Strange Affinities: A Partial Return to Wordsworthian Poetics After Modernism

Wordsworth matters first because of the curse that the egotistical sublime was to become. High Victorian poets could not be content unless their speakers could take on personal stances dignified by Wordsworthian high eloquence. But they could no longer marry that eloquence to processes of sensation or to modes of symbol making. So the affective basis for self-projection came increasingly to have little but the poet’s imaginary identification with the role of poet as sustenance for lyric eloquence. This essay uses a short poem by Matthew Arnold to illustrate features of self-projection that become even more striking in overtly Wordsworthian poems like "The Scholar Gypsy." The essay also shows how modernist rejections of Romanticism might better be seen as repudiations of Victorian versions of the romantic subject that had lost the possibility of keeping the ego continuous with sensation. If we treat the poetics of immanence as primarily an emphasis on particular ways of getting as much of mind as possible made continuous with the senses, we can see that the anti-symbolist moderns and their heirs had to reinvent, sans egotistical sublime, what Wordsworth sought as his means of resisting the corrupt modes of feeling influencing social life. Wordsworth is the godfather of at least one strand of contemporary radical poetics because of how he enables us to escape the lyric heritage that Victorian poetics imposed upon him.