Essays in Romanticism

Catastrophe and Form; or, an Experiment in Formal Historicism

Essays in Romanticism (2014), 21, (2), 179–197.

Abstract

By tracing geological and formal homologies in Wordsworthian poetry, this essay embarks upon an historically responsible formalist experiment, one that first acknowledges the ways in which form demands historical attention and that then searchingly explores form's more oblique and often spectral indexical value. As a proof William Wordsworth's "A slumber did my spirit did seal" yields a markedly apt test case for this experiment. Informed by shifting models of geological thought, the poem advances a kind of environmental theory that highlights the underground afterlives of the human body and furthermore binds movements invested within the poetic line to revolutions resident in the earth. Wordsworth attunes lyric's characteristically elegiac mode to adulate a posthumous commune of body and soil, earth and stone—not quite a city of the dead but a lithic culture, an aggregate of moving bodies, living and not, constellated at the crossroads of Romantic lyric poetry and natural philosophy.

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Author details

Speitz, Michele