Geoffrey H. Hartman The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To call Professor Hartman's new book Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787–1814 is about as relevant as squeezing the late C. S. Lewis between the covers of an Oxford History. Those who come to it expecting the survey its title implies will find instead a series of insights, stimulating, personal, not to be relied on. Apart from moments of chronological vagueness Professor Hartman's scholarship is exact, but his approach sometimes seems strangely beside the point as one returns to the poetry itself….

The correct title for the book would undoubtedly be Wordsworth's Apocalyptic Imagination. In The Unmediated Vision of 1954 Professor Hartman "glimpsed" "a paradox inherent in the human and poetic imagination: it cannot be at the same time true to nature and true to itself". Now he goes much farther. We are presented with "the drama of consciousness and maturation", shown a Wordsworth "plagued" by the fear "that nature is not enough, that his imagination is essentially apocalyptic and must violate the middle world of common things and loves". "The poet's later strength", it is asserted, "has its origin in experiences that intimate (negatively) a death of nature and (positively) a faculty whose power is independent of nature". Despite the occasional reassuring summary, it is not easy to isolate the stages of Wordsworth's alleged development. Professor Hartman treats The Prelude as if it recorded historical fact, and often...

(The entire section is 542 words.)