Wordsworth’s Satanic Autobiography

Wordsworth’s Satanic Autobiography SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE WORDSWORTH made the loss of his own former glory the subject of the ‘Intimations’ ode, he lamented the loss of Satan’s former glory in Paradise Lost. In his annotations to Milton’s poem, Wordsworth recorded his reaction to Satan’s final transformation from the ruined archangel, who, though robbed of some of his ‘original brightness’, was still no less than ‘th’ excess of glory obscured’ (I. 592-4), to ‘monstrous serpent’ (X. 514):1 Here we bid farewell to the first character perhaps ever exhibited in Poetry. And it is not a little to be lamented that, he leaves us in a situation so degraded in comparison with the grandeur of his introduction. Filling an interleaved page, Wordsworth goes on to suggest that Satan and his fellow rebel angels deserved a ‘more noble’ punishment, one ‘more consonant to the dignity of the beings’.2 His objection to the manner in which Milton ushers his character offstage suggests that Wordsworth ascribes a set of characteristics to Satan that the poem, he believes, does not fulfil. Joseph Wittreich explains that ‘Wordsworth’s poetical admiration should not be confused with moral sympathy’:3 Wordsworth is not ‘of the Devil’s party’, nor does he believe Milton to be.4 Rather, Wordsworth objects to this ending because it is ‘unworthy of [Milton’s] genius’, and ‘contains in it nothing that can afford pleasure’. These objections do bear the mark of poetical, rather than moral, judgements; but what of his announcement that Satan is ‘the first character perhaps ever exhibited in Poetry’? The word ‘character’ appears in various contexts in Wordsworth’s works;5 but one extended meditation seems to touch particularly on a similar use of the word: the ‘Essay on the Character of Rivers’, a supplementary essay which elaborates upon the character and motives of the protagonist of The Borderers. The essay holds a strange place among Wordsworth’s writings; nowhere else in his prose does he engage so enthusiastically with the make-up of another’s mind. And yet it also bears the marks of something only Wordsworth could have written, as it displays the keenest understanding of and preoccupation with the freight of a remembered time and ‘those powerful feelings which attend … recollection’.6 What accounts for this dark interlude, during which Wordsworth temporarily turns his attention towards guilt and a murderer’s self-defence?7 Perhaps his early vacillation between a visionary, associative, and optimistic line of thinking – which would become the object of his greatest poetry – and the interlude of interest in the guilt-ridden and miserable can be reconciled to some degree by Frank Kermode’s assessment of Wordsworth’s own character: Wordsworth had to admit that the artist’s peculiar susceptibility to pleasure made him an easy victim of the temptations, and therefore a man especially prone to misery. He feels more pleasure, but also more pain. His difference isolates him … [he can do little besides] weld joy and misery together in some symbolic blaze, some Leech Gatherer and, that victory over, plan another.8 Kermode’s Wordsworth bears some resemblance to the character of Rivers who, alienated from society and delighted by extremes, retreats ‘with strong misanthropic feelings’ into solitude, where ‘his mind exhausts itself’ in meditation and, deriving energy from the strength of his own mental powers, is ‘impelled … again into the world’.9 Wordsworth alluded to Milton’s Satan throughout his career as a similar exploration of such ‘tendencies he recognized in himself’, and he shows unexpected affinities between Satan and his own autobiographical imaginations. Many of the solutions Wordsworth works out in his own poetry are continuations and more careful studies of Satan’s most anguish-inducing thoughts; in these moments of despair, Satan begins to construct a way of reconciling loss, and Wordsworth, recognising the consolatory potential of Satan’s ideas, revises them until they work as consolation in his own poetry. Harold Bloom once said that Satan ‘shadows forth gigantically a trouble at the core of Milton … emerging to stand clear in Wordsworth’;10 but he did not return to his astonishing statement, and so never addressed the questions that it inevitably poses: What trouble does Satan ‘shadow forth’? And, more importantly for my purposes, what is this strength of Wordsworth’s through which Satan comes to ‘stand clear’, and what does it mean to ‘stand clear’? In Milton’s God, William Empson refers to ‘the analytic mind of Satan’, which is often reflective and logical, and to the two ways he conceives of reading Satan: we can ‘shudder at Satan’s villainy or take [his offers] as sincere, and feel the agony of his ruined greatness’.11 Without claiming that Wordsworth sympathises with Satan or considers him the hero of the poem, one can agree that Wordsworth does feel this agony of ruined greatness, even if it is only an agony of ruined poetic greatness, and tries to imagine what could be gained by taking Satan to be sincere. What can be gained may be the knowledge that Satan took his own ideas seriously and was not a fool, that in his desperate, consolatory ideas were viable possibilities in the search for what Jonathan Wordsworth calls ‘something permanent and assuaging’.12 This notion of Satan’s ‘ruined greatness’ first appears in the description of his form in Book I: His form had yet not lost All her original brightness, nor appeared Less than Archangel ruined, and th’ excess Of glory obscured              (I. 591-4) Wordsworth, as Hazlitt recalls, ‘said that he could read this description of Satan … till he felt a certain faintness come over his mind from a sense of beauty and grandeur’:13 it is perhaps unsurprising that Wordsworth should reclaim and rearrange this image several times throughout his poetry.14 The ‘Intimations’ ode exemplifies Wordsworth’s tendency to think through and complete Satan’s greatest, half-created thoughts. The ode seems to have stepped out of Satan’s brief wonder at Eden towards the close of Book III, before he curses the sun for bringing ‘remembrance from what / State I fell’ (IV. 38-9). For both Satan and Wordsworth, Earth is a place we could love were it not for heaven; our recollection of heaven poisons our relationship with the Earth, and our present experience is continually lessened by contrast. In order to think through this impasse, Wordsworth captures and sustains the moment when Satan enters Eden and is by ‘wonder seized’, but cannot sustain this wonder because his memory of heaven turns his awe into despair, and then into ‘much more envy’ (III. 552). The ‘Intimations’ ode’s structure mirrors this moment: Earth is beautiful, but, remembering heaven, we experience a feeling of loss. For Satan, this feeling is anguish, but this is not so for Wordsworth, who spends the entirety of the ode trying to find a convincing replacement for Satan’s agony. Wordsworth revises the last part of Satan’s thought in the ode, because he sees that the agony comes specifically from being in hell. He removes the internal hell in which Satan suffers, and is left only with tremendous intensity. Satan does not find solace for this thought within Paradise Lost, so Wordsworth revisits the dilemma in the ode, in which he means to conquer or explain away the feeling ‘that there hath passed away a glory from the earth’ (l. 18). Wordsworth placed himself within an Edenic natural scene, and, thinking himself to the brink of Satan’s misery, stopped writing for nearly two years before he could continue with his resolution.15 His description of humanity’s descent to earthly life in the next stanza seems to speak directly to Milton’s first description of Satan’s form: ‘Not in entire forgetfulness, / And not in utter nakedness, / But trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God’ (ll. 62-5). These ‘clouds of glory’ are, in fact, what cause Satan’s distress, but Wordsworth insists that that which distresses can also comfort.16 He has taken this image from Milton’s description of Satan, in which he insists, in much the same language, that ‘His form had yet not lost / All her original brightness, nor appeared / Less than Archangel ruined, and th’ excess / Of glory obscured’. The clouds of glory that remain are the same for both Satan and Wordsworth, but in the ‘Intimations’ ode Wordsworth rearranges Milton’s image of ‘glory obscured’. Without altering the image, he revises its implications, so that the glory which, in Paradise Lost, indicates its own absence now signifies its enduring presence. Wordsworth assigns positive value to the signs of Satan’s loss, and they become his ‘embers’, in which ‘something … doth live, / that nature yet remembers’ (ll. 130-2). Wordsworth finds strength in the idea that we can access joy and intensity through what is left behind, but Satan will not admit that he is changed forever – ‘what matter where, if I still be the same’ (I. 256). Therefore every moment in which he feels disconnected (every moment in Paradise Lost which feels like stanza IV of the ‘Intimations’ ode) renews his experience of his fall. Wordsworth is deeply troubled by this – by the feelings that separate him from his original perceptions of nature – but, unlike Satan, Wordsworth soon realises that the change is a permanent one. The ‘Intimations’ ode eventually and necessarily abandons its hope of restoring old feelings, of restoring what was lost, and sets out instead to find power not only in the glory that remains, but in the way that loss changes how we see that glory.17 What Wordsworth finds is that specificity and subjective experience cause the most intense feelings of loss because they are all that remain after a change has taken place. In order to think beyond Satan, Wordsworth installs satanic imagery within his own thoughts – thoughts which have sprung out of and have then built upon those in Paradise Lost. Wordsworth appropriates the simile following Milton’s first description of Satan’s form: ‘as when the sun new risen / Looks through the horizontal misty air / Shorn of his beams’ (I. 594-6). He conserves the image of a sun darkening and shorn of its beams by the Earth’s mists and transforms it into his ‘shades of the prison-house’ which slowly ‘close upon the growing boy’ (ll. 67-8). Here Wordsworth modifies his image based on what he has observed in Satan: Satan and the angels see the darkness that the ‘horizontal misty air’ creates, but not the glow of light that permeates it, but Wordsworth’s growing boy ‘beholds the light, and whence it flows’ and disregards the prison shades (ll. 69-71). When the boy becomes a man this light fades, but it is important that it fades ‘into the light of common day’ and not into darkness (l. 77): he ‘perceives it die away’, but what he experiences is actually an internal change – a change in vision. Wordsworth recognises the ease with which internal change can be mistaken for material loss. Stanley Cavell notes a common inclination to misvalue the transformation that takes place in that line: Shall we take this, as I suppose it is commonly taken, to be the same as going out? But ‘fades into’ does not say ‘fades out’. It may propose some other mode of becoming, as happier disillusionment, so that the vision is preserved in the way in which it is forgone.18 While Wordsworth does not say ‘fades out’ in the final version of the poem, he nearly did. In a draft, line 57 – ‘Where is it now, the glory and the dream?’ – initially read ‘Where is it gone, the glory and the dream?’19 Thus, the ‘happier disillusionment’ that emerges in Cavell’s reading is a precarious happiness. Both versions of the line contain the possibility of some preservation (if the vision is ‘gone’, it might have gone somewhere), but asking where it is ‘now’ implies a confidence in that preservation. Just as ‘fades into’ does not mean ‘fades out’, so Milton writes that Satan appears no less than ‘Archangel ruined’. Satan’s glory is also ‘preserved in the way in which it is forgone’, but Satan’s inability to see this way is revealed when he asserts that he has ‘a mind not to be changed by place or time’ (I. 253). He recognises his fallen state as an entirely external one, and finds hope and courage in the idea that his mind can ‘make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven’ (I. 255). Satan is right in characterising his situation as internal, but tragically so. He sees the mind’s potential to sustain a way of thinking in the face of external change as a means by which he can alter or escape his external circumstances; but the mind’s ability to create its own external environment is what keeps him eternally in hell: ‘nor from hell / One step no more than from himself can fly / By change of place’ (IV. 21-3). The change that he labels a change of ‘place or time’ never occurs, but Satan is correct to a certain extent. His mind has a superiority and power over external circumstances, but he gets part of the process backwards: he proclaims that he will not allow his external situation to govern his mind, but realises in Book IV that the only way to escape hell would in fact be to escape his mind and the tyranny it holds over his internal and external world: the assertion that ‘the mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n’ (I. 254-5) turns to ‘which way I fly is hell; myself am hell’ (IV. 75). Of course, his insistence that the unchanged self makes time and place irrelevant proves devastatingly correct in Book IV, when he realises that he carries a hell inside himself, but it also finds fault with his claim that his mind can counter his surroundings: an unchangeable mind can make either a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven, but it cannot do both. Likewise, waning light emphasises darkness for Satan, while for Wordsworth shadows call attention to what little light is left, and intensify it. A fire in hell has precisely the same effect as thoughts of beauty in Satan’s mind, it evokes its opposite: … on all sides round As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe       (I. 61-4) The flames in hell cause visible darkness, and Satan sees hell illuminated by the absence of light. Milton uses this effect in several different forms to communicate the way in which his fall has inverted Satan’s experience of his surroundings – those sights which should, in any other mind, be positive represent loss for Satan, and he observes and gains knowledge from his surroundings only when they are made visible by darkness, or implicated by some sort of absence:20 just as thoughts of joy bring forth thoughts of anguish in hell, light brings forth darkness. (Shelley draws on the opposite effect in his ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’, where the value of ‘darkness to a dying flame’ (l. 46) is the capacity of darkness to accentuate the flame’s remaining glow.) Wordsworth toils throughout the ‘Intimations’ ode to see in this kind of encroaching darkness something which evokes and sustains a joyful memory rather than something which intimates the time when the flame will have vanished entirely:   Those shadowy recollections,   Which, be they what they may, Are yet the fountain light of all our day, Are yet a master light of all our seeing      (ll. 150-3) ‘Shadowy recollections’ are still Wordsworth’s primary source of light. He implies that the light which remains and shines through all the shadows still outshines what it was replaced by; memory, although it also implies that a loss or change has taken place, still has a material effect, and is therefore more than reminiscence. Thinking about light in this way allows Wordsworth to avoid what for Satan becomes a ‘hateful siege / Of contraries’ (IX. 121-2). When Satan sees his darkened self he remembers the full brightness of his unfallen self and, when he looks at the sun in Book IV, he sees the many degrees of brightness that separate his own form from that of the sun. The idea that Satan is ‘darkened so’ and yet still ‘shone above’ the other fallen angels is the same implication by negation as his being no ‘Less than Archangel ruined’. Likewise, a sun ‘shorn of his beams’ is still a sun. Milton chooses an image in which some essential quality is not lost, but merely muted or cast in shadow. Satan needs to believe that he is entirely unchanged, so he cannot find joy in a lingering connection with his former self if it is only a partial connection. In the part, Satan only sees a flawed whole. In the ode’s penultimate stanza, Wordsworth finally admits his understanding and acceptance of the permanence of his current situation: What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now forever taken from my sight,  Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;  We will grieve not, rather find  Strength in what remains behind            (ll. 176-81) Wordsworth’s conclusion is a version of Satan’s proclamation, ‘evil be thou my good’, but one in which the change occurs both internally and externally (IV. 110). While Satan is attempting the same inversion, his sole aim is still to fight against and defeat the force that is causing him pain. The tendency to flee towards and find comfort in strict binaries is present in Satan from the start of Paradise Lost. When he finds himself in hell, far from the places where joy dwells, he embraces joy’s opposite, horror, so fervently that it becomes a kind of triumph. Fully embracing hell saves Satan from ‘the hateful siege of contraries’, in which ‘all good … becomes / Bane’ (IX. 121-3): by embracing evil as his good, he is making ‘good’ stand for evil and the change is only an external one because the enemy remains the same. By Book IX, Satan has begun to understand that he was once something other than what he is now; he begins to recognise what he thought were changes in the unchanged external world as changes within himself. He realises, like Wordsworth, that nothing has faded on Earth, but that he perceives a loss because he is changed at the core. In a passage strikingly similar, in the order of its ideas and the manner of its expression, to the first four stanzas of the ‘Intimations’ ode, Satan confesses: With what delight I could have walked thee round, If I could joy in aught, sweet interchange Of hill and valley, rivers, woods and plains, Now land, now sea, and shores with forests crowned, Rocks, dens, and caves; but I in none of these Find place or refuge; and the more I see Pleasures about me, so much more I feel Torment within me     (IX. 114-21) Just as the tree, ‘of many – one’ and the ‘single field’ alert Wordsworth to the fact that the change is subjective, and exists not within the objects themselves, but in the gap between the last time he looked upon them and the present. In both, the critical loss lies in the perfect tense, in Satan’s conditional perfect ‘I could have walked’ and Wordsworth’s perfect indicative ‘I have look’d upon’. Wordsworth remembers his other state; Satan imagines it as a counterfactual. The distinction between Satan and Wordsworth’s ‘child’ is that, for Satan, Nature is just another image of heaven and its beauty intensifies his agony, while, for the child, Nature works to make him ‘forget the glories he hath known / And that imperial palace whence he came’ (ll. 84-5). In a sense, though, Satan would be a better ‘Foster-child’ (l. 84) than the ‘Intimations’ ode’s ‘growing boy’ (l. 68); the Earth, for him, would be enough, and perhaps even better than that imperial palace. Satan’s first reaction to Adam and Eve is similar in tone and content to Wordsworth’s description of the ‘five years darling’:         ye little think how nigh Your change approaches, when all these delights Will vanish and deliver ye to woe, More woe, the more your taste is now of joy        (IV. 366-9)         Hell shall unfold, To entertain you two, her widest gates, And send forth all her kings, there will be room, Not like these narrow limits        (IV. 381-4) This passage reflects Satan’s attempt in Book I to convince himself that hell was an improvement upon heaven; it follows Satan’s admission of his own responsibility for his present suffering, and yet reveals his inability fully to recognise the mistaken line of his thinking. Geoffrey Hartman claims that Wordsworth’s brand of achronological autobiography distinguishes his poetry from Milton’s: ‘while the anticipants of Paradise Lost are all forward, toward creation and mankind, Wordsworth moves back and forth in time’. For Hartman, the effect of this structure, in which the poet ‘[counterbalances] change by a mention of the survivals of the past’, is that ‘the child never quite assumes the fatality of manhood’.21 This is true about the progression of much of Paradise Lost’s central plot, but Satan’s psychological autobiography does not work this way. Similarly to what Hartman calls the ‘retrograde’ movement in Wordsworth’s narrative, in which episodes from the past are valued against the present, Satan’s speeches confuse the chronology of things, often self-consciously.22 Both Satan and Wordsworth depend upon a certain continuity of the self which they map out retrospectively; revising memories of past experience, they create a system by which temporal progression necessitates their present state, fortunately or not. Where Satan insists that, placed in a similar position of rank in heaven, he would choose to rebel repeatedly, Wordsworth constructs and continually revises The Prelude in order to create a sense of unshakable continuity in his growth as a man and poet. A similar cyclical process lies behind Wordsworth’s spots of time: memories which the poet has revised give birth to the poet as he is now. Satan’s and Wordsworth’s need for past experience to flow seamlessly into the present often leads to autobiographical dishonesty. Wordsworth presents the scenes of the past as though they were conscious of the types of memories they would become, while ensuring that his younger self could never have imagined a time when he would be different, and Satan vacillates between assigning his former self perfect foresight and a blindness to cause and effect. Milton chides Satan for pleading ‘necessity’ in the face of doubt, but necessity is Wordsworth’s first recourse in The Prelude. ‘Was it for this’ seeks to find in the history of the self some foresight into the present and some reassurance of continuity. Necessity is central to the way Wordsworth and Satan value the past; Satan is obsessed with his own history to the extent that it necessitated what he has become, and Wordsworth recognises and employs the way Satan values his lost greatness by denying the existence of any internal change. This sort of causal thinking hopes to remove the possibility of a misstep somewhere along the way; unexpectedly for a character so committed to free will, Satan finds comfort in those aspects of his personal history which seemed to have been inevitable or even preordained. This mode of thinking in The Prelude is revealed in a telling pattern of Wordsworthian allusion to Satan’s speeches. This pattern begins with the problematic relationship between necessity and free will that is born out of the attempt to justify the present through a retrospective analysis of the past. In the first book of The Prelude and of Paradise Lost, Wordsworth and Satan begin their respective accounts of the past with an assertion of personal agency which they must almost immediately qualify. Wordsworth’s assertion comes in the form of an answer to various questions posed at the start of The Prelude:          Whither shall I turn By road or pathway, or through open field, Or shall a twig or any floating thing Upon the river point me out my course? Enough that I am free      (I. 29-33)23 Wordsworth attempts to place himself alongside Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost as they seek out their path through the world lying ‘all before them’ (XII. 646), but, rather than giving way to providence and uncertainty, he invokes Satan’s insistent hopefulness following his fall: What matter where, if I still be the same, And what I should be, all but less than he Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free      (I. 256-9) Wordsworth’s echo of Satan devalues the question he cannot answer; he does not know where to turn, but rather than allowing for the possibility that he could turn the wrong way, he asserts his freedom as an answer in itself. But the trouble with this assertion is that both Satan and Wordsworth will go on to plead the necessity of what they have become. Freedom means that continuity could, at any moment, be overthrown; thus freedom becomes a burden, since ‘free to choose’ is also ‘free to fall’. In asserting freedom, they are contradicting the notion of inevitability through which they remain connected to their former selves. It turns out, for both Satan and Wordsworth, that freedom opens up an infinite gap next to which all efforts will appear insufficient, and all imaginative or consolatory failures are the fault of the free mind. Thus Wordsworth recants his praise of freedom little more than two hundred lines later: Far better never to have heard the name Of zeal and just ambition than to live Thus baffled by a mind that every hour Turns recreant to her task, takes heart again, Then feels immediately some hollow thought Hang like an interdict upon her hopes.        (I. 257-62) Wordsworth reneges on his praise of freedom only to turn immediately to his question of necessity: ‘Was it for this?’ As soon as it becomes apparent that his mind is not to be depended on to follow through with its task, Wordsworth retreats into his history, and in that history he attempts to find a path that was preordained all along. Satan’s plea of necessity, though it takes longer to form, works in a similar way. Satan realises that he, too, has been baffled by his own mind, and wishes for a mind controlled by destiny, so that it could never have known ambition: O had his powerful destiny ordained Me some inferior angel, I had stood Then happy; no unbounded hope had raised Ambition     (IV. 58-61) Satan’s ‘unbounded hope’ perpetuated his fall, and Wordsworth seems to recognise this danger when he sees ‘in absolute accomplishment / much wanting’ (I. 255-6). Like Wordsworth, Satan finds that his mistakes had their origins in the unboundedness of hope, that freedom left open too much space for the mind to cope with. Realising the fallibility of his mind, Satan divides into two consciousnesses and interrogates himself: Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand? Though hadst: whom hast thou then or what to accuse  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . Nay cursed be thou; since against his thy will Chose freely what it now so justly rues     (IV. 66-7, 71-2) A striking reversal takes place here, in which the former, unfallen self (Satan as archangel, the erstwhile hero of the fallen Satan) is cursed by the fallen self. It is a moment of tragic honesty, in which Satan ceases to blame the external world for reminding him of the sins he committed freely. It is with this conflicting notion of freedom and necessity in mind that the autobiographical dishonesty of The Prelude comes into clearer view: for free will and inevitability clash, and the effect is that the poem could, at any moment, change paths. This contradiction becomes apparent in its compositional history; Wordsworth insists on inevitability, and yet he continually revises a progression which he simultaneously characterises as preordained.24 The result is a kind of self-consciously sculpted inevitability, in which the poet has passed through certain experiences to become what he is, but now, being the poet he has become, bears the task of reconstructing the past as if for the first time. Wordsworth is consciously aware of the responsibility of the poet to present his work as inevitable – as seemingly created and inspired by a force other (and more powerful) than the poet himself. In his reminiscence of Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold recalls hearing him say that ‘Goethe’s poetry was not inevitable enough’. The remark is striking and true; no line of Goethe … but its maker knew how it came there … But Wordsworth’s poetry, when he is at his best, is inevitable, as inevitable as Nature herself. It might seem that Nature not only gave him the matter for his poem, but wrote his poem for him.25 This assertion, which leads up to Arnold’s famous pronouncement that Wordsworth ‘has no style’, evokes a series of questions about Wordsworth’s notion of the creative imagination: does the invoked inevitability remove the creative powers of the poet or enhance them? And to what extent is the creation of a seemingly inevitable line from past to present just a would-be convincing fiction? One might first ask whether Wordsworth is accusing Goethe of not being inevitable enough, or of not seeming inevitable enough. Arnold describes the appearance of inevitability as a characteristic of Wordsworth’s ‘best poetry’, implying that this appearance is a mark of poetic skill and not of factual truth; but Wordsworth is himself helped along by the notion of a real continuity in his personal history. In a fragment composed between 1800 and 1806, Wordsworth urges continuity, both internally and externally: Thus do I urge a never-ending way Year after year, with many a sleep between, Through joy and sorrow; if my lot be joy More joyful if it be with sorrow sooth’d.26 Hartman characterises this fragment as one of several indicators of Wordsworth’s ‘quest for evidences in the form of intimations of continuity’;27 but there is something else at work within these lines, as they present an inversion of Satan’s warning to Adam and Eve that ‘all these delights / Will vanish and deliver ye to woe / More woe the more your taste is now of joy’ (IV. 367-9). In Wordsworth’s inversion, where woe only intensifies joy, he resists the discontinuity that has closed in upon Satan, and, appropriating Satan’s language, insists on continuity’s enduring presence in his life and work. His joy is strongly secured and, ‘sooth’d with sorrows’ throughout, Wordsworth protects himself from a version of Satan’s ‘hateful siege / Of contraries’ in which contrasting emotional states intensify each other. In this light, continuity and inevitability are more than poetic tropes; they are a means of disrupting the patterns of thought Wordsworth sees in Satan, in which the excess of one state necessarily plunges Satan into its opposite. This idea of the ‘abundant recompense’ that takes place in the mind is also apparent in Book II, where Wordsworth describes how the soul ‘Remembering how she felt, but what she felt / Remembering not – retains an obscure sense / Of possible sublimity, to which with growing faculties she doth aspire’ (II. 336-8). Here the soul retains a cloudy recollection of what she must have been, and Wordsworth identifies this search for embers of that past as a source for hope: ‘With faculties still growing, feeling still / That whatsoever point they gain they still / Have something to pursue (II. 339-41). The repetition of ‘still’ in lines 339 and 340 bears the poet upward; it provides both present satisfaction and renewed hope for the future. Here, again, Wordsworth is thinking about the tragedy of Satan’s inability to see himself as Milton describes him – as ‘th’ excess of glory obscured’ – and Wordsworth is desperate to avoid making this mistake in his own confrontations with loss. Obscurity keeps Satan from seeing the remaining brightness, but Wordsworth simply incorporates obscurity into his mode of seeing, and aspires towards what is behind it. Ultimately, Wordsworth’s attempt to describe the perpetual hopefulness of the soul must fall short; his desire to chart a ‘never-ending way’ is thwarted by his inability to identify the source of this path: Hard task to analyse a soul, in which Not only general habits and desires, But each most obvious and particular thought –  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . Hath no beginning.    (II. 232-5, 237)28 Wordsworth does not fret over this mystery; rather, it seems as though he is making a strong effort in The Prelude not to mind that he cannot find the sources of his thoughts, cannot ‘point as with a wand, and say / ‘This portion of the river of my mind / Came from yon fountain’ (II. 247-9). And yet as he is asserting the impossibility of finding the origins of all things, he is betraying the fact that he has tried and failed. Wordsworth claims that he is free of the anxiety of ‘self-begetting’, as Bloom terms it, and yet he is writing an internalised epic of the origins of his own powers. Wordsworth’s ‘revisionary impulse’, Bloom claims, is just this impulse of ‘self-begetting’, an impulse spoken of ‘most grandly’ by Satan:29                who saw When this creation was? Remember’st thou Thy making, while the maker gave thee being? We know no time when we were not as now, Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised By our own quickening power    (V. 856-61) ‘Self-begetting’ is among the purest forms of self-deception, a deception Wordsworth refuses to take part in explicitly, but in which he is engaged by the very nature of his task. Satan’s proclamation that he knows ‘no time’ when he was not ‘as now’ seeks to place continuity above uncertainty, and almost to give it the status of a natural law. In a passage from ‘The Tuft of Primroses’, Wordsworth presents his wish for continuity, redemptive memory, and the self-ruling mind. Here, Wordsworth’s revision of Satan’s consolatory efforts becomes a longing for an imagined state of perfection of the mind: The longing for confirm’d tranquillity, Inward and outward, humble and sublime, The life where hope and memory are as one, Earth quiet and unchanged, the human soul Consistent in self-rule, and heaven revealed To meditation in that quietness.30 Embedded in this ‘confirm’d tranquillity’ is the notion of internal and external continuity, that is, perpetual protection from ‘the hateful siege / Of contraries’, and a prophetic memory, which projects the unchanged self hopefully forward. The 1814 sonnet ‘Surprised by Joy’ contains in its title one of the most surprising of all Miltonic echoes in Wordsworth’s poetry.31 It is a poem steeped in the language of The Prelude, but it lacks any of the retrospective consolations of the epic. The ‘spots’ of time and the ‘transport’ of the wind appear as terrible inversions of what they once were:32 Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport – Oh! with whom But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb, That spot which no vicissitude can find?        (ll. 1-4) Wordsworth distinguishes this spot from the renovating ‘spots of time’, which nourish our minds through ‘the round of ordinary intercourse’ (XI. 256-64), by denying that it might be accessed by vicissitudes – a distinction that is held together by the echo of Milton’s ‘grateful vicissitudes of heaven’, through which ‘light and darkness in perpetual round / Lodge and dislodge by turns’ (VI. 6-7). The first three lines enact a dark parody of ‘Tintern Abbey’; the poet turns to share his present joy – perhaps to read his ‘pleasure in the shooting lights’ of a companion’s eyes – but finds himself alone. Memory, that same faculty which enabled Wordsworth’s empathetic participation in his sister’s joy in ‘Tintern Abbey’, announces an empathetic failure and extinguishes all joy from the poem: Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind – But how could I forget thee? Through what power, Even for the least division of an hour, Have I been so beguiled as to be blind To my most grievous loss?        (ll. 5-9) Love is faithful to her task in revealing the loss, and so the burden of failure falls to Wordsworth’s mind: it is a failure of memory. Thus, ‘Surprised by Joy’ not only recasts the climax of ‘Tintern Abbey’, it inverts the relationship between memory and loss that the ‘Intimations’ ode works to establish. This is a different kind of blindness from that which renders Wordsworth unable to see ‘the things which [he] had seen’ – the occasion that cried out for the composition of the ode. That blindness could be revealed only by the faculty of memory; Wordsworth notices the loss of a certain kind of vision precisely because he registers an absence. In ‘Surprised by Joy’, however, blindness is not itself a loss, nor does it signify one. Blindness is what obscures the loss; it is the simplest form of forgetfulness. By this point in the poem, we might expect Wordsworth to attempt a recovery: a thought too deep for tears, the arrival of some abundant recompense. Instead, he sinks deeper:          That thought’s return Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore, Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn, Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more; That neither present time, nor years unborn Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.         (ll. 10-15) Citing the final line of ‘Elegiac Stanzas’ – ‘Not without hope we suffer and we mourn’ – Michael O’Neill observes how ‘often resistance to and acknowledgement of sorrow and loss inhabit one another in Wordsworthian elegy’.33 But Wordsworth’s sonnet has an unexpected antecedent in Book II of Paradise Lost, where Satan finds himself surprised by his own forgotten daughter. This surprise is Milton’s own invention, and it is filled with a pathos that almost seems out of place in its setting. Keats, for one, was moved by Satan’s ability to call Sin his ‘daughter dear’ (sic), and ranks this instance among several examples of what he calls the ‘sublime pathetic’ – when ‘the delicacies of passion living in and from’ the immortality of ‘Demons, fallen Angels, and Monsters … is of the most softening and dissolving nature’ – which Milton was ‘godlike’ in his ability to invoke.34 The pain described in this scene stayed with Wordsworth, as he quoted it in the margins of Book IV, when Milton describes the moment ‘Satan first knew pain’ (VI. 327). When Satan encounters Sin at the gates of hell, he fails to recognise her. ‘Hast thou forgot me then’, Sin asks, ‘and do I seem / Now in thine eye so foul, once deem’d so fair / In heav’n’ (II. 747-9). But it is not only a failure of recognition; Satan fails to remember the circumstances of her birth, and leaves Sin to construct an uncanny autobiography, in which she reports not only the first moments of her existence, but the seconds prior to her own birth:        All on a sudden miserable pain Surprised thee: dim thine eyes, and dizzy swum In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast Threw forth till on the left side op’ning wide, Likest to thee in shape and count’nance bright (Then shining Heav’nly fair) a goddess armed Out of thy head I sprung! Amazement seized All th’ host of Heav’n. Back they recoiled afraid At first and called me ‘Sin’      (II. 752-60) Satan’s reunion with Sin is one of many scenes to come in which he is cast as the audience to his own story: ‘She finished, and the subtle fiend his lore / Soon learned, now milder, and thus answered smooth: / Dear daughter’ (II. 815-17). In her autobiography, Sin has narrated two surprises: Satan’s surprise at being addressed as ‘Father’ by a ‘detestable’ shape he claims not to know, and the earlier surprise of Sin’s birth, when Satan was seized with ‘sudden miserable pain’ and bore Sin from his left side. In narrating her own origin story, Sin also fills in a gap in Satan’s; contrary to the impression we get from the ‘incessant autobiography’ of his speeches, Satan seems to have forgotten a crucial plot point.35 Wordsworth evidently thought his own careful attention to the poem rivalled Milton’s own and, in his annotations to Book IV, he accuses the poet of making a narrative mistake: I am not sure that it has ever been observed that Milton here is guilty of an oversight. He forgets the expression which he puts in the mouth of Sin descriptive of her own birth. ‘All on a sudden miserable pain Surprised thee[’] Wordsworth’s annotation reveals a complex network of forgetting. While Wordsworth is incorrect in his identification of Milton’s oversight, the fact that he makes the accusation at all deserves attention, as it is part of a long literary conversation that is fraught with forgetfulness. In Book II, Satan has forgotten Sin and, along with her, the pain of her birth. Here, Wordsworth proposes that by Book VI Milton, too, has forgotten that pain. In his explanation of Wordsworth’s mistaken charge against Milton’s memory, Joseph Wittreich points out that it is Wordsworth who is ultimately forgetful: ‘Wordsworth forgets the complicated time sequence in PL: the events in Bk. VI occur chronologically before the events of Bk. II’.36 For Christopher Miller, ‘the prevalence of surprise in Paradise Lost has everything to do with the poem’s representation of origins and first experiences’. Miller also includes an alternative category, that is, ‘things that are re-experienced or re-learned as if for the first time’.37 The two surprises in this passage illustrate both of Miller’s categories: while we know that Satan is re-experiencing his meeting with Sin ‘as though for the first time’, he also registers this encounter as a ‘first experience’ on a larger scale: ‘nor ever saw till now / Sight more detestable’ (II. 744-5). In ‘Surprised by Joy’, we are meant to understand that part of Wordsworth’s agony at ‘that thought’s return’, the remembrance of his daughter’s death, is the extent to which the return of the thought brings with it a re-experience of the initial loss. Footnotes 1 References are to Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey (New York, 2005). 2 Wittreich dates these annotations to the period between 1798 and 1800. The Romantics on Milton: Formal Essays and Critical Asides, ed. Joseph Anthony Wittreich Jr. (1970), pp. 102, 106. 3 Ibid., p. 150 n. 11. 4 ‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it’. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in William Blake’s Writings, ed. G. E. Bentley Jr., 2 vols. (Oxford, 1978), i. 80. 5 In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads alone there is the ‘necessary character of rural occupations’, the trivial metrical compositions that are ‘dishonourable to the Writer’s own character’, and the poet who ‘speaks through the mouths of his characters’, and, in The Prelude, the famous ‘Characters of the great Apocalypse / The types and symbols of Eternity’. In a recent essay, Matthew C. Brennan likens Wordsworth’s characters to Dickens’s ‘types’: while he admits that several of Wordsworth’s ‘complex characters have grounding in reality’, Brennan argues that figures like the leech-gatherer and the discharged soldier are, ultimately, ‘uncanny archetypes, projections of the poet’s own psyche’. As Brennan points out, this argument is echoed by Hazlitt, who complained that Wordsworth’s egotism turned all his characters’ dialogues into ‘soliloquies of the same voice’. Brennan, ‘Wordsworth’s Characters’, in Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth (Oxford, 2015), pp. 254-5. 6 ‘Essay on the Character of Rivers’, in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1974), i. 76. 7 David Bromwich suspects that Wordsworth ‘had seen someone badly hurt or killed on information from himself’. Disowned By Memory (Chicago, 1998), p. 17. 8 Frank Kermode, The Romantic Image (1957), p. 14. 9 ‘Essay on the Character of Rivers’, Prose Works, i. 76. 10 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 2nd edn. (New York, 1997), p. 20. 11 William Empson, Milton’s God, 2nd edn. (1975), pp. 38, 69. 12 Jonathan Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision (Oxford, 1984), p. 111. 13 William Hazlitt, ‘Thoughts on Taste’, in Romantics on Milton, p. 119. 14 e.g. ‘I was no further changed / Than as a clouded, not a waning moon’ (Prelude, X. 916-17); ‘the soul – / Remembering how she felt, but what she felt / Remembering not – retains an obscure sense / Of possible sublimity’ (Prelude, II. 334-7). 15 Mark L. Reed, Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), pp. 156, 247. 16 Wordsworth’s image of the soul descending in ‘clouds of glory’ has another possible source in Milton’s description of the moon in heaven, ‘rising in clouded majesty’ (VI. 607). ‘Milton, it will be remembered’, writes Wordsworth in the Guide to the Lakes, ‘has given a clouded moon to Paradise itself’. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Owen and Smyser, ii. 192. 17 Lionel Trilling, ‘The Immortality Ode’, in M. H. Abrams (ed.), English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism (New York, 1960), pp. 149-69. 18 Stanley Cavell, In the Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism (Chicago, 1988), p. 75. 19 Michael O’Neill, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’, in Gravil and Robinson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth, p. 239. 20 Cf. Satan’s first speech in Paradise Lost: ‘into what pit thou seest / From what height fallen’ (I. 91-2), and ‘Seest thou yon dreary plain, forlorn and wild, / The seat of desolation, void of light / Save what the glimmering of these livid flames / Casts pale and dreadful?’ (I. 180-3). 21 Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry: 1787-1814 (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), p. 235. 22 Ibid. 23 References are to The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (NewYork, 1979). 24 Susan Wolfson argues that, ‘despite an intent to form a work that, in the words of its last book, would show “in the end / All gratulant if rightly understood”, years of revision subverted the rhetoric of if from its temporal promise into a perpetually conditional desire’. Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford, 1997), p. 101. 25 Matthew Arnold, ‘Wordsworth’, in The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, ed. R. H. Super, 11 vols. (Ann Arbor, 1960-77), ix. 52. 26 The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1940), v. 347. 27 Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, p. 190. 28 Critics have already called attention to Wordsworth’s allusion in line 232 to Raphael’s ‘sad task and hard’: see The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Wordsworth, Abrams, and Gill, p. 76 n. 2. 29 Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (New York, 1975), p. 63. 30 The Tuft of Primroses, with Other Late Poems for The Recluse, ed. Joseph S. Kishel (Ithaca, NY, 1986), 47-8 (ll. 303-8). 31 Reed, Wordsworth: Chronology of the Middle Years, p. 520; The Fenwick Notes of William Wordsworth, ed. Jared Curtis (1993), p. 21. 32 Cf. ‘spots of time, / Which with distinct preeminence retain / A renovating virtue’ (XI. 257-9) and ‘Oh! There is a blessing in this gentle breeze … it beats against my cheek / And seem half conscious of the joy it gives’ (I. 1-4). 33 O’Neill, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’, p. 244. 34 Beth Lau, Keats’s Paradise Lost (Gainesville, Fla., 1998), pp. 92-3. 35 C. S. Lewis, A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’ (Oxford, 1942), p. 100. 36 The Romantics on Milton, p. 150 n. 9. 37 Christopher Miller, Surprise: The Poetics of the Unexpected from Milton to Austen (Ithaca, NY, 2015), p. 414. © The Author(s) [2018]. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Essays in Criticism Oxford University Press

Wordsworth’s Satanic Autobiography

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) [2018]. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
