The Suppression of the Other and Self-Enlightenment in William Wordsworth's Resolution and Independence

Topics: Romanticism, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge Pages: 5 (1828 words) Published: July 25, 2005
My response to William Wordsworth's Resolution and Independence focuses upon the precept that Wordsworth's narrator uses the tale of the Leech Gatherer as a means to achieve ‘resolution' to his own internal crisis. This is highlighted by, in my opinion, the narrator not so much paying attention to the Leech Gatherer's tale, yet instead his pre-occupation with what he wants to interpret from the tale in order to satisfy his needs. I further argue that in doing so Wordsworth's poem constructs the Leech Gatherer as the ‘other', and that his ‘otherness' is suppressed by converting him into a mere instrument by which the narrator attains enlightenment.

Although my reading of the poem is heavily focused on the encounter between the narrator and the Leech Gatherer, this doesn't occur until the eighth stanza. The poem starts with the narrator out for a stroll, feeling "as happy as a boy" marveling at the offerings of nature in the sunshine following a "roaring in the wind all night." What struck me from these opening stanzas was the rhyming pattern used throughout the poem. Set in ‘rhyme royal' I found the meter both inviting and accessible, which made for an entertaining read from the outset.

However from this pleasant beginning, quite suddenly and apparently inexplicably during the fourth stanza, the narrator undergoes a violent mood swing: ‘As high as we have mounted in delight/In our dejection do we sink so low;/ To me that morning did it happen so.' This sudden change left me quite disorientated and perplexed as to cause of his depression. After re-reading the passage and considering it in the context of the entire poem I felt that this mood swing was the reader's first indication of the narrator's status as a poet. This notion of a poet's perspective remained at the foreground of my reading and I felt constantly reminded that the narrator's subsequent quest for resolution and enlightenment came from the perspective of a poet, not merely an individual. My view of the narrator within this context was not an entirely positive one, as in addition to seeming over-analytical and emotionally fragile – ‘Perplexed and longing to be comforted' - I felt he came across as condescending toward the Leach-Gatherer; as if he came from a position of higher moral ground by virtue of his occupation as a poet.

Within this context, an observation I found significant was that Wordsworth's narrator seemed in constant fear of losing his creative powers, just as the Leech Gatherer had lost his youth and strength; ‘By our own spirits we are deified: we Poets in our youth begin in gladness; But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.' My interpretation of this was that Wordsworth is commenting upon the loss of creative power as a poet ages. What I found troubling about this was the likening of the poetic imagination to a divine spirit: the notion that there exists a power to create that exalts poets' spirits above that of ordinary men. I felt that by referring to ‘despondency' and ‘madness' Wordsworth was referring to the loss not of a skill, but of a divine spirit. This to me seemed a little contrived and in turn highlighted my reading that Wordsworth's narrator was not engaging with the Leech Gatherer on a level of mutual respect, yet was using the ‘other' to serve as an instrument with which to satisfy his own needs.

Simon Malpas argues that Resolution and Independence explores the notion of the self being healed through an empathy with the suffering of the other, and that this is "an old and familiar story." I would argue that the narrator is too caught up in his own thoughts and self-reflection to be able to empathise with the Leech Gatherer. My preferred reading is that Wordsworth's narrator takes what he can from the Leech Gatherer's tale and almost probes him for answers in order to resolve a personal crisis, as opposed to connecting and showing empathy toward this man's suffering. I feel this reading finds support...

References: Timothy Austin, ‘Narrative Discourses and Discoursing in Narratives: Analysing a Poem from a Sociolinguistic Perspective ' Poetics Today, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter, 1989).
Lewis Carroll, The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth 1996).
Stuart Curran, ed., The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
Steven Knapp, "The Sublime, Self-Reference, and Wordsworth 's Resolution and Independence," Modern Language Notes 99,5 (December 1994).
Sarah Lloyd, ‘Poverty ' in An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
Simon Malpas, ‘I cried "Come tell me how you live!"/And thumped him on the head ': Wordsworth, Carroll and the ‘Aged, Aged Man. ' [Accessed 23/8/2004]
Jerome McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1983).
William Wordsworth Resolution and Independence in M. Abrams, ed., Norton Anthology of English Literature. The Romantic Period. (New York: Norton).
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