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The Recluse Essay

1864 words - 7 pages

Wordsworth suffers solitude, even as he celebrates it. Alone, the poet can explore his own consciousness; it exists at both poles of the notion of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, and is the dominant developmental mode of Wordsworth’s childhood as depicted in The Prelude (1805). Independence is what is exalted in his introduction to that poem: he greets the ‘gentle breeze’ as a ‘captive… set free’ from the ‘vast city’ which has been as a ‘prison’ to his spirit. The oppression of city living is alleviated in this opening reacquisition of isolation; the relief is evident: ‘I breathe again’, ‘that burthen of my own unnatural self [is shaken off], /The heavy weight of many a weary day/ Not mine, and such as were not made for me’. In this, the commencing statement of his autobiography, the independence of solitude is represented as the essential quality of his poetic felicity. The ‘egoistical sublime’ observed by Keats is manifest in this poetry in a separation from other men, rather than in that of a Byron, whose narrators’ egotisms are evinced by their social interactions. Wordsworth’s company is nature; his sister, his wife, his children exist as assimilations rather than relationships.
The sister of Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, is conjured into independence in the final paragraph, so as to exist as a previous self: ‘For thou are with me’, he suddenly reveals, ‘and in thy voice I catch/ The language of my former heart’. She is externalised when poetically useful; and it is by this externalisation that Wordsworth is able to avert and diminish his poem’s undercurrent doubts. ‘This prayer I make/ Knowing that Nature never did betray/ The heart that loved her’, has a contrary traction as a plea intimating desperation – the impossible confidence of ‘knowing’ implies the fear that his transcendental apprehension of natural bliss will indeed diminish. This quiet dread is furthered softened by its detachment from his own position, and attached as an aspiration to the now separate sister, the former self. The loss traced behind the new gained perspectives – ‘of a sense sublime, of something far more deeply interfused’, whose cost is the ‘dizzy raptures’ and ‘aching joys’ of less-conscious youth – is both more obvious in solitude, and created by that solitude. The isolation that has generated enhanced consciousness, which has in turned altered his apprehension of nature, is disrupted by this apostrophe to his sister, like a mode of damage limitation, in muffled crisis; the problem (isolation enhancing consciousness), that is responsible for the erosion of his sensibility of natural immanence, is temporarily averted by introducing the separate presence of his sister.
Her contemplation, however, does not abey the fears of greater loss, since, because she represents a former self, she too represents the change. She becomes the nexus for his anxieties of alteration: at the same time as she supplies an escape from the harmful effects...

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