Ober, Warren U.||Seat, William
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of English
Wordsworth; William; 1770-1850. River Duddon
William Wordsworth's The River Duddon is a series of thirty-four sonnets, written between 1814 and 1820, celebrating one of his favorite rivers, the Duddon. In the Duddon sonnets, Wordsworth traces the course of the river from its source high in the mountains to its mouth at the sea. But the Duddon sonnets are more than descriptive poetry, for the river represents permanence in the midst of change. Since, on one level, the river also suggest the flow of civilization, it becomes a symbol for the type of immortality which is possible for man. Wordsworth's philosophy as it relates to nature, man, and God, is, therefore, apparent in The River Duddon, and because it is a product of his later years it has a bearing on the question of the "two Wordsworths." Many scholars are of the opinion that Wordsworth's philosophy changed after the years 1805-1807 and that, as a result, the poet of the later years is not the same poet who wrote the great nature poetry. Since the Duddon sonnets were written after this change took place and thus embody Wordsworth's later philosophy, they should indicate the nature of the change. This study, by means of an analysis of The River Duddon as it relates to the philosophy in representative works from Wordsworth's great years, attempts to determine whether such a change took place. David Ferry's distinction between the mystic vision and the sacramental vision is the basis for the this analysis, and an attempt has been made to show that, while Wordsworth's earlier poetry is the result of the mystic vision, The River Duddon is the product of the sacramental vision. The mystic vision relies on emotion rather than thought, for it involves an intuitive knowledge of God. It is, in addition, the vision which unifies and which can obliterate nature in its efforts to see the eternal. The sacramental vision is based on thought and must use nature as a symbol for the eternal. The differences between the philosophy of Wordsworth's great nature poetry and the philosophy of The River Duddon are, therefore, attributable to Wordsworth's loss of mystic vision, for the differences lie in the raw material used and in the kind of mind which worked on it. The poetry of Wordsworth's great years, the years before 1806-1807, is largely made up of recollections of Wordsworth's childhood. The child's vision is similar to the mystic vision in that it responds to nature with emotion rather than with thought. The child does not use his intellect to distinguish between sense and spirit, and he does not, therefore, make a distinction between himself, other-than-human creatures, and nature; he feels that he is part of nature. Because there is a fusion of sense and spirit, the mystic vision unifies and is able to obliterate nature in its efforts to see the eternal. In his great nature poetry Wordsworth could still remember his childhood, and he could, as a result, express both the emotion evoked by and the unity inherent in nature and man. Because he could remember how he felt when he responded to nature and man in the manner of the mystic, Wordsworth's conception of the relationship between man, nature, and the supreme being was panntheistic. While he was no longer capable of the mystic vision when he wrote his earlier poetry, Wordsworth could still remember how he felt when he responded to man, nature, and God as a mystic, and he was, therefore, still able to express himself in the manner of a mystic. The River Duddon, on the other hand, is the product of the sacramental vision which relies on thought rather than emotion and which views man and nature as separate entities. There is no evidence that Wordsworth is able to remember how he felt when he could respond to nature and to man with emotion rather than with thought, for memories of childhood are not an important part of the Duddon sonnets. Because he is no longer able to rely on these memories, Wordsworth is no longer a part of nature; he no longer sees unity in man and in nature; and he is no longer able to see beyond nature to the eternal. The changes of philosophy apparent in The River Duddon are, therefore, the result of Wordsworth's loss of mystic vision, for the mystic vision of man and nature in his early poetry--the vision of emotion and unity--has given way to the sacramental vision in The River Duddon. When Wordsworth was no longer able to remember how he responded to man, nature, and God as a child, he could no longer express himself in the manner of a mystic. While Wordsworth's earlier poetry is the product of the mystic vision which obliterates nature in its efforts to see the eternal, The River Duddon is the product of the sacramental vision which can view nature only as a symbol for eternity.
Hansen, Judith L., "The river Duddon : Wordsworth's loss of vision" (1966). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 6228.
vii, 81 pages
Northern Illinois University
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