Wordsworth and eco-poetics

This was an invited contribution to a special issue of this journal edited by Emma Mason and including essays by really famous scholars (and then me…yikes) taking really innovative and surprising angles on Wordsworth. Asked to consider Wordsworth’s relationship with eco-poetics, I was compelled to think about the flooding in 2009 of the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth, and of Wordsworth’s house and garden there. The curator of the museum had spoken at the time of how the garden was engulfed when the River Derwent broke its banks and that the river water brought with it piles of detritus from the nearby town’s flooded shops. This prompted me to think about those material totems of commerce and of craft, and of how they invoked the histories of commerce and craft that Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads record through emotional response and ravaged communities. From here I found myself tracing the moments of fear, ambivalence and violence in Wordsworth’s engagement with the natural world, and the impact of class and occupation on one’s ability to be ‘in rhythm’ with the non-human. It works towards a reading of ‘Nutting’ where I tried to engage the feeling of stone and moss that he evokes so movingly in that poem, before the economics of land capital intervenes and distorts. Now I recognise that Jane Bennet’s notion of ‘vibrant matter’ and entanglements would have helped here, but I used Tim Morton and Emma gave me the wonderful recommendation of Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects, which has remained with me ever since: I feel again and again that Stewart’s book is the book of our times; so perceptive, and so beautifully written.

Rhian Williams, ‘ Wordsworth and eco-poetics’.Questione Romantica, 3(2) (2014), pp. 31-46

Close-reading the ecology of Romantic poetry

In this piece I wanted to think carefully about how we might read Romantic-period poems from within our own moment of ecological precarity. Looking at John Clare’s ‘The Nightingale’s Nest’, John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, William Cowper’s The Task, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ I sought to