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“Untrodden Way”--1
from Romantic Presences

She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways
   Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
   And very few to love.

A Violet by a mossy Stone
   Half-hidden from the Eye!
--Fair as a star when only one
   Is shining in the sky!

She liv’d unknown, and few could know
   When Lucy ceas’d to be;
But she is in her Grave, and oh!
   The difference to me. 

The poet does not represent what happens by the springs of Dove.  No critic (at whatever salary) can ever find out.  Perhaps Lucy led a life of innocence.  We can infer that, but we will never know its representation and can therefore never tame it: perhaps the innocence of Lucy is as hot as the flaming flowers of Blake’s “Infant Joy.”  Emma Bovary and Léon in the carriage: we know that sex flourishes in that cabin, but Flaubert won’t let us see it, touch it—another untrodden way.  There is a moment in each day that Satan cannot find, and therefore the moment, we know, lives more flamingly than any other.

Speed in our proceeding admits the power of perception but allows perceptions not to occur near the center of the event; thus criticism best works in the penumbrae, makes shadows to illuminate them, to infer the center but not deform it.  Notice that for Flaubert the carriage supporting the hot center keeps moving through Rouen, giving eyes only the blur of the excitement.

Romanticism of the undegraded sort is calling attention to the place of the secret.  Criticism of the degraded sort will domesticate what it can see (what is represented) but will have to invent itself more nobly to honor what it can’t see.  The paranoia of the Romantic, from Rousseau on, is his/her genius.

“Everybody who looks and who understands can easily be classified somewhere between poetry and love, between steak and painting.  They’ll be digested, they’ll be digested.” (Tristan Tzara)



October 24, 2002
from Wordsworth Day by Day: Reading His Work into Poetry Now

            And very few to love.
            Is shining in the sky!
            The difference to me.

Deform “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” by making new stanzas out of all the first lines, second lines, third lines, and last lines respectively:  This is the new last-line stanza.  I like what I’ve just made, and how the word “difference” is shorn of its questionably elegiac stature.  Reading this I see the standard assumption that the difference, to the speaker, of Lucy’s vanishing has little, or nothing, to do with lament, what I’ve always suspected, and more to do with acknowledgment as praise and love in the presence of the near absence of love.  This triplet elides death and thus uncouples death from difference, which now leaps back to a celestial shining but framed by love intensifying through its growing scarcity.  Intensity lies in a betweenness. 

A further deformation of the deformation:

                                    Love
                        shining in
            The difference



From the Commentary on Dorothy Wordsworth
from Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three, with Jerome Rothenberg

  1. Thanks largely to the women’s movement in the 1970s & beyond, she has emerged from the shadow of her poet-brother to claim her own contribution to poetry through a species of precise & objectified writings a century or more before American “imagism” or the “objectivism” (“thinking with the things as they exist”—L. Zukofsky) that followed from it.  With Dorothy Wordsworth, as with a handful of her contemporaries, the notion of “poetry” slips the noose of line break, versification, & poetic idiom & heads, particularly in the Grasmere Journals (1800-1803), toward a form of near-poetry with prose as its medium.  The hybrid status of her best work was declared by one Hyman Eigerman when, in 1940, he published The Poetry of Dorothy Wordsworth, lineating passages from her Journals & later prose writings; this produced startling deformations that make the case for her as an imagist, even proto-“objectivist” poet.  Her quintessential diary entries, however, are far less normalized than Eigerman’s versions, employing a syntax & punctuation similar at their best to that in John Clare’s autobiographical prose (a generation away from her); moreover, they flatten “poetic” & “prosaic” subject matter, foreground & background, nature & society (encounters, often, with itinerant members of the lower classes), rural & urban culture, producing a genuine art of aleatory vulnerability with all of the “impurity” that implies.

  2. Yet the interest in image and object is uniquely implicated in the circumstantial collaboration with her brother William, not necessarily stated as such but announced by the sheer contiguity, or presence, of his perceptions & alterings of the environment alongside her characteristic form of associative prose, of subtle mixings & interweavings of perception & imagination: “William lay, & I lay in the trench under the fence—he with his eyes shut & listening to the waterfalls & the Birds.  There was no one waterfall above anotherit was a sound of waters in the air—the voice of the air.  William heard me breathing & rustling now & then but we both lay still, & unseen by one another—he thought that it would be as sweet thus to lie so in the grave, to hear the peaceful sounds of the earth & just to know that ones dear friends were near.”

  3. Wrote Virginia Woolf, as an act of rediscovery: “She was no descriptive writer in the usual sense.  Her first concern was to be truthful—grace and symmetry must be made subordinate to truth.  But then truth is sought because to falsify the look of the stir of the breeze on the lake is to tamper with the spirit which inspires appearances.”