Essays in Romanticism

Wordsworth and Reading Verse

Essays in Romanticism (2012), 19, (1), 19–32.

Abstract

By learning from Wordsworth's account of how readers experience verse, I argue, current scholars could increase their sensitivity to elusive social and historical dimensions of poems. If, as Wordsworth asserts, readers' experiences of verse are conditioned by their historical expectations, then critics should ask how qualities of metrical language prominent in their own experiences of a poem might have carried historically specific meanings for that poem's initial readers. Scholars can make informed surmises about those meanings by considering the experiences implied in past vocabularies and practices of literary reception and evaluation. This would also help critics better appreciate the historical and social significance of the conflict within Wordsworth's poems between interpretive mastery and unforeseen response. I try to demonstrate the potential benefit of these considerations by applying them to my own close interpretation of Wordsworth's "A narrow girdle of rough stones and crags" from Lyrical Ballads.

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King, Joshua