The Poet as a Mirror

William Wordsworth details his growth as a poet in the first two books of his Prelude. He discusses many near-mystical experiences in nature that provide him with visions. It is through these experiences that he “drink[s] the visionary power” (Book Second 311). What exactly this visionary power is is difficult to ascertain. After having a sublime experience of nature as a child, Wordsworth was troubled. He says that “for many days, [his] brain/ Worked with a dim and undetermined sense/ Of unknown modes of being” (Book First 391-393). He struggled with murky thoughts that were devoid of “familiar shapes” (Book First 395), and peopled, rather, with “huge and mighty forms” (Book First 398). This calls to mind a passage from Percy Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry in which Shelley says that poets are “the mirrors of gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present, the words which express what they understand not” (A Defence of Poetry p. 956). This seems to be very much the experience of the young Wordsworth. He struggles with the “huge and mighty forms” and tries to make sense of them, but is unable to do so. It is only by acting as a mirror and reflecting these forms back to mankind through poetry that the forms can be comprehended. This metaphor of a mirror representing the poetic process is particularly apt in that a mirror does not comprehend what it reflects. Reflecting is a passive act. The mirror does not create the image that it presents, but rather it acts as a medium through which this image can be seen and understood. This is precisely the role of the poet. The poet is “singled out […]/ For holy services” (Book First 53-54) and must seek out “Spontaneou[s]” (Book First 52) poetry and prophecy to reveal unknown forms to the world.


~ by rollingrock33 on August 30, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Poet as a Mirror”

  1. I’m really interested in how you relate Shelley’s metaphor of the mirror to Wordsworth’s visionary experience. You could have sealed your case if you were to provide a close reading of Wordsworth–maybe a line or two–where you spot this use of mirroring/reflecting. For example, consider the lake reflecting the rising mountain in the background during Wordsworth’s boat-stealing episode. This kind of “reflecting” seems to inspire the poet’s visionary power.

  2. I also noticed how much self-reflecting he partook in with his writing. It gives the work an emnet feel, makes it appear more significant to daily life. A person reads the first three books, pertaining to you are the first two books, and think to themselves, “Wordsworth is intuitive. I am being intuitive” and that gives Wordsworth some sort of import.

    Besides that, the first two books are patterned, with series of observances and odes that praise individualism and transcendent nature.

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