Wordsworth and Vaughan

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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 ...

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...h happiness, wherever it be known, / Is to be pitied; for ‘tis surely blind” (lines 53-56). In these lines, Wordsworth finally counsels that the human world is actually not so near-sighted. Rather, when a man assumes himself separate from mankind—when he reinforces that separation—he actually blinds himself. So finally, the comparison between Vaughan and Wordsworth is not absolute. However, sorting through the words of men who’ve been dead for centuries for evidence of a literary association beyond mere coincidence is never and easy undertaking. But let us assume that, if Wordsworth was right, both he and Vaughan shared universal human experiences. Perhaps, upon reaching a certain middle age, they also shared fear and awe of the conditions of their mortality—and if one may have looked to the other’s words for poetic guidance, the poetic genre is better for it.
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