Reap Together: Romanticism and Noir

As to how I have designated possible discussions/discourses about Apparition Poems; applying the moniker noir to them, in order the explicate the aesthetic terrain they inhabit; I would like to designate a possible chiasmus between “noir,” as defined in textual practice by me, and the theoretical underpinnings of English Romanticism. What noir and Romanticism share is substantial— a sense of mysticism or enchantment in/with cognition itself, or cognitive processes; also, the engagement-in-cognition between textuality and the human mind, and the mind’s enchantment with levels of textual transparency and opacity, back and forth; and a generalized sense of the necessity of dealing directly, to a greater or lesser extent, with philosophy and philosophical issues in texts maintaining artistic/aesthetic consonance. In order to develop this discourse, I would like to parse The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth, in a dialectical fusion with Apparition Poem #1070. The issues of phallocentrism-in-text, imposition on the feminine, “theft” of the feminine, rusticity, chastity, and sincerity starkly given antithesis by urbanity, sensuality, and artifice, fused into meditations on textual innocence and experience, virginity and consummation, and ultimate female empowerment in noir over Romanticism, are the ones which will lead us, hopefully, to a fulfilled dialectic.

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;—
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

I said, “I can’t
even remember
the last time I
was excited, how
can I associate

She pulled
out a gun, a tube
of oil, and an air

and it was
a spontaneous

felt, in which we
reaped together—

To clarify: “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” is a famous phrase from Wordsworth’s Preface. If the two poems together initiate a sort of wrestling match or scuffle, it is because inversions in the two texts lead to a kind of thematic impasse. When Wordsworth (or his protagonist/”I”) co-opts the song of the Solitary Reaper, the interaction is a kind of unconsummated (“chaste”) one— she does not know someone is listening, and Wordsworth seems eager to keep it that way. We are drawn in by her rusticity, the sense that (as Wordsworth would have us believe, and as he explicated in his Preface) the rustic evinces a superior purity/innocence to the urban, and the plaintive quality of her song advertises a kind of emotional grandeur or gravitas, a superior depth to her femininity.

The woman in #1080 is our antithesis. Because what is being presented to the reader would seem to encompass levels of sleaze (“gun, tube of oil, air cushion”), it is easy to miss that this protagonist is proud that he does not have to surreptitiously co-opt something (song or skin) from his heroine; the sense that she, out of her own urbanity, anticipates the need for a full consummation, or modicum of experience. Also important is that she initiates the action; whether we find it sleazy or not, she is in a more empowered position vis a vis the male than Wordsworth would ever allow himself to be. This form of female empowerment is threaded again, as a motif, through Equations, released a year after Apparition Poems. And is, ultimately, what a noir sensibility has over Romantic sincerity, which tends towards chastity: the fully realized, mature notice and transubstantiation into text of the adult, and adult levels of awareness, both of the body (in noir, an experienced body) and of levels of metaphoric awareness which Wordsworth would not have missed (that each realization of the feminine is a realization of a certain kind of text, textuality, and textual practice, bound together by processes of incision and receptivity conjoined in a single writerly consciousness, male or female). 

By having me raise a “plaintive” voice to my Muse, as I drolly invert another line from Wordsworth’s Preface (“as to the way the mind associates ideas in a state of excitement”), I feminize myself so that my compatriot may incise into me her own experience, or equation, of the situation at hand. Thus, the sleaze levels are superficial; my text empowers a sensualized, adult woman to enjoy (“reap together”) an encounter both more tactile and more textually fulfilling than the encounters both in Lyrical Ballads and in Wordsworth’s Prelude, which features, on a general level, few interactions at all, and remains mired in Romanticism’s narcissistic obsession with the phallocentric text, and with male assertions.