Apparition Poems : Dialogue with Wordsworth



Over the course of my studies, graduate and undergraduate, there are few texts I got closer to than William Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. At best, it is one of the choicest exegesis texts ever written around the disclosure of what motivates, sustains, and inhabits major high art consonant poetry; at worst, it is a confusing mess. Wordsworth makes clear his allegiance to the rural poor, and to channeling their voices (which he calls “the real language of men”) in his poetry; he has established this choice, he says, to represent the plain, emphatic language used by the rural poor, uninfluenced by social vanity, hinged always to the beautiful, permanent, durable forms of nature and the natural world. Wordsworth also wants to explore cognition, the manner in which emotions, once excited, cause the mind to associate ideas. The dialogue I would like to initiate here has to do with Apparition Poem 1488, which has already proven to have, among the Apps, a unique, compelling magnetism. I think I have found out why— it is because there is a “heart” to the poem, a center, which is plain, emphatic, uninfluenced by the vanity (and it is in some senses a social one) towards heightened diction, syntax, and thematic thrust. While 1488 is not written in a rural dialect, it catches its protagonist in a state of excitement, associating ideas in such a way that the plain, emphatic “heart” of the poem is sandwiched by the wonted heightened aesthetic terrain of the Apparition Poems series. That the heart has permanence and durability owing to its emphatic plainness is arguable:

liquor store, linoleum
floor, wine she chose
was always deep red,
dark, bitter aftertaste,
unlike her bare torso,
which has in it
all that ever was
of drunkenness—
to miss someone terribly,
to both still be in love, as
she severs things because
she thinks she must—
exquisite torture, it’s
a different bare torso,
(my own) that’s incarnadine

By the heart, I mean “to miss someone terribly,/ to both still be in love, as/ she severs things because/ she thinks she must,” and it is, as I said, readily comprehensible on the surface, with (uniquely, in the context of this book) few multiple significations and no twists or torques towards multiplicity— one woman, one man, one relationship. That 1488 should inhabit a more typical, specialized Apparition Poems space, move into direct earnestness, and then move back into specialized multiplicity again— when Wordsworth discusses the real language of men, he never establishes how he would choose to approach, on a theoretical level, a Lyrical Ballad which had inhering this kind of gear-shift, or for the real language of men to develop an imagination (in one poem) and then shift back into plainness. The effect, in 1488, is to make it so that a reader, who might have limited tolerance for the multiplicity levels in other Apparition Poems, would find a kind of safe haven in the four pertinent lines, a textual oasis which makes palatable, and imaginatively feasible, the rest of the poem. It is also relevant to me that the substitution of Eros (broadly speaking) for what William Wordsworth perceives in nature is one the Apparition Poems go out of their way to make— the beauty, durability, permanence, and the “real” are all to be found in the erotic, and that the richness inhering in text-represented eroticism need not fall beneath what Wordsworth sees in (for instance) Tintern Abbey. Where the Wordsworthian text sits between Man and Nature, how the text can guide men to a fuller understanding of the life we have all been born into on Earth, is another quandary which the Preface only half addresses, especially because the average reader is not guaranteed to be smitten with natural forms. Eroticism is different— because Wordsworth claims that the poet supersedes other writers for singing a song which everyone can join in with, and because the erotic is of interest, permanently and durably (and plainly and emphatically), to almost everyone, it would seem that nature and eroticism should be at least commensurably ranked. As to the special magnetism, already manifest, of 1488, it has to do (as has already been written about at some length) not only with eroticism but intoxication— and the most important intoxicating effect 1488 manifests, is the move from the heightened to the plain and back again.