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2012 International Conference on Education Technology and Management Engineering Lecture Notes in Information Technology, Vols.


New Criticism and Wordsworths Poetry Qi Wu

Dept. of foreign languages, Jiujiang University, Jiujiang city, Jiangxi province, China Keywords: Wordsworth; New Criticism; Poetry; Ambiguity; Irony; Tension

Abstract. As a unique critic approach in literature, New Criticism has two important terms (Ambiguity and Irony) in the study of language and they are fundamental to the poetrys nature and help create Tension in Wordsworths poetry. In this paper, Wordsworths poems are to be analyzed with regard to their ambiguity and irony in a new critic view by close reading. By a New Critic approach which focuses on the text itself rather than other factors: sociology, culture and history, we can deeply appreciate the power of poetic language from a different angle. Introduction As a new approach to literature, New Criticism was developed by American critics in the 1920s-30s and peaked in the 1940s-50s. New Critics tried to avoide impressionistic criticism and historical approaches. Thus, they attempted to systematize the study of literature to develop an approach that was centered on the vigorous study of the literary text itself. New critics put forward some assumptions, that is, the literary work has an objective existence as a self-sufficient artifact, a "verbal icon". All formal elements of a text work together to create an "organic unity". When we interpret a text, key disciplines to seek are metaphor, ambiguity and irony apart from the usual ones: imagery, rhyme, symbol and so on. New critics think highly of poems with qualities of ambiguity, complication and inconsistence. Wordsworth is regarded as a romantic master who won his reputation for simple and straight-forward poetry. Poetry of that sort couldn't have employed too many sophisticated literary devices. However, through analysis of several poems of his, we can reverse the conventional opinions about romantic poetry, and conclude that even such a romantic poet as Wordsworth, unconsciously or perhaps on purpose, used a rather large number of dazzling literary devices. Analysis of Wordsworths Poetry in Terms of Ambiguity and Irony Five poems of Wordsworth including the Lucy Poems (1, 2), The Daffodils, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge and The Table Turned will be analyzed mainly in the two aspects of ambiguity and irony to have a view of the beauty created by the tensions of language itself. Ambiguity. Ambiguity was put forward for the first time in Ambiguity of Seven Types published in 1930 by William Empson. It refers that the interpretations of a fragment or the whole poem could be more than one. And in fact, those interpretations work together to become a whole by complementing one another. In the five poems, the presumptions about who Lucy was in Lucy Poems are the biggest and most attractive ambiguity. The following are some interpretations: 1) Lucy: Dorothy and Wordsworths sister Who wasLucy? Was she a beloved mistress, a friend, or just a figment of the imagination? Some feel the "poems represent an attempt to give literary expression and distance to Wordsworth's feeling of affection for his sister". Dorothy? TheLucyof these poems is no celebrity. As the poet concedes inShe Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways, she was quiet, unobtrusive, living unknown, A Maid whom there were none to praise/ And very few to love.
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A seemingly convincing proof for the presumption is that Wordsworth once transmitted to one of his friends a most sublime Epitaph. Most probably, in some gloomier moment he had fancied the moment in which his Sister might die. That just about explains why the final end of Lucy in almost all Lucy Poems is death or the foreboding of her death, which is considered the pick and the most cryptic of the Lucy lyrics: the mystery of Lucy, the shadow of death and the sublimity of William Wordsworth's verse. 2) Lucy: Wordsworths preferred character Another interpretation is to regard Lucy as the embodiment of Wordsworth's preferred character: solitary, simple, innocent. For William Wordsworth believed that for poetry to continue to please mankind permanently, it had to do with essential passions and these were to be found in humble and rustic life where they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and own a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings are in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more sincere, unaffected, and more forcibly communicated. 3) Lucy: the power of imagination Lucy is also proof of the power of imagination. This is the power that exalts Lucy into a luminary. Perhaps that is why Lucy can be Fair, as a star when only one/ Is shining in the sky and meantime can be a violet by a mossy stone/ Half- hidden from the Eye in the same poem. In her Wordsworth put into practice his own advice:to throw...a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect. Lucy is simple but not crude. She is supernatural. 4) Lucy: the part of Nature Lucy could be as part of Nature, who dwelt among the untrodden wayor lived in a cot on the top of a hill. For all Nature's beauty and beneficence, there is an underlying threat, a note of impending doom. In 'Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known', the evening moon seems to reflect the lover's foreboding. The ride to Lucy's cottage is accompanied more by a sense of anxiety than excited expectancy at meeting a beloved. There is a sense of tragedy throughout that one cannot shake off as one reads the poems. It casts its shadow on happier allusions to Nature and the supernaturalness and sublimity of Nature becomes a double-edged sword with its life-sustaining lighter side and a darker side of death. Invariably, the sense of the latter is strongest in moments of the subconscious state- in sleep or in dreams. The prediction of death as a fond thought comes to the lover in a frantic moment of near insanity. Even though we dont know anything about the identity of Lucy in Wordsworths poems, we can still find out who she is by using new critic approach. This proves that new criticism has a kind of power in language and it separates the text with the writer. Empson argues that by combining all meanings to one, ambiguity helps enrich the tension of a poem, from which the power of poetic language stems; here, it refers to the mysterious charming of Lucy. Irony. Cleanth Brooks once pointed out that language of a poem was paradox, and that the poet could express truth only by the mere means of paradox, or irony. Another famous new critic, John Crowe Ransom also admitted that irony was almost everywhere in the poetry if the reader was careful enough to look for it. 1) Irony in The Daffodils In some poems of Wordsworth, irony exists not only in the micro-form of antonyms but also throughout the macro-structure of the poem. In The Daffodils, a question should be asked did the poet really wander with no purpose at all? The answer is surely no. To a sensitive alwaysthinking mind, any wander, no matter physically or just mentally, superficially seems random with no distinctive aim, is in fact hidden inside with a goal: kind of pursuing a solution to a mental dilemma that he was undergoing at that time. And in order to find a solution, he turned to nature for help. Thus, in that sense, Wordsworth was with an evident purpose to seek for a cure to his dilemma on a visit with Dorothy. Here, a paradox seems to exist between wander and pursuit to find a convincing evidence for that. Lets see the lines: when all at once I saw a crowd/ A host of golden daffodils/ Beside the lake, beneath the trees/ fluttering and dancing in the breeze. The poet was

