aching joys, dizzy raptures


The strain Hazlitt caught in Wordsworth’s face can be attributed in part to the project he and Coleridge set themselves: looking beyond or through “outward appearance”, often cruel and contradictory, to an underlying unity and benevolence. Sisman somewhat undervalues this strain in discussion of the poetry. He is writing biography not criticism, but he might have said more about the poetry’s often divided character, the struggle of the poets to sustain their faith in nature and the powers of the imagination. “Though he could no longer feel the ‘aching joys’ and ‘dizzy raptures’ of his boyhood”, writes Sisman, of the speaker in “Tintern Abbey”, “he had found ‘abundant recompense’ elsewhere”. This is a reading of the lines “for such loss, I would believe [italics added], / Abundant recompense”, one of several disquieting or disturbing notes in the poem (“If this / Be but a vain belief”, “And so I dare to hope”). In later poems – “Resolution and Independence”, “Ode: Intimations”, “Elegiac Stanzas” – similar notes sound more ominously; the assertion in “Tintern Abbey” that “Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her” becomes increasingly dubious. From the start, what Harold Bloom calls a “dark undersong”, that of nature as “hidden antagonist”, shadowed Wordsworth’s faith in the one life. Coleridge’s poems are even more divided, likewise in ways that call his and Wordsworth’s “joint labour” into question. Beneath the biographical factors which Adam Sisman so vividly and movingly recounts lies the difficulty of the labour itself.

more from the TLS here.