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Week 3: 1800-1820 - Romantic Poetry and Poetics (Dr Madeleine Callaghan)

This seminar will explore the relationship between the poetry and the poetics of William
Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Focusing on the relationship between theories of
poetry and their poetic productions, this class will explore the philosophy behind the poetry
and how the poetry might support or undermine that which their theories state. In this seminar
we will aim to facilitate a deeper sense of the poets artistry and value by measuring the
poetry against their theories of poetry. Through close study of Wordsworths and Shelleys
work, we will discuss the debate surrounding the role and identity of the poet and the purpose
of poetry.
Wordsworths Preface to Lyrical Ballads acts as a key tool to understand the ways in which
Lyrical Ballads operates in relation to his understanding of the state of poetry in English
poetry. As Stephen Gill reflects: The particular nature of many of the poems is determined
by Wordsworths quarrel with prevailing literary modes (William Wordsworth: The Major
Works, p. xviii). We will look at the poetry in relation to Wordsworths Preface in order to
gain an understanding of how or if Wordsworths poetics shaped his poetry.
Shelley, writing his Defence of Poetry in February and March 1821, is clearly affected by
Wordsworths and Thomas Love Peacocks treatises on poetry. His influential essay reacts to
and develops Wordsworths essay, and similarly, many critics have drawn persuasive parallels
from A Defence to his poetry.
The seminar will:
focus on the similarities and differences between Wordsworths Preface and Shelleys
Defence;
consider if both poets make similar use of their prose in their poetry;
discuss the ways in which an awareness of their essays affects the way in which we
read the poetry.
Texts to be discussed:
William Wordsworth
1802 Preface to Lyrical Ballads;
The Two-Part Prelude
Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Defence of Poetry
Alastor
To Wordsworth
Please use the Oxford World Classics edition for both (if you can); they are available in
the library
DISCUSSION POINTS
1. Hardy invokes Wordsworths Ode: Intimations of Immortality in support of his right
to query certain venerable cults: such disallowance of obstinate questionings and
blank misgivings tends to a paralysed intellectual statement. (Thomas Hardy,
Apology, The Poems of Thomas Hardy: A New Selection, sel. with intro. T. R.
M.Creighton (London: Macmillan, 1974), p. 309).

Week 3: 1800-1820 - Romantic Poetry and Poetics (Dr Madeleine Callaghan)


Discuss questioning in Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early
Childhood does this seem to gel with the tone of the 1802 Preface to Lyrical Ballads?
2. The initial four stanzas were written long before the final seven. What is the effect of
adding the following stanzas to the poem?
3. Most critics claim that the Ode is an irregular Pindaric ode that offers a recognizable
triad of stanzas: a triptych of strophe, antistrophe, epode.1 Thus, stanzas 1 to 4
present the loss of the visionary gleam associated with nature in childhood; stanzas 5
to 8 supply an explanation and severe lament for that loss; and stanzas 9 to 11 recover
and assert recompense. Do you agree, or agree with Lionel Trilling that it has two
modes, the supernatural (stanzas 5-8) and the naturalistic (stanzas 9-11)?2 Or, do you
agree with neither view?
4. The events of the Poets life, the path followed by the Narrators (poetic) desire in the
actual world, divide him from this desire and force him to know (however reluctantly)
its gaps and inadequacies. (Tilottama Rajan, The Web of Human Things: Narrative
and Identity in Alastor, The New Shelley: Later Twentieth-Century Views, ed. G. Kim
Blank (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991), p. 90 (85-107))
Consider the gap between the ideal and the actual in Alastor and A Defence of Poetry. Do you
think that Shelley condemns the Poet?
5. Blake fell silent, Wordsworth fell asleep, and Coleridge fell into his late Christian
contemptus. The second generation Romantics, however, fashioned from these evil
times a new set of poetic opportunities Jerome J. McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A
Critical Investigation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 116.
Is To Wordsworth an attempt to replace Wordsworthian poetics with Shelleyan poetics?
6. Discuss the similarities and differences between Wordsworths Preface and Shelleys
Defence.

Stuart Curran, Poetic Form and British Romanticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 78. See
also David Duff who argues that the poem thrives on the emotional modulation ... made possible by the
technical structure of the ode form, Romanticism and the Uses of Genre (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2009), p. 208.
2
Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950; New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 134.