Formal Remainders: Wordsworth, Brevity, and Being Cut Short

This paper reconsiders a shrinking set of Lucy poems from Lyrical Ballads (1800) in light of the longer ballad that precedes them: “Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle.” Here Wordsworth thematizes death through a constellation of always working but not always living bodies. Moving throughout the corpus of each poem, these bodies embark upon trajectories not marked off by life but designated more simply by movement itself, by the turns and lines that shape the dead as well as the living. Be it the affect of the flesh, the linear gait of a horse, the orbit of the moon, or even the muted work of figures newly mantled by the earth, each metaphorical turn shadows the aesthetic work demanded by each line. Scripting a counter-intuitive formulation—you think that lyric poems are about people, they’re not—the poems reclaim the human body for deep time and ultimately announce the limits of what poetry and humanity as a whole can do.