Aesthetics of Shock in Wordsworth Essay

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Aesthetics of Shock in Wordsworth

What say you, then, to times when half the city shall break out
Full of one passion, vengeance, rage, or fear?
To executions, to a street on fire,
Mobs, riots, or rejoicing? From those sights
Take one,--an annual festival, the Fair... --William Wordsworth, The Prelude (7:644-49).

Walter Benjamin writes that, at the turn of the nineteenth century, "fear, revulsion and horror were the emotions which the big-city crowd aroused in those who first observed it" (174). Besides Baudelaire, Benjamin quotes Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffman. He could have mentioned Wordsworth who, early on, had confronted and then described, perhaps more explicitly than anybody else, what amounts to a
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Singular, however, is the intensity, the force of the horror felt (and conveyed to us, his readers) by the Romantic poet. The modern crowd is shocking because it forbids exchange. It comes at "you" (rather than to "you") too early and too soon.

Proliferation and the Question of Poetry

Already in 1798, in The Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth recalls the "din/ of towns and cities... The still, sad music of humanity" he escaped in order to return to the beauty, ease, freedom and tranquillity offered by the contact with natural forms. Indeed the "sweet inland murmur" of the Wye river came like a Paradise Regained after "many wanderings" in Hell. It was heard with the joy of relief, returning home after too long a stay amidst unbearable noise and sights, the pandemonium that generate "evil tongues,/ Rash judgments... the sneers of selfish men"--all that which makes "The dreary intercourse of daily life" in urban settings.

Certainly, Wordsworth never was a happy flâneur in the city. He did not like to walk with the crowd and lose himself in it. He was not at all seduced by prostitute beauties. He did not urge the artist to be "Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne" who paces execution of short poems and stories with newspapers production, answering modernity blow for blow; nor did he build an aesthetics of the artificial and the "bizarre," as did Hoffman, Baudelaire and Poe. Wordsworth rejected London and thought of it, of almost

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