Essays in Romanticism

Poetry and Trauma: Wordsworth’s Understanding of Early Development1Portions of the present essay rework material previously published in “Wordsworth and Metapsychology,” in Wordsworth’s Poetic Theory: Knowledge, Language, Experience, ed. Alexander Regier

Essays in Romanticism (2015), 22, (2), 119–131.

Abstract

This essay considers Wordsworth’s account in The Prelude of his development from the perspective of trauma studies. If the “spots of time,” the specific and frightening childhood incidents that stay in his memory as an archaic core, are acknowledged as traumatic, the developmental question becomes how childhood trauma plays a role in overcoming the adult crisis of psychic deracination and moral disorientation he experiences in the years immediately following the French Revolution. Modifying Freud’s hypothesis of a death instinct seeking to cancel the tension produced by the evolution of an animate and even conscious matter, an answer is sought in the responsiveness of Wordsworth’s poetry to the mute appeal of nature’s inanimate material substrate, a responsiveness that cultivates a refusal to leave something behind that remains perceptible and basic in the makeup of human life. (Editor’s note, JW)

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Hartman, Geoffrey