Volume 12, Issue 2 (June 2014) : 201-229|
The Will to Poetry
Rubric A: Literature and Philosophy
Rubric B: Romantic Poetry
Wordsworth’s greatest poetry represents the most fundamental of human volitions. This is the will to achieve a wholeness of experience that is identical to the will to poetry itself. “Yew-Trees” is an exemplary representation of that will. In the 1815 Preface to his Poems Wordsworth, speaking of Milton’s poetry, locates the structure of the will to poetry — the volition for represented wholeness of experience — in “alternations” between the points of view of “unity” and “multitude.” The meanings and usages of these terms are not self-evident. In fact, the provenience of this terminology and structure are profoundly Kantian, likely derived, most immediately, from F. A. Nitsch’s General and Introductory View of Professor Kant’s Principles (London, 1796). Coleridge, who was himself early indebted to Nitsch’s Kant book and other Kantian sources, willfully repressed yet, in spite of himself, vividly, even if obliquely, recorded his recognition of Wordsworth’s will to poetry and, correlatively, of Wordsworth’s Miltonic and Kantian wholeness of experience, in “Yew-Trees.” In Nitsch’s Kantian terms, Wordsworth’s “Yew-Trees” represents an “unconditioned concurrence [that] excludes the conditions of time.” This “mutual concurrence” engenders a simultaneity of effect and cause: (a) The desire or will created by such a whole of experience “inclines to disinterestedness” and “the way to virtue.” (b) The desire or will to form such a “whole . . . may be denominated the grand object of human happiness.” This “happiness” is a fulfillment of the will to the “highest good.” In “Yew-Trees” we encounter, concretely, a will to poetry that is the primary volition to grasp a wholeness of experience. Achieved, as it must be, from the point of view not only of the self but of the coexistence of all the entities of nature, the wholeness of such experience necessarily includes a moral purposiveness aimed at the good of the largest possible community.