September 30, 2010

Wordsworth, Blake and constructive criticism

Filed under: Poetry,reading — crcb @ 10:19 pm
Tags: , , ,

I was reading William Blake‘s notes on reading William Wordsworth (Blake’s verdict: conflicted), and I started thinking about the two poets together.

Wordsworth’s problem as a poet: he became possessed by Wordsworth. Anything was significant if he observed or experienced it.

Blake’s problem: he was a crank, with no one to tell him when he was being silly. As a “signal of solemn mourning” (Milton), a sandal on the head is hard to pull off with a straight face.

Both needed someone — someone loved and loving, respected and respecting — to laugh at them, or yawn.

But given such friendly critics, would either have written his greatest poems? Isn’t it their excesses that bring their work to life? Wordsworth could be full of himself and focused on minutiae, but close observation of his experience and inner life are the marks of his best work. Blake was eccentric, but if he hadn’t followed his imagination into questionable realms, we wouldn’t have the wonderful Marriage of Heaven & Hell, and we’d be missing at least half of Songs of Innocence & Experience.

Wordsworth and Blake willfully flouted the tastes of their time. The fact that they sometimes violate my tastes may not be a condemnation of them.


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