to “make / Breathings for incommunicable powers”


As a quality of mind and character, Wordsworth’s “egotism” was central to his nature; it is therefore bound to lie at the heart of his greatest verse. It is present even when he writes about moods or states of being that in fact appear so generalized as to be strangely at odds with our usual notions of individuality and self-consciousness. At his best he was a peculiarly physiological poet – by which I mean that he managed to articulate the anonymous, humble, non-volitional bodily processes that precede all thought, and without which thinking cannot take place. In addition to all the other modes in which he wrote, he was in effect a poet of the autonomic nervous system, the spinal cord, the digestive tract, the circulation of the blood; he was also preoccupied to an exceptional degree with the capacity of people to notice things without being conscious of having done so, and to retain an unrecognized memory of them until some later circumstance should stir it into life.

At one point in The Prelude he writes that his “theme has been / What passed within me”, as if his “me”, his conscious, reflective, composing self, were not the initiator of what he is doing, but merely the site or arena within which certain activities – memories, moods, appetites – may or may not reveal themselves to him. In the same passage he says that this theme is “far hidden from the reach of words”, which implies that in his writing he has to do much more than find an approximate verbal mode of representing his experience.

more from the TLS here.