wordsworth v stevens


Here are two well-known descriptions of what a poem is, and does, one by Wordsworth, one by Stevens: type a: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. type b: The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully. These two assertions, though not opposed, place distinctly different emphases on the function of poetry. The first description, Wordsworth’s, suggests that poetry is a means of gaining perspective on primary experience: powerful emotions can be gathered, then dynamically relived, translated, and digested in the controlled laboratory of the poem—by proxy, such a poem also constructs perspective for the reader. In contrast, Stevens’s description implies that the poem and the reader engage in a sort of muscular struggle with each other—that struggle is how they become intimate, how they really “know” each other. Stevens suggests that a good poem, as part of its process, resists, twists, and enmeshes the reader (and perhaps the poet as well), an engagement in which perspective is challenged, and by no means guaranteed.

more from Tony Hoagland at Poetry here.