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Abstract

SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE WORDSWORTH made the loss of his own former glory the subject of the ‘Intimations’ ode, he lamented the loss of Satan’s former glory in Paradise Lost. In his annotations to Milton’s poem, Wordsworth recorded his reaction to Satan’s final transformation from the ruined archangel, who, though robbed of some of his ‘original brightness’, was still no less than ‘th’ excess of glory obscured’ (I. 592-4), to ‘monstrous serpent’ (X. 514):1 Here we bid farewell to the first character perhaps ever exhibited in Poetry. And it is not a little to be lamented that, he leaves us in a situation so degraded in comparison with the grandeur of his introduction. Filling an interleaved page, Wordsworth goes on to suggest that Satan and his fellow rebel angels deserved a ‘more noble’ punishment, one ‘more consonant to the dignity of the beings’.2 His objection to the manner in which Milton ushers his character offstage suggests that Wordsworth ascribes a set of characteristics to Satan that the poem, he believes, does not fulfil. Joseph Wittreich explains that ‘Wordsworth’s poetical admiration should not be confused with moral sympathy’:3 Wordsworth is not ‘of the Devil’s party’, nor does he believe Milton to be.4 Rather, Wordsworth objects to this ending because it is ‘unworthy of [Milton’s] genius’, and ‘contains in it nothing that can afford pleasure’. These objections do bear the mark of poetical, rather than moral, judgements; but what of his announcement that Satan is ‘the first character perhaps ever exhibited in Poetry’? The word ‘character’ appears in various contexts in Wordsworth’s works;5 but one extended meditation seems to touch particularly on a similar use of the word: the ‘Essay on the Character of Rivers’, a supplementary essay which elaborates upon the character and motives of the protagonist of The Borderers. The essay holds a strange place among Wordsworth’s writings; nowhere else in his prose does he engage so enthusiastically with the make-up of another’s mind. And yet it also bears the marks of something only Wordsworth could have written, as it displays the keenest understanding of and preoccupation with the freight of a remembered time and ‘those powerful feelings which attend … recollection’.6 What accounts for this dark interlude, during which Wordsworth temporarily turns his attention towards guilt and a murderer’s self-defence?7 Perhaps his early vacillation between a visionary, associative, and optimistic line of thinking – which would become the object of his greatest poetry – and the interlude of interest in the guilt-ridden and miserable can be reconciled to some degree by Frank Kermode’s assessment of Wordsworth’s own character: Wordsworth had to admit that the artist’s peculiar susceptibility to pleasure made him an easy victim of the temptations, and therefore a man especially prone to misery. He feels more pleasure, but also more pain. His difference isolates him … [he can do little besides] weld joy and misery together in some symbolic blaze, some Leech Gatherer and, that victory over, plan another.8 Kermode’s Wordsworth bears some resemblance to the character of Rivers who, alienated from society and delighted by extremes, retreats ‘with strong misanthropic feelings’ into solitude, where ‘his mind exhausts itself’ in meditation and, deriving energy from the strength of his own mental powers, is ‘impelled … again into the world’.9 Wordsworth alluded to Milton’s Satan throughout his career as a similar exploration of such ‘tendencies he recognized in himself’, and he shows unexpected affinities between Satan and his own autobiographical imaginations. Many of the solutions Wordsworth works out in his own poetry are continuations and more careful studies of Satan’s most anguish-inducing thoughts; in these moments of despair, Satan begins to construct a way of reconciling loss, and Wordsworth, recognising the consolatory potential of Satan’s ideas, revises them until they work as consolation in his own poetry. Harold Bloom once said that Satan ‘shadows forth gigantically a trouble at the core of Milton … emerging to stand clear in Wordsworth’;10 but he did not return to his astonishing statement, and so never addressed the questions that it inevitably poses: What trouble does Satan ‘shadow forth’? And, more importantly for my purposes, what is this strength of Wordsworth’s through which Satan comes to ‘stand clear’, and what does it mean to ‘stand clear’? In Milton’s God, William Empson refers to ‘the analytic mind of Satan’, which is often reflective and logical, and to the two ways he conceives of reading Satan: we can ‘shudder at Satan’s villainy or take [his offers] as sincere, and feel the agony of his ruined greatness’.11 Without claiming that Wordsworth sympathises with Satan or considers him the hero of the poem, one can agree that Wordsworth does feel this agony of ruined greatness, even if it is only an agony of ruined poetic greatness, and tries to imagine what could be gained by taking Satan to be sincere. What can be gained may be the knowledge that Satan took his own ideas seriously and was not a fool, that in his desperate, consolatory ideas were viable possibilities in the search for what Jonathan Wordsworth calls ‘something permanent and assuaging’.12 This notion of Satan’s ‘ruined greatness’ first appears in the description of his form in Book I: His form had yet not lost All her original brightness, nor appeared Less than Archangel ruined, and th’ excess Of glory obscured              (I. 591-4) Wordsworth, as Hazlitt recalls, ‘said that he could read this description of Satan … till he felt a certain faintness come over his mind from a sense of beauty and grandeur’:13 it is perhaps unsurprising that Wordsworth should reclaim and rearrange this image several times throughout his poetry.14 The ‘Intimations’ ode exemplifies Wordsworth’s tendency to think through and complete Satan’s greatest, half-created thoughts. The ode seems to have stepped out of Satan’s brief wonder at Eden towards the close of Book III, before he curses the sun for bringing ‘remembrance from what / State I fell’ (IV. 38-9). For both Satan and Wordsworth, Earth is a place we could love were it not for heaven; our recollection of heaven poisons our relationship with the Earth, and our present experience is continually lessened by contrast. In order to think through this impasse, Wordsworth captures and sustains the moment when Satan enters Eden and is by ‘wonder seized’, but cannot sustain this wonder because his memory of heaven turns his awe into despair, and then into ‘much more envy’ (III. 552). The ‘Intimations’ ode’s structure mirrors this moment: Earth is beautiful, but, remembering heaven, we experience a feeling of loss. For Satan, this feeling is anguish, but this is not so for Wordsworth, who spends the entirety of the ode trying to find a convincing replacement for Satan’s agony. Wordsworth revises the last part of Satan’s thought in the ode, because he sees that the agony comes specifically from being in hell. He removes the internal hell in which Satan suffers, and is left only with tremendous intensity. Satan does not find solace for this thought within Paradise Lost, so Wordsworth revisits the dilemma in the ode, in which he means to conquer or explain away the feeling ‘that there hath passed away a glory from the earth’ (l. 18). Wordsworth placed himself within an Edenic natural scene, and, thinking himself to the brink of Satan’s misery, stopped writing for nearly two years before he could continue with his resolution.15 His description of humanity’s descent to earthly life in the next stanza seems to speak directly to Milton’s first description of Satan’s form: ‘Not in entire forgetfulness, / And not in utter nakedness, / But trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God’ (ll. 62-5). These ‘clouds of glory’ are, in fact, what cause Satan’s distress, but Wordsworth insists that that which distresses can also comfort.16 He has taken this image from Milton’s description of Satan, in which he insists, in much the same language, that ‘His form had yet not lost / All her original brightness, nor appeared / Less than Archangel ruined, and th’ excess / Of glory obscured’. The clouds of glory that remain are the same for both Satan and Wordsworth, but in the ‘Intimations’ ode Wordsworth rearranges Milton’s image of ‘glory obscured’. Without altering the image, he revises its implications, so that the glory which, in Paradise Lost, indicates its own absence now signifies its enduring presence. Wordsworth assigns positive value to the signs of Satan’s loss, and they become his ‘embers’, in which ‘something … doth live, / that nature yet remembers’ (ll. 130-2). Wordsworth finds strength in the idea that we can access joy and intensity through what is left behind, but Satan will not admit that he is changed forever – ‘what matter where, if I still be the same’ (I. 256). Therefore every moment in which he feels disconnected (every moment in Paradise Lost which feels like stanza IV of the ‘Intimations’ ode) renews his experience of his fall. Wordsworth is deeply troubled by this – by the feelings that separate him from his original perceptions of nature – but, unlike Satan, Wordsworth soon realises that the change is a permanent one. The ‘Intimations’ ode eventually and necessarily abandons its hope of restoring old feelings, of restoring what was lost, and sets out instead to find power not only in the glory that remains, but in the way that loss changes how we see that glory.17 What Wordsworth finds is that specificity and subjective experience cause the most intense feelings of loss because they are all that remain after a change has taken place. In order to think beyond Satan, Wordsworth installs satanic imagery within his own thoughts – thoughts which have sprung out of and have then built upon those in Paradise Lost. Wordsworth appropriates the simile following Milton’s first description of Satan’s form: ‘as when the sun new risen / Looks through the horizontal misty air / Shorn of his beams’ (I. 594-6). He conserves the image of a sun darkening and shorn of its beams by the Earth’s mists and transforms it into his ‘shades of the prison-house’ which slowly ‘close upon the growing boy’ (ll. 67-8). Here Wordsworth modifies his image based on what he has observed in Satan: Satan and the angels see the darkness that the ‘horizontal misty air’ creates, but not the glow of light that permeates it, but Wordsworth’s growing boy ‘beholds the light, and whence it flows’ and disregards the prison shades (ll. 69-71). When the boy becomes a man this light fades, but it is important that it fades ‘into the light of common day’ and not into darkness (l. 77): he ‘perceives it die away’, but what he experiences is actually an internal change – a change in vision. Wordsworth recognises the ease with which internal change can be mistaken for material loss. Stanley Cavell notes a common inclination to misvalue the transformation that takes place in that line: Shall we take this, as I suppose it is commonly taken, to be the same as going out? But ‘fades into’ does not say ‘fades out’. It may propose some other mode of becoming, as happier disillusionment, so that the vision is preserved in the way in which it is forgone.18 While Wordsworth does not say ‘fades out’ in the final version of the poem, he nearly did. In a draft, line 57 – ‘Where is it now, the glory and the dream?’ – initially read ‘Where is it gone, the glory and the dream?’19 Thus, the ‘happier disillusionment’ that emerges in Cavell’s reading is a precarious happiness. Both versions of the line contain the possibility of some preservation (if the vision is ‘gone’, it might have gone somewhere), but asking where it is ‘now’ implies a confidence in that preservation. Just as ‘fades into’ does not mean ‘fades out’, so Milton writes that Satan appears no less than ‘Archangel ruined’. Satan’s glory is also ‘preserved in the way in which it is forgone’, but Satan’s inability to see this way is revealed when he asserts that he has ‘a mind not to be changed by place or time’ (I. 253). He recognises his fallen state as an entirely external one, and finds hope and courage in the idea that his mind can ‘make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven’ (I. 255). Satan is right in characterising his situation as internal, but tragically so. He sees the mind’s potential to sustain a way of thinking in the face of external change as a means by which he can alter or escape his external circumstances; but the mind’s ability to create its own external environment is what keeps him eternally in hell: ‘nor from hell / One step no more than from himself can fly / By change of place’ (IV. 21-3). The change that he labels a change of ‘place or time’ never occurs, but Satan is correct to a certain extent. His mind has a superiority and power over external circumstances, but he gets part of the process backwards: he proclaims that he will not allow his external situation to govern his mind, but realises in Book IV that the only way to escape hell would in fact be to escape his mind and the tyranny it holds over his internal and external world: the assertion that ‘the mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n’ (I. 254-5) turns to ‘which way I fly is hell; myself am hell’ (IV. 75). Of course, his insistence that the unchanged self makes time and place irrelevant proves devastatingly correct in Book IV, when he realises that he carries a hell inside himself, but it also finds fault with his claim that his mind can counter his surroundings: an unchangeable mind can make either a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven, but it cannot do both. Likewise, waning light emphasises darkness for Satan, while for Wordsworth shadows call attention to what little light is left, and intensify it. A fire in hell has precisely the same effect as thoughts of beauty in Satan’s mind, it evokes its opposite: … on all sides round As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe       (I. 61-4) The flames in hell cause visible darkness, and Satan sees hell illuminated by the absence of light. Milton uses this effect in several different forms to communicate the way in which his fall has inverted Satan’s experience of his surroundings – those sights which should, in any other mind, be positive represent loss for Satan, and he observes and gains knowledge from his surroundings only when they are made visible by darkness, or implicated by some sort of absence:20 just as thoughts of joy bring forth thoughts of anguish in hell, light brings forth darkness. (Shelley draws on the opposite effect in his ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’, where the value of ‘darkness to a dying flame’ (l. 46) is the capacity of darkness to accentuate the flame’s remaining glow.) Wordsworth toils throughout the ‘Intimations’ ode to see in this kind of encroaching darkness something which evokes and sustains a joyful memory rather than something which intimates the time when the flame will have vanished entirely:   Those shadowy recollections,   Which, be they what they may, Are yet the fountain light of all our day, Are yet a master light of all our seeing      (ll. 150-3) ‘Shadowy recollections’ are still Wordsworth’s primary source of light. He implies that the light which remains and shines through all the shadows still outshines what it was replaced by; memory, although it also implies that a loss or change has taken place, still has a material effect, and is therefore more than reminiscence. Thinking about light in this way allows Wordsworth to avoid what for Satan becomes a ‘hateful siege / Of contraries’ (IX. 121-2). When Satan sees his darkened self he remembers the full brightness of his unfallen self and, when he looks at the sun in Book IV, he sees the many degrees of brightness that separate his own form from that of the sun. The idea that Satan is ‘darkened so’ and yet still ‘shone above’ the other fallen angels is the same implication by negation as his being no ‘Less than Archangel ruined’. Likewise, a sun ‘shorn of his beams’ is still a sun. Milton chooses an image in which some essential quality is not lost, but merely muted or cast in shadow. Satan needs to believe that he is entirely unchanged, so he cannot find joy in a lingering connection with his former self if it is only a partial connection. In the part, Satan only sees a flawed whole. In the ode’s penultimate stanza, Wordsworth finally admits his understanding and acceptance of the permanence of his current situation: What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now forever taken from my sight,  Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;  We will grieve not, rather find  Strength in what remains behind            (ll. 176-81) Wordsworth’s conclusion is a version of Satan’s proclamation, ‘evil be thou my good’, but one in which the change occurs both internally and externally (IV. 110). While Satan is attempting the same inversion, his sole aim is still to fight against and defeat the force that is causing him pain. The tendency to flee towards and find comfort in strict binaries is present in Satan from the start of Paradise Lost. When he finds himself in hell, far from the places where joy dwells, he embraces joy’s opposite, horror, so fervently that it becomes a kind of triumph. Fully embracing hell saves Satan from ‘the hateful siege of contraries’, in which ‘all good … becomes / Bane’ (IX. 121-3): by embracing evil as his good, he is making ‘good’ stand for evil and the change is only an external one because the enemy remains the same. By Book IX, Satan has begun to understand that he was once something other than what he is now; he begins to recognise what he thought were changes in the unchanged external world as changes within himself. He realises, like Wordsworth, that nothing has faded on Earth, but that he perceives a loss because he is changed at the core. In a passage strikingly similar, in the order of its ideas and the manner of its expression, to the first four stanzas of the ‘Intimations’ ode, Satan confesses: With what delight I could have walked thee round, If I could joy in aught, sweet interchange Of hill and valley, rivers, woods and plains, Now land, now sea, and shores with forests crowned, Rocks, dens, and caves; but I in none of these Find place or refuge; and the more I see Pleasures about me, so much more I feel Torment within me     (IX. 114-21) Just as the tree, ‘of many – one’ and the ‘single field’ alert Wordsworth to the fact that the change is subjective, and exists not within the objects themselves, but in the gap between the last time he looked upon them and the present. In both, the critical loss lies in the perfect tense, in Satan’s conditional perfect ‘I could have walked’ and Wordsworth’s perfect indicative ‘I have look’d upon’. Wordsworth remembers his other state; Satan imagines it as a counterfactual. The distinction between Satan and Wordsworth’s ‘child’ is that, for Satan, Nature is just another image of heaven and its beauty intensifies his agony, while, for the child, Nature works to make him ‘forget the glories he hath known / And that imperial palace whence he came’ (ll. 84-5). In a sense, though, Satan would be a better ‘Foster-child’ (l. 84) than the ‘Intimations’ ode’s ‘growing boy’ (l. 68); the Earth, for him, would be enough, and perhaps even better than that imperial palace. Satan’s first reaction to Adam and Eve is similar in tone and content to Wordsworth’s description of the ‘five years darling’:         ye little think how nigh Your change approaches, when all these delights Will vanish and deliver ye to woe, More woe, the more your taste is now of joy        (IV. 366-9)         Hell shall unfold, To entertain you two, her widest gates, And send forth all her kings, there will be room, Not like these narrow limits        (IV. 381-4) This passage reflects Satan’s attempt in Book I to convince himself that hell was an improvement upon heaven; it follows Satan’s admission of his own responsibility for his present suffering, and yet reveals his inability fully to recognise the mistaken line of his thinking. Geoffrey Hartman claims that Wordsworth’s brand of achronological autobiography distinguishes his poetry from Milton’s: ‘while the anticipants of Paradise Lost are all forward, toward creation and mankind, Wordsworth moves back and forth in time’. For Hartman, the effect of this structure, in which the poet ‘[counterbalances] change by a mention of the survivals of the past’, is that ‘the child never quite assumes the fatality of manhood’.21 This is true about the progression of much of Paradise Lost’s central plot, but Satan’s psychological autobiography does not work this way. Similarly to what Hartman calls the ‘retrograde’ movement in Wordsworth’s narrative, in which episodes from the past are valued against the present, Satan’s speeches confuse the chronology of things, often self-consciously.22 Both Satan and Wordsworth depend upon a certain continuity of the self which they map out retrospectively; revising memories of past experience, they create a system by which temporal progression necessitates their present state, fortunately or not. Where Satan insists that, placed in a similar position of rank in heaven, he would choose to rebel repeatedly, Wordsworth constructs and continually revises The Prelude in order to create a sense of unshakable continuity in his growth as a man and poet. A similar cyclical process lies behind Wordsworth’s spots of time: memories which the poet has revised give birth to the poet as he is now. Satan’s and Wordsworth’s need for past experience to flow seamlessly into the present often leads to autobiographical dishonesty. Wordsworth presents the scenes of the past as though they were conscious of the types of memories they would become, while ensuring that his younger self could never have imagined a time when he would be different, and Satan vacillates between assigning his former self perfect foresight and a blindness to cause and effect. Milton chides Satan for pleading ‘necessity’ in the face of doubt, but necessity is Wordsworth’s first recourse in The Prelude. ‘Was it for this’ seeks to find in the history of the self some foresight into the present and some reassurance of continuity. Necessity is central to the way Wordsworth and Satan value the past; Satan is obsessed with his own history to the extent that it necessitated what he has become, and Wordsworth recognises and employs the way Satan values his lost greatness by denying the existence of any internal change. This sort of causal thinking hopes to remove the possibility of a misstep somewhere along the way; unexpectedly for a character so committed to free will, Satan finds comfort in those aspects of his personal history which seemed to have been inevitable or even preordained. This mode of thinking in The Prelude is revealed in a telling pattern of Wordsworthian allusion to Satan’s speeches. This pattern begins with the problematic relationship between necessity and free will that is born out of the attempt to justify the present through a retrospective analysis of the past. In the first book of The Prelude and of Paradise Lost, Wordsworth and Satan begin their respective accounts of the past with an assertion of personal agency which they must almost immediately qualify. Wordsworth’s assertion comes in the form of an answer to various questions posed at the start of The Prelude:          Whither shall I turn By road or pathway, or through open field, Or shall a twig or any floating thing Upon the river point me out my course? Enough that I am free      (I. 29-33)23 Wordsworth attempts to place himself alongside Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost as they seek out their path through the world lying ‘all before them’ (XII. 646), but, rather than giving way to providence and uncertainty, he invokes Satan’s insistent hopefulness following his fall: What matter where, if I still be the same, And what I should be, all but less than he Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free      (I. 256-9) Wordsworth’s echo of Satan devalues the question he cannot answer; he does not know where to turn, but rather than allowing for the possibility that he could turn the wrong way, he asserts his freedom as an answer in itself. But the trouble with this assertion is that both Satan and Wordsworth will go on to plead the necessity of what they have become. Freedom means that continuity could, at any moment, be overthrown; thus freedom becomes a burden, since ‘free to choose’ is also ‘free to fall’. In asserting freedom, they are contradicting the notion of inevitability through which they remain connected to their former selves. It turns out, for both Satan and Wordsworth, that freedom opens up an infinite gap next to which all efforts will appear insufficient, and all imaginative or consolatory failures are the fault of the free mind. Thus Wordsworth recants his praise of freedom little more than two hundred lines later: Far better never to have heard the name Of zeal and just ambition than to live Thus baffled by a mind that every hour Turns recreant to her task, takes heart again, Then feels immediately some hollow thought Hang like an interdict upon her hopes.        (I. 257-62) Wordsworth reneges on his praise of freedom only to turn immediately to his question of necessity: ‘Was it for this?’ As soon as it becomes apparent that his mind is not to be depended on to follow through with its task, Wordsworth retreats into his history, and in that history he attempts to find a path that was preordained all along. Satan’s plea of necessity, though it takes longer to form, works in a similar way. Satan realises that he, too, has been baffled by his own mind, and wishes for a mind controlled by destiny, so that it could never have known ambition: O had his powerful destiny ordained Me some inferior angel, I had stood Then happy; no unbounded hope had raised Ambition     (IV. 58-61) Satan’s ‘unbounded hope’ perpetuated his fall, and Wordsworth seems to recognise this danger when he sees ‘in absolute accomplishment / much wanting’ (I. 255-6). Like Wordsworth, Satan finds that his mistakes had their origins in the unboundedness of hope, that freedom left open too much space for the mind to cope with. Realising the fallibility of his mind, Satan divides into two consciousnesses and interrogates himself: Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand? Though hadst: whom hast thou then or what to accuse  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . Nay cursed be thou; since against his thy will Chose freely what it now so justly rues     (IV. 66-7, 71-2) A striking reversal takes place here, in which the former, unfallen self (Satan as archangel, the erstwhile hero of the fallen Satan) is cursed by the fallen self. It is a moment of tragic honesty, in which Satan ceases to blame the external world for reminding him of the sins he committed freely. It is with this conflicting notion of freedom and necessity in mind that the autobiographical dishonesty of The Prelude comes into clearer view: for free will and inevitability clash, and the effect is that the poem could, at any moment, change paths. This contradiction becomes apparent in its compositional history; Wordsworth insists on inevitability, and yet he continually revises a progression which he simultaneously characterises as preordained.24 The result is a kind of self-consciously sculpted inevitability, in which the poet has passed through certain experiences to become what he is, but now, being the poet he has become, bears the task of reconstructing the past as if for the first time. Wordsworth is consciously aware of the responsibility of the poet to present his work as inevitable – as seemingly created and inspired by a force other (and more powerful) than the poet himself. In his reminiscence of Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold recalls hearing him say that ‘Goethe’s poetry was not inevitable enough’. The remark is striking and true; no line of Goethe … but its maker knew how it came there … But Wordsworth’s poetry, when he is at his best, is inevitable, as inevitable as Nature herself. It might seem that Nature not only gave him the matter for his poem, but wrote his poem for him.25 This assertion, which leads up to Arnold’s famous pronouncement that Wordsworth ‘has no style’, evokes a series of questions about Wordsworth’s notion of the creative imagination: does the invoked inevitability remove the creative powers of the poet or enhance them? And to what extent is the creation of a seemingly inevitable line from past to present just a would-be convincing fiction? One might first ask whether Wordsworth is accusing Goethe of not being inevitable enough, or of not seeming inevitable enough. Arnold describes the appearance of inevitability as a characteristic of Wordsworth’s ‘best poetry’, implying that this appearance is a mark of poetic skill and not of factual truth; but Wordsworth is himself helped along by the notion of a real continuity in his personal history. In a fragment composed between 1800 and 1806, Wordsworth urges continuity, both internally and externally: Thus do I urge a never-ending way Year after year, with many a sleep between, Through joy and sorrow; if my lot be joy More joyful if it be with sorrow sooth’d.26 Hartman characterises this fragment as one of several indicators of Wordsworth’s ‘quest for evidences in the form of intimations of continuity’;27 but there is something else at work within these lines, as they present an inversion of Satan’s warning to Adam and Eve that ‘all these delights / Will vanish and deliver ye to woe / More woe the more your taste is now of joy’ (IV. 367-9). In Wordsworth’s inversion, where woe only intensifies joy, he resists the discontinuity that has closed in upon Satan, and, appropriating Satan’s language, insists on continuity’s enduring presence in his life and work. His joy is strongly secured and, ‘sooth’d with sorrows’ throughout, Wordsworth protects himself from a version of Satan’s ‘hateful siege / Of contraries’ in which contrasting emotional states intensify each other. In this light, continuity and inevitability are more than poetic tropes; they are a means of disrupting the patterns of thought Wordsworth sees in Satan, in which the excess of one state necessarily plunges Satan into its opposite. This idea of the ‘abundant recompense’ that takes place in the mind is also apparent in Book II, where Wordsworth describes how the soul ‘Remembering how she felt, but what she felt / Remembering not – retains an obscure sense / Of possible sublimity, to which with growing faculties she doth aspire’ (II. 336-8). Here the soul retains a cloudy recollection of what she must have been, and Wordsworth identifies this search for embers of that past as a source for hope: ‘With faculties still growing, feeling still / That whatsoever point they gain they still / Have something to pursue (II. 339-41). The repetition of ‘still’ in lines 339 and 340 bears the poet upward; it provides both present satisfaction and renewed hope for the future. Here, again, Wordsworth is thinking about the tragedy of Satan’s inability to see himself as Milton describes him – as ‘th’ excess of glory obscured’ – and Wordsworth is desperate to avoid making this mistake in his own confrontations with loss. Obscurity keeps Satan from seeing the remaining brightness, but Wordsworth simply incorporates obscurity into his mode of seeing, and aspires towards what is behind it. Ultimately, Wordsworth’s attempt to describe the perpetual hopefulness of the soul must fall short; his desire to chart a ‘never-ending way’ is thwarted by his inability to identify the source of this path: Hard task to analyse a soul, in which Not only general habits and desires, But each most obvious and particular thought –  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . Hath no beginning.    (II. 232-5, 237)28 Wordsworth does not fret over this mystery; rather, it seems as though he is making a strong effort in The Prelude not to mind that he cannot find the sources of his thoughts, cannot ‘point as with a wand, and say / ‘This portion of the river of my mind / Came from yon fountain’ (II. 247-9). And yet as he is asserting the impossibility of finding the origins of all things, he is betraying the fact that he has tried and failed. Wordsworth claims that he is free of the anxiety of ‘self-begetting’, as Bloom terms it, and yet he is writing an internalised epic of the origins of his own powers. Wordsworth’s ‘revisionary impulse’, Bloom claims, is just this impulse of ‘self-begetting’, an impulse spoken of ‘most grandly’ by Satan:29                who saw When this creation was? Remember’st thou Thy making, while the maker gave thee being? We know no time when we were not as now, Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised By our own quickening power    (V. 856-61) ‘Self-begetting’ is among the purest forms of self-deception, a deception Wordsworth refuses to take part in explicitly, but in which he is engaged by the very nature of his task. Satan’s proclamation that he knows ‘no time’ when he was not ‘as now’ seeks to place continuity above uncertainty, and almost to give it the status of a natural law. In a passage from ‘The Tuft of Primroses’, Wordsworth presents his wish for continuity, redemptive memory, and the self-ruling mind. Here, Wordsworth’s revision of Satan’s consolatory efforts becomes a longing for an imagined state of perfection of the mind: The longing for confirm’d tranquillity, Inward and outward, humble and sublime, The life where hope and memory are as one, Earth quiet and unchanged, the human soul Consistent in self-rule, and heaven revealed To meditation in that quietness.30 Embedded in this ‘confirm’d tranquillity’ is the notion of internal and external continuity, that is, perpetual protection from ‘the hateful siege / Of contraries’, and a prophetic memory, which projects the unchanged self hopefully forward. The 1814 sonnet ‘Surprised by Joy’ contains in its title one of the most surprising of all Miltonic echoes in Wordsworth’s poetry.31 It is a poem steeped in the language of The Prelude, but it lacks any of the retrospective consolations of the epic. The ‘spots’ of time and the ‘transport’ of the wind appear as terrible inversions of what they once were:32 Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport – Oh! with whom But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb, That spot which no vicissitude can find?        (ll. 1-4) Wordsworth distinguishes this spot from the renovating ‘spots of time’, which nourish our minds through ‘the round of ordinary intercourse’ (XI. 256-64), by denying that it might be accessed by vicissitudes – a distinction that is held together by the echo of Milton’s ‘grateful vicissitudes of heaven’, through which ‘light and darkness in perpetual round / Lodge and dislodge by turns’ (VI. 6-7). The first three lines enact a dark parody of ‘Tintern Abbey’; the poet turns to share his present joy – perhaps to read his ‘pleasure in the shooting lights’ of a companion’s eyes – but finds himself alone. Memory, that same faculty which enabled Wordsworth’s empathetic participation in his sister’s joy in ‘Tintern Abbey’, announces an empathetic failure and extinguishes all joy from the poem: Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind – But how could I forget thee? Through what power, Even for the least division of an hour, Have I been so beguiled as to be blind To my most grievous loss?        (ll. 5-9) Love is faithful to her task in revealing the loss, and so the burden of failure falls to Wordsworth’s mind: it is a failure of memory. Thus, ‘Surprised by Joy’ not only recasts the climax of ‘Tintern Abbey’, it inverts the relationship between memory and loss that the ‘Intimations’ ode works to establish. This is a different kind of blindness from that which renders Wordsworth unable to see ‘the things which [he] had seen’ – the occasion that cried out for the composition of the ode. That blindness could be revealed only by the faculty of memory; Wordsworth notices the loss of a certain kind of vision precisely because he registers an absence. In ‘Surprised by Joy’, however, blindness is not itself a loss, nor does it signify one. Blindness is what obscures the loss; it is the simplest form of forgetfulness. By this point in the poem, we might expect Wordsworth to attempt a recovery: a thought too deep for tears, the arrival of some abundant recompense. Instead, he sinks deeper:          That thought’s return Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore, Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn, Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more; That neither present time, nor years unborn Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.         (ll. 10-15) Citing the final line of ‘Elegiac Stanzas’ – ‘Not without hope we suffer and we mourn’ – Michael O’Neill observes how ‘often resistance to and acknowledgement of sorrow and loss inhabit one another in Wordsworthian elegy’.33 But Wordsworth’s sonnet has an unexpected antecedent in Book II of Paradise Lost, where Satan finds himself surprised by his own forgotten daughter. This surprise is Milton’s own invention, and it is filled with a pathos that almost seems out of place in its setting. Keats, for one, was moved by Satan’s ability to call Sin his ‘daughter dear’ (sic), and ranks this instance among several examples of what he calls the ‘sublime pathetic’ – when ‘the delicacies of passion living in and from’ the immortality of ‘Demons, fallen Angels, and Monsters … is of the most softening and dissolving nature’ – which Milton was ‘godlike’ in his ability to invoke.34 The pain described in this scene stayed with Wordsworth, as he quoted it in the margins of Book IV, when Milton describes the moment ‘Satan first knew pain’ (VI. 327). When Satan encounters Sin at the gates of hell, he fails to recognise her. ‘Hast thou forgot me then’, Sin asks, ‘and do I seem / Now in thine eye so foul, once deem’d so fair / In heav’n’ (II. 747-9). But it is not only a failure of recognition; Satan fails to remember the circumstances of her birth, and leaves Sin to construct an uncanny autobiography, in which she reports not only the first moments of her existence, but the seconds prior to her own birth:        All on a sudden miserable pain Surprised thee: dim thine eyes, and dizzy swum In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast Threw forth till on the left side op’ning wide, Likest to thee in shape and count’nance bright (Then shining Heav’nly fair) a goddess armed Out of thy head I sprung! Amazement seized All th’ host of Heav’n. Back they recoiled afraid At first and called me ‘Sin’      (II. 752-60) Satan’s reunion with Sin is one of many scenes to come in which he is cast as the audience to his own story: ‘She finished, and the subtle fiend his lore / Soon learned, now milder, and thus answered smooth: / Dear daughter’ (II. 815-17). In her autobiography, Sin has narrated two surprises: Satan’s surprise at being addressed as ‘Father’ by a ‘detestable’ shape he claims not to know, and the earlier surprise of Sin’s birth, when Satan was seized with ‘sudden miserable pain’ and bore Sin from his left side. In narrating her own origin story, Sin also fills in a gap in Satan’s; contrary to the impression we get from the ‘incessant autobiography’ of his speeches, Satan seems to have forgotten a crucial plot point.35 Wordsworth evidently thought his own careful attention to the poem rivalled Milton’s own and, in his annotations to Book IV, he accuses the poet of making a narrative mistake: I am not sure that it has ever been observed that Milton here is guilty of an oversight. He forgets the expression which he puts in the mouth of Sin descriptive of her own birth. ‘All on a sudden miserable pain Surprised thee[’] Wordsworth’s annotation reveals a complex network of forgetting. While Wordsworth is incorrect in his identification of Milton’s oversight, the fact that he makes the accusation at all deserves attention, as it is part of a long literary conversation that is fraught with forgetfulness. In Book II, Satan has forgotten Sin and, along with her, the pain of her birth. Here, Wordsworth proposes that by Book VI Milton, too, has forgotten that pain. In his explanation of Wordsworth’s mistaken charge against Milton’s memory, Joseph Wittreich points out that it is Wordsworth who is ultimately forgetful: ‘Wordsworth forgets the complicated time sequence in PL: the events in Bk. VI occur chronologically before the events of Bk. II’.36 For Christopher Miller, ‘the prevalence of surprise in Paradise Lost has everything to do with the poem’s representation of origins and first experiences’. Miller also includes an alternative category, that is, ‘things that are re-experienced or re-learned as if for the first time’.37 The two surprises in this passage illustrate both of Miller’s categories: while we know that Satan is re-experiencing his meeting with Sin ‘as though for the first time’, he also registers this encounter as a ‘first experience’ on a larger scale: ‘nor ever saw till now / Sight more detestable’ (II. 744-5). In ‘Surprised by Joy’, we are meant to understand that part of Wordsworth’s agony at ‘that thought’s return’, the remembrance of his daughter’s death, is the extent to which the return of the thought brings with it a re-experience of the initial loss. Footnotes 1 References are to Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey (New York, 2005). 2 Wittreich dates these annotations to the period between 1798 and 1800. The Romantics on Milton: Formal Essays and Critical Asides, ed. Joseph Anthony Wittreich Jr. (1970), pp. 102, 106. 3 Ibid., p. 150 n. 11. 4 ‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it’. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in William Blake’s Writings, ed. G. E. Bentley Jr., 2 vols. (Oxford, 1978), i. 80. 5 In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads alone there is the ‘necessary character of rural occupations’, the trivial metrical compositions that are ‘dishonourable to the Writer’s own character’, and the poet who ‘speaks through the mouths of his characters’, and, in The Prelude, the famous ‘Characters of the great Apocalypse / The types and symbols of Eternity’. In a recent essay, Matthew C. Brennan likens Wordsworth’s characters to Dickens’s ‘types’: while he admits that several of Wordsworth’s ‘complex characters have grounding in reality’, Brennan argues that figures like the leech-gatherer and the discharged soldier are, ultimately, ‘uncanny archetypes, projections of the poet’s own psyche’. As Brennan points out, this argument is echoed by Hazlitt, who complained that Wordsworth’s egotism turned all his characters’ dialogues into ‘soliloquies of the same voice’. Brennan, ‘Wordsworth’s Characters’, in Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth (Oxford, 2015), pp. 254-5. 6 ‘Essay on the Character of Rivers’, in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1974), i. 76. 7 David Bromwich suspects that Wordsworth ‘had seen someone badly hurt or killed on information from himself’. Disowned By Memory (Chicago, 1998), p. 17. 8 Frank Kermode, The Romantic Image (1957), p. 14. 9 ‘Essay on the Character of Rivers’, Prose Works, i. 76. 10 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 2nd edn. (New York, 1997), p. 20. 11 William Empson, Milton’s God, 2nd edn. (1975), pp. 38, 69. 12 Jonathan Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision (Oxford, 1984), p. 111. 13 William Hazlitt, ‘Thoughts on Taste’, in Romantics on Milton, p. 119. 14 e.g. ‘I was no further changed / Than as a clouded, not a waning moon’ (Prelude, X. 916-17); ‘the soul – / Remembering how she felt, but what she felt / Remembering not – retains an obscure sense / Of possible sublimity’ (Prelude, II. 334-7). 15 Mark L. Reed, Wordsworth: The Chronology of the Middle Years (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), pp. 156, 247. 16 Wordsworth’s image of the soul descending in ‘clouds of glory’ has another possible source in Milton’s description of the moon in heaven, ‘rising in clouded majesty’ (VI. 607). ‘Milton, it will be remembered’, writes Wordsworth in the Guide to the Lakes, ‘has given a clouded moon to Paradise itself’. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Owen and Smyser, ii. 192. 17 Lionel Trilling, ‘The Immortality Ode’, in M. H. Abrams (ed.), English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism (New York, 1960), pp. 149-69. 18 Stanley Cavell, In the Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism (Chicago, 1988), p. 75. 19 Michael O’Neill, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’, in Gravil and Robinson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth, p. 239. 20 Cf. Satan’s first speech in Paradise Lost: ‘into what pit thou seest / From what height fallen’ (I. 91-2), and ‘Seest thou yon dreary plain, forlorn and wild, / The seat of desolation, void of light / Save what the glimmering of these livid flames / Casts pale and dreadful?’ (I. 180-3). 21 Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry: 1787-1814 (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), p. 235. 22 Ibid. 23 References are to The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (NewYork, 1979). 24 Susan Wolfson argues that, ‘despite an intent to form a work that, in the words of its last book, would show “in the end / All gratulant if rightly understood”, years of revision subverted the rhetoric of if from its temporal promise into a perpetually conditional desire’. Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford, 1997), p. 101. 25 Matthew Arnold, ‘Wordsworth’, in The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, ed. R. H. Super, 11 vols. (Ann Arbor, 1960-77), ix. 52. 26 The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1940), v. 347. 27 Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, p. 190. 28 Critics have already called attention to Wordsworth’s allusion in line 232 to Raphael’s ‘sad task and hard’: see The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Wordsworth, Abrams, and Gill, p. 76 n. 2. 29 Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (New York, 1975), p. 63. 30 The Tuft of Primroses, with Other Late Poems for The Recluse, ed. Joseph S. Kishel (Ithaca, NY, 1986), 47-8 (ll. 303-8). 31 Reed, Wordsworth: Chronology of the Middle Years, p. 520; The Fenwick Notes of William Wordsworth, ed. Jared Curtis (1993), p. 21. 32 Cf. ‘spots of time, / Which with distinct preeminence retain / A renovating virtue’ (XI. 257-9) and ‘Oh! There is a blessing in this gentle breeze … it beats against my cheek / And seem half conscious of the joy it gives’ (I. 1-4). 33 O’Neill, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’, p. 244. 34 Beth Lau, Keats’s Paradise Lost (Gainesville, Fla., 1998), pp. 92-3. 35 C. S. Lewis, A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’ (Oxford, 1942), p. 100. 36 The Romantics on Milton, p. 150 n. 9. 37 Christopher Miller, Surprise: The Poetics of the Unexpected from Milton to Austen (Ithaca, NY, 2015), p. 414. © The Author(s) [2018]. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.

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Published: Jan 1, 2018

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