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'Dark passages' in Wordsworth's poetry : a study of Wordsworth's exploration of life's baffling phenomena in relation to the challenge of imaginative illumination of mankind Ogbang, Peter Mego Ogem

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to establish the full range and nature of Wordsworth's exploration of the dark passages of life in relation to the challenge of imaginative illumination of mankind. By concentrating on a thematic study of those poems written between 1798-1814, I have indicated both the scope and the pattern of his exploration of life's baffling phenomena. This study is therefore a search for the essential qualities of that bed-rock humanity which account for Wordsworth's centrality among his contemporaries and among all reflective readers; it is a search for meaning and value, strength and originality, and weight and sanity of thought and feeling encompassed in his poetry. The intention is to show how Wordsworth's imaginative genius offers help and courage to perplexed minds in search of that genuine poetic insight which neither violates the principle of beauty nor affronts empirical reason and the experience of common humanity. The introductory chapter defines the full extent of Wordsworth's concern with the dark passages of human life as accentuated in his age by the break in continuity of imaginative vision. He recognized that his age had become increasingly sceptical of any realm of thought transcending the boundaries declared by empirical thought, but he also recognized the need of something steadying and deepening to nourish man's imaginative life. Given the absence of large intellectual and imaginative structures with which the poet could sufficiently identify himself, Wordsworth sought to re-define structures of imaginative perception which could enable him to serve mankind in his calling as a poet. Nevertheless, Wordsworth had first to confront the darkness of his own mind before he could undertake to establish the principle of imaginative illumination of mankind. In the dramatic lyrics of 1798-1805, especially, the poet turned to the mode of imaginative discovery of self. Chapters II and III deal with the poems in which Wordsworth grappled with complex emotional and philosophical anxieties which pressed in upon him as he pondered on the challenge of his chosen task of providing imaginative illumination for the children of the earth. These poems include "Tintern Abbey," the "Matthew" poems, "Resolution and Independence" and the Fifth Book of The Prelude. The Immortality Ode and the Peele Castle verses are discussed in Chapters IV and V as forming a transition of poetic thought between the early lyrics and The Excursion. These two poems deal with the problem of orientation to the visible universe and they help the poet to recognize more clearly his function as the poet-elegist of his age. Chapters VI and VIII discuss The Excursion as the culmination of Wordsworth's exploration of the dark passages of human life, and the conclusion reached is that the later poems offer no significant advance in the substance of poetic thought in his elegiac contemplation of human experience. The point is that, given Wordsworth's complex combination of an empirically oriented imagination with a deepening elegiac mode of vision, The Excursion has to be seen not as a fragment but as the expression of his fullest awareness of the reality of the human condition. The prevailing critical attitude in this dissertation is that of a view of Wordsworth's poetry as a mental act. I have presented Wordsworth as a poet whose special relationship with language enables him to achieve structures of poetic thought that deserve the closest syntactical analysis, particularly in those poems that are generally considered as dull and obscure.

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