Term Paper: Dorothy Wordsworth --"We Journeyed Side

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[. . .] The sheepfold is falling away. It is built nearly in the form of a heart unequally divided. Look down the brook, and see the drops rise upwards and sparkle in the air at the little falls, the higher sparkles the tallest. (Wordworth 81).

That Wordsworth heavily relied upon his sister is evidenced in frequent mention in his poetry, such as the following from Poems on the Naming of Places, III:

And She who dwells with me, whom I have loved

With such communion, that no place on earth

Can ever be a solitude to me,

Hath to this lonely Summit given my Name' (Wordsworth 60).

Soon after settling at Grasmere, William began the long, never finished poem "The Recluse," in which he characterizes his intimate relationship with Dorothy:

With me

Entrenched, say rather peacefully embowered,

Under yon orchard, in yon humble cot, younger Orphan of a home extinct,

The only Daughter of my Parents dwells...

Mine eyes did ne'er

Fix on a lovely object, nor my mind

Take pleasure in the midst of happy thoughts,

But either She whom now I have, who now Divides with me this loved abode, was there,

Or not far off. Where'er my footsteps turned,

Her voice was like a hidden Bird that sang.

The thought of her was like a flash of light,

Or an unseen companionship, a breath

Of fragrance independent of the Wind (Clark 26).

An eloquent poetic embodiment of Dorothy's importance to William is seen in "On Nature's Invitation Do I Come":

Her voice was like a hidden bird that sang;

The thought of her was like a flash of light,

Or an unseen companionship; a breath

Of fragrance independent of the wind (Manley 59).

William includes another hymn of praise to his sister in The Prelude, revealing the characteristics which endeared Dorothy to him:

She welcomed what was given, and craved no more;

Whate'er the scene presented to her view

That was the best, to that she was attuned

By her benign simplicity of life,

And through a perfect happiness of soul,

Whose variegated feelings were in this Sisters, that they were each some new delight.

Birds in the bower. And lambs in the green field.

Could they have known her, would have loved; methought

Her very presence such a sweetness breathed,

That flowers, and trees, and even the silent hills,

And everything she looked on, should have had

An intimation how she bore herself

Towards them and to all creatures (Manley 83).

Thus her soulful sympathy and emotional involvement with all of nature and life, combined with her sweetness and simplicity to provide exactly what the great poet needed to compliment his own genius.

A fascinating aspect of the relationship between Wordsworth and his sister has been posed by both feminist critics and at least one male who made a study of what he called "romantic androgyny." The scholar, James Holt McGavran argues that Wordsworth used Dorothy to provide the feminine portion of his androgynous whole. McGavran argues that Wordsworth bases "Tintern Abbey" on Dorothy's "informally structured descriptive language" and that he derives from her the "soul" of all his "moral being," as well as the sensual language of nature. Yet, McGavran points out, Dorothy's "actual presence at (Wordsworth's) side as living, speaking female "other" calls into question, almost crumbles into ruins, his assertion that as a mature man his mind must dominate his surroundings."

In other words, Wordsworth's belief that Dorothy represents a "lower, adolescent stage" of his creativity shows that William does not truly comprehend the depth of his debt to Dorothy. Dorothy, according to McGavran, is the "deep romantic chasm' of the female 'other' " asserting itself "against the masculine will." For this critic, these opposing parts, needing to find "androgynous integration" if the poet is to achieve his creative identity, are what Dorothy and her brother represent to each other, as her feminine egolessness and his egotistical masculine will combine (McGavran 1-5).

As another scholar points out, Dorothy became for Wordsworth a symbol of his consciousness of his own poetic evolution, however incomplete or inaccurate it may have been. Wordsworth makes obvious reference to his sister as a past influence in "Tintern Abbey":

in thy voice I catch

The language of my former heart, and read

My former pleasures in the shooting lights

Of thy wild eyes. Oh! Yet a little while May I behold in thee what I was once,

My dear, dear Sister! (Thomson 1)

Then, in the Lucy poems and in "To Lycoris," Dorothy is Wordsworth's "beloved Friend," his "sweet Friend," his "Dearest Friend," who serves as the poet's attempt to integrate his own past with his present with his dependency of his sister, all of which he fails to bring to any conclusive unity, except to acknowledge that memory may not always be reliable and transmutations may make sport of the poetic imagination (Thomson 581-591).

Dorothy's opinion of her own writing efforts demonstrate her selfless attitude of devotion to her brother's genius. She describes even her letter writing as "full of blunders" (Alexander 196), and all her writings as "muttering to myself" (Alexander 197).

She laughs at those who "would persuade me that I am capable of writing poems...! (Alexander 197). This inability to see herself as a poet can be attributed to her being the female half of the sibling relationship. A fascinating comparison is made by one scholar of the obsession of both brother and sister with walking. For William, says Meena Alexander, his walks and pacings back and forth on the earth were his way of "pathbreaking" of covering ground, of "retrieval of emotion," of conquering "actual imaginative territory." For Dorothy, her incessant walking represented, not merely that she lacked a space she could acquire domination over, but that her own genius led her to an emptying out of self, a severance from Romantic centrality...Her frequent walks through the landscape then, far from returning her to a heightened sense of self, often seemed to function as escape routes, covert flights from the societal bonds set upon her domestic being (Meena Alexander 199-200).

For this scholar, Dorothy shows, through her poetry and her journal entries, her own "groundlessness" as a writer, a fate largely attributed to her femininity, while her brother, with sister's help, becomes entirely "grounded" in his poetic creations. (Meena Alexander 195-208).

Dorothy's own poetry, however "ungrounded," reaches for no intellectual heights. Her most effective work is perhaps seen in the simplicity of a poem like "Address to a Child":

What way does the wind come?

What way does he go?

He rides over the water, and over the snow,

Through wood, and through vale;

and, o'er rocky height

Which the goat cannot climb, takes his sounding flight;

He tosses about in every bare tree,

As, if you look up, you plainly may see;

But how he will come, and whither he goes

There's never a scholar in England knows (Manly 171).

For the most part, Dorothy Wordsworth refuses to go beyond simple observation in her poetry. She does not offer speculations or wider connections. The poem "Floating Island" is representative of her typical style and limited feminine way observing the world. The assertive male mode of controlling and ordering his observed world iss not Dorothy's way. Dorothy's way iss to simply to paint a picture. She knows that her place in nature, like that of all mankind, is not domination. Nature has a power beyond human control to "undermine," "loose," and "dissever." Nature, for Dorothy is simply to be observed. She paints the picture and allows the reader to draw the conclusions. Similarly, she offers her observations to her brother and allows him to make the assumptions.

The words that Dorothy wrote, whether in her journals or poetry, were written only for the pleasure of her beloved brother. They were intended for his eyes and no others. In her words William found inspiration and guidance. Dorothy's love for William was the energy behind her journals and her poems. Virginia Woolf, as pointed out by critic Meena Alexander, describes Dorothy Wordsworth this way: "William and Nature and Dorothy herself, were they not one being? Did they not compose a trinity, self-contained and self sufficient...(Meena Alexander 200).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge described Wordsworth's "exquisite Sister" in terms which make it evident that he was well aware of her worth:

She is a woman indeed!... her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature --and her taste a perfect electrometer -- it bends, protrudes and draws in at subtlest beauties and most recondite faults (Caroline Alexander 15).

Dorothy's description of daffodils observed on a walk in 1802 can be compared to her brothers much more famous poetic lines. Dorothy offered this observation:

never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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