poet's contemplative mind even as he attempts to induce its "overflow" by means of, and into, the poetic "description" that will become "Tintern Abbey.

To refer again to Coleridge's master metaphor of vital magnetic excitation in "Effusion XXXV," if we are all indeed "Harps diversely framed," then the music of our thoughts and feelings will be likewise diversely individuated. Shelley came closer to Wordsworth's conception of the interplay of individual agency and transcendental power in poetic composition when he wrote, in the Defense of Poetry ,. Wordsworth's concept of the mind "voluntarily" experimenting with words in order to capture or elicit a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" closely resembles Shelley's image of Aeolian harp-strings being adjusted until harmony is produced, although Wordsworth is describing poetic creation and Shelley a harmonizing of the Gestalt of perception and emotional experience.

The adjustments in each case are experimental--the poet cannot know exactly what array of specific settings will enable the wind passing through the strings to produce harmony though he may have a good guess , but he can keep re-adjusting them until harmony is in fact produced. The only confirmatory evidence that the adjustments are correct is the harmony itself, the "deep power of joy" that leaps forth like a released magnetic or electrical charge.

This harmony is not determined in advance by the wind, the indiscriminate source of the "charge," if you will, for it offers only the condition of the possibility of "excitation," not the promise of harmony. Nor can harmony be achieved "voluntarily" according to a received, traditional notion of what constitutes an appropriate poem. Thus Wordsworth's rejection of "poetic diction. In any case, there can be no resonant string--and thus no harmony of resonant strings--that does not, in some sense, resist the power of the wind that excites it.

In religious thought, the body has traditionally been identified as the locus of such passive--or "passionate"--resistances to more metaphysical, trans-personal sources of divine power or Grace.

In the Christian tradition deriving from Augustine, the inevitable result of habitually indulging such resistances is sin, and Coleridge was morbidly sensitive to the sinful tendencies of the "streamy nature of the associating Faculty" in his own imaginative life when it was left to itself, as in dreams and reveries Coburn, Notebooks , 1. The fault lay, of course, in the discordent or slackened strings of the individual harp, not in the fundamentally positive and life-giving, but ultimately impersonal power that excited them into thought.

Prose and Criticism in Romantic Period: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley (ENG)

Looking beyond the Freudian terminology of a culturally-induced "resistance" and "repression" by which such jangling "maladjustments" in the nervous system may be interpreted symptomatically, we may find further enlightenment by pursuing the resemblances between this notion of "resistance" or "blockage" and the Lacanian point de capiton , that point the single "string" or point on the "string" of signifiers which is arbitrarily "quilted" by the subject, and thereby fastened to a transcendental signified that remains inaccessible to consciousness, so as to enable the subject to adjust and constellate into a coherent Symbolic pattern the otherwise arbitrary array of other signifying chains or "strings" deployed throughout the Imaginary.

One step further, and we arrive at Slavoj Zizek's "sublime object of ideology. The scientific authority that Mesmerism gave to Romantic speculations on the relation of the individual mind to a sublime source of vital power seems absurd to us now, and the order of sublimity it authorized appears to be strictly ideological, an order of culture, history, or political economy rather than of divine interfusion.

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Be that as it may, Mesmerism provided poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth with one of their most important figures for describing sublime experiences, a master-metaphor of flow interrupted or blocked, accumulating a charge of emotional energy to be subsequently released or discharged in "a state of enjoyment. The experience of release from such blockages in the moment of "crisis" resembles what Burke calls "delight," "the removal or moderation of pain" 33 , a "relative pleasure" 34 which accompanies the experience of sublime terror.

But for the major Romantic poets, this "delight" seldom occurs in the immediate presence of the standard terrifying repertoire of vast, overtly threatening objects, but rather at moments when the vital magnetic fluids of empathy and universal harmony that have been checked or "blocked" in their courses by the discontents of civilization are later--often inexplicably, "spontaneously"--released.

Our modern attention to overt terror, to explicit violence and fear, in Romantic accounts of the Sublime has blinded us to the more subtle, and subconscious, articulation of the experience as it is deployed, in much of the major poetry, not only along the vertical axis of present transcendence, but along the distended and discontinuous horizontal axis of time and memory.

Mesmerism can provide us with the primitive ideological instruments to observe this deployment, and to understand something of its logic. As early as , von Helmont, in De magnetium vulneratum curatione , had identified magnetism as a universal and occult curative power, and in , Maxwell had posited a magnetic "spiritus vitalis" in his De medicina magnetica , "the legitimate precursor of Mesmer's doctrine of the 'universal fluid'" Tinterow, xii.

The influence of Mesmerism on Coleridge has been remarked at least since , when Lane Cooper's essay on the subject was first delivered in lecture form, and it has since been addressed by Lowes, Beer Coleridge the Visionary and Coleridge's Poetic Intelligence , Coburn Inquiring Spirit , p.

Cooper suggested that Wordsworth, too, was probably indirectly affected , and Beer went on to explore Wordsworth's reception of Coleridge's mesmeric ideas more fully in Wordsworth in Time Mesmerism's influence on Shelley was first addressed by Carl Grabo in , and more recently by P.

Dawson and Nigel Leask. Antedating Tatar, H. Piper worked such speculations into his account of the "active universe" informing the English Romanticists' idea of the Imagination.

Wordsworth among the Victorians: The Case of Sir Henry Taylor

Beach, J. New York, Bewell, Alan. New Haven: Yale U. Burke, Edmund. Adam Philips. Oxford: Oxford U. Burwick, Frederick. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Univ-verl. Coburn, Kathleen, ed. New York: Pantheon Books, Princeton: Princeton U. The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Cooper, Lane.

Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination

Ithaca: Cornell U. Crabtree, Adam. Darnton, Robert.