excited at that all-at-once discovery only when he was wandering freely; and only when he had been seeking for something. The discovery of a host of flourishing daffodils could evoke the poets emotional reaction which was in fact a fitter of ecstasy at the finding of what he has been trailing. 2) Irony in Composed Upon Westminster Bridge The poem Composed Upon Westminster Bridge will strike the reader with an awesome imposition. Where does that forceful power come from? It is from the cunning literary skills Wordsworth used such as personification, hyperbole, imagery and, most of all, irony throughout the text. The speaker, I, shows a spontaneous wonder at the sight of such an unusual scenery of the city, and expresses his wonder fully in the poem. Wonder is the key romantic feature and one important aspect of irony. To put it more specifically, London had been considered foggy and hustling in ordinary peoples minds, but Wordsworth gave us a picture of a majestic and inspiring London in the poem, which seems against readers common sense. Thats the very reason for its success: Never did sun more beautifully steep/ In his first splendor valley, rock, or hill. The smokeless airshows a city the poet has never seen before: an artificial city London, becomes part of nature, and creates so extraordinary scene in the sunlight. The river glideth at his own sweet will, and the river is a most naturalobject one can think of. The river is flexible with an easily changeable course, the symbol of nature. Before that morning, possibly the poet has never thought it to be a part of nature, but at that moment, no cargo traveling on it, the river returns to be a part of natural creation just like the daffodils, simple and serene. The last two lines are: Dear God! The very houses seem asleep; /And all that mighty heart is lying still! In poets observation of the twilight, the city is regarded as a lively organism instead of a cold mechanism. The houses are asleep, but the poet used to think them dead, and here, by saying they are asleep, the poet regards them alive and joining in natural activities. In the same way, the old metaphor comparing the city of London to be a Mighty heart is renewed for the poet regards it alive as an organic part of nature. It can be seen from the last line: a mighty heart should have been vigorously pulsing; on the contrary, it is lying still there. Two paradoxical phrases are put together to form a unity. 3) Irony in The Table Turned In the sixth stanza, one impulse surpasses all sages in teaching people about what is good and what is evil. That moral intuition is more trusted than judgments made on the basis of philosophical systems. In the seventh stanza, it describes what those sages dothey reject what can be learned from the pleasing impulse of nature, instead, on behalf of philosophical systems, they encourage the mind (our meddling intellect) to analyze (dissect) thebeauteous forms of things. There are several extraordinary phrases likemeddling intellect, and we murder to dissect. To analyze with logical mind is merely to murder/destroy the original charming nature of things. The two phrases are anticonventional but create tension that overwhelmingly catches readersattention. Now, in a broader view of the sixth and seventh stanzas, the climax of the poem, the former states the positive side of Wordsworths argument. Its language has a grand and prophetic simplicity; its rhyme is appropriately regular and calmly emphatic. In sharp contrast, the latter states the negative; it is more cacophonous, irregular in rhythm, and polysyllabic than the former. The two stanzas sharply opposite to each other act together to compose the climax where theme of the poem comes to being self-evident: imaginative understanding is more highly valued than logical and rational thought. Both are organically united without opposition, with impose tensions in the overall lines created. 4) Irony in Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known At the very beginning of the poem strange fits of passion seems to indicate something unusual that is going to happen later; However, the following stanzas depict I riding on the horse on the way to my lover, Lucys cot. On the way to Lucys house, I am pleased and leisurely with my eyes I kept on the descending moon, in one of those sweet dreams I slept, Kind Natures gentlest boon, The horsetrudged onhoof after hoof over the wide lea, then climbed the hill and finally down behind the cottage roof. All those talked of above impress us that the meeting with Lucy was expecting and must be romantic and terrific. Nevertheless, in the last two stanzas, I saw the planet dropped, If Lucy should be dead immediately jumps out of my mind, totally

destroying the initial pleasant and leisurely mood. Here, the abrupt fall in the readers mood creates great tension through the text. Now we finally come to realize what has caused the strange fits of passionis the prediction of Lucys death. In the second stanza, if she I loved was strong and gay, how can sheshould be dead? It appears ironic that the so-called fond and wayward thought is that If Lucy should be dead. Maybe, I am so fond of Lucy that I could be easily shocked by the least imagination of her possible death due to the sight of a dropped planet. The poem is united into an organic unity by the tension out of the sharp contrast between the beginning and the end. As a basic principle in poetic language, irony is one of the devices of poetic language and it bears the pressure of context and thus exists in the poetry of all ages, even in the simple lyric ones. Irony is an approach to fix ones attitude by qualification because the meanings of poetic language have to be more or less distorted or changed under contextual pressure, and the language itself, being imperfect in expressing all that a poet wants to say, has to resort to implication and indirectness by employing irony. In fact, irony is a delicate device with magic charming, just as Cleanth Brooks once said that scientific truth required its language be divorced from the least trace of irony, instead, the truth, a poet wanted to set forth had only to resort to ironical language and the balancing and reconciliation of opposites in irony was the sole differentia of poetic language. Conclusion In the study of poetic language, ambiguity is an important field and there is still much to be studied; irony is fundamental to the nature of poetry and the creation of tension in Wordsworths poems. A poem is an organic unity of all conflicting elements, but since literary works are the most complete embodiments and output of human mentality that roots in history, social progress and many other abstract factors, a pure examination is not objective or maybe partial. No doubt, language is the carrier of human culture, and this study based on New Criticism can throw some light on the mighty power of it by analyzing Wordsworths poems. References [1] W. M. Merchant. Wordsworth Poetry &Prose. Harvard University Press, 1967. [2] Searle, Leroy F. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism(second edition). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. [3] Adams, Hazard, ed. Critical Theory Since Plato. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. [4] William Empson. Ambiguity of Seven Types(first edition). Clutto&Wiudu, 1930. [5] Winchell, Mark Royden. Cleanth Brooks and the Rise of Modern Criticism. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1996. [6] Owen, WJB, ed. The Prose of Works of William Shakespear. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.