Wordsworth and Vaughan
When reading T.S. Eliot’s critical comment, “It is to be observed that the language of these poets is as a rule simple and pure,” one might assume that he was referring to the Romantics (Eliot 2328). Specifically, we could apply this statement to poets the ilk of Wordsworth, who eschewed poetic affectations and “tricked out” language for sentiments that originated and flowed naturally (Wordsworth 270). Yet Eliot hadn’t focused his critical eye there, this time. Rather, he squinted a century back to a lesser-referenced literary group, the Metaphysical poets (Eliot 2328). That the Metaphysical poets and the Romantics share a characteristically simple/natural diction is important. While they are undoubtedly distinct schools, if we can show that they are even remotely stylistically similar, then we might have grounds to acknowledge similarities between a poet from each, respectively. Thus, I propose considering Wordsworth in relation to an earlier man, Henry Vaughan.
I am not the first to do so; much has been said of the link between these men regarding their analogous poems “The Retreat” and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”—by comparing them I cannot claim any original insight. However, there is more common to these two men than two poems, and in analyzing what Wordsworth desires from poetry and the poet in his “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” we see that Vaughan had many of the poetic qualities Wordsworth demanded of himself. Even more interesting, Wordsworth's shifted perspective from “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” to the "Elegiac Stanza" replicates Vaughan's shift from "To Amoret" to "The Night." Where Vaughan’s verse originally addressed worldly love and natural affinity, his later poetry concerned itself with godly affairs; thus, his earliest works came from a place kin to Wordsworth’s natural world. Where Wordsworth focused too on love and nature at first, he then took on more spiritual subjects. Further, if we assume that Wordsworth’s imitation of “The Retreat” was intentional, then Vaughan may have even been a poetic model (in some sense) for Wordsworth later in life. True, Wordsworth is not generally considered a religious poet; he would never have originally considered Vaughan a model because of the latter’s extreme religiosity. Yet if these two poems don’t echo in godly gestures per se, they do in a more spiritual sense—and perhaps Wordsworth, as a man confronted with his own mortality, found Vaughan’s treatise on the spirit’s immortality a sympathetic sentiment. Thus by comparing the two, we also might better understand Wordsworth’s poetic progression.
Both critical precedence and a close line-by-line analysis suggest that the similarity between “The Retreat” and the “Ode” is indeed no coincidence. “Let anyone who is well acquainted with Wordsworth’s grand ode—that on the ‘Intimations of Immortality’—turn his mind to a comparison between that and [‘The...