Timely Utterances: Re-reading the Wordsworth of the 1805 Prelude

  • Chia-Jung Lee

Student thesis: Phd


My thesis explores how Wordsworth develops his poetic identity in 'Growth of a Poet's Mind' in The Prelude. I argue that Wordsworth's attempt to stabilize an identity in the mutability of time - in writing - results in a self precariously situated between past and present, speech and silence, for example. This thesis will examine how Wordsworth engages with time and language in his creation of 'timely utterances' about the self in The Prelude throughout the process of his writing. The identity Wordsworth seeks to stabilize in writing is not stabilizable because of 'two consciousnesses'. However, Wordsworth projects a continuity of self by looking back to 'a dark / Invisible workmanship' in his childhood communion with nature, which generated the aspiration to 'some philosophic Song' that Wordsworth, now, still feels and acts upon. My thesis goes on to look at how Wordsworth, in the act of writing, tries to establish an identity as a poet in the very act of rising to the challenge of being a poet posed by the French Revolution. As a result, it is precisely such recognition of fragmentations and contradictions in his identity-formation that keeps Wordsworth's writing moving forward and evolving into an epic poem for humanity. In the formulation and reformulation of self, Wordsworth comes to recognize that his self is subject to continual revisions of his poetic 'self' in The Prelude. The represented self of Wordsworth vanishes into language in his act of writing. But in the act of self-representation, Wordsworth protects his self from the 'defacing' power of language by locating the self in the silence left by 'life'. Nevertheless, Wordsworth also recognizes the generative powers of language for poetically reconstructing the self as a '[prophet] of Nature'. However, a profound recognition of and restless dissatisfaction with the otherness of language locates the Wordsworth of The Prelude 'midway' between the construction of a coherent textual identity and the recognition of identifications that reach beyond textuality. One of these identifications is to be found in Wordsworth's relation to Coleridge. Taking up the poetic project of prophesying hope to the humankind Coleridge assigned him, Wordsworth attempts to escape the contradiction between his own aims and those of Coleridge by using the recreative powers of language to recreate Coleridge and his project while recognizing his poetic obligation to Coleridge. Equally, in the act of rewriting a self, Wordsworth recognizes a sense of self perpetually subject to change and revision, and his relationship with Coleridge is valued for its power to stimulate such change. Wordsworth's lifelong re-interpretation, re-evaluation and revision of his project constitute an identity that is perpetually shifting, evolving, self-transforming.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlan Rawes (Supervisor) & Jeremy Tambling (Supervisor)

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