A reflection on Arnold's "Dover Beach" and Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
Poetry that establishes its raison d'Ãªtre as linguistic play is, for Wordsworth, "a matter of amusement and idle pleasureâ€¦as if it were a thing as indifferent as a taste for rope-dancing, or frontiniac or sherry" (Preface 250). Wordsworth condemns poets whose efforts contribute mainly in celebrating formal experimentation; he discriminates against poetry that has recourse to what he calls a "superlatively contemptible" (265) language. Wordsworth advises his readership to mistrust what he calls the "infinite caprices" (261) of poetic composition, and he claims that such artifice undermines what he holds as poetry's true task. He is skeptical of poets who "break in upon the sanctity of truth of [their] pictures by transitory and accidental ornaments, and endeavor to excite admiration of [themselves] by arts" (260).
Instead of celebrating metrical aesthetics as a pursuit valuable in its own right, Wordsworth regrets verse that compromises content for the whimsical satisfaction of effect and immediacy of impression. To safeguard poetry from such intransigence, then, Wordsworth proposes a poetry that is more transcendental or conceptual. He seems to conjoin poetry and philosophy with a greater end in view, no doubt one receptive of his own endeavor in mapping out a study of his introspective self:
Aristotle, I have been told, hath said that poetry is the most philosophic of all writing. It is so. Its object is truth, not individual and local, but general and operative; not standing upon external testimony, which gives strength and divinity to the tribunal to which it appeals, and receives them from the same tribunal. (Preface 258)
This statement ill...
Arnold, Matthew. "Dover Beach." The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold. Ed. C. B. Tinker and H. F. Lowry. Oxford University Press, 1950. 210-212.
Arnold, Matthew. "Wordsworth." Essays in Criticism: second series. Ed. S. R. Littlewood. London: Macmillan, 1951. 73-96.
McEathron, Scott. "Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads." A Companion to Romanticism. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. 144-156.
Morgan, ThaÃ¯s. "Rereading Nature: Wordsworth between Swinburne and Arnold." Victorian Poetry 24:4 (1986 Winter): 427-439.
Trickett, Rachael. "Wordsworth and Arnold." The Wordsworth Circle 20:1 (1989 Winter): 50-56.
Wordsworth, William. "Tintern Abbey." Romanticism, 1st ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. 240-244.
Wordsworth, William. 1802 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. Romanticism, 1st ed. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. 250-269.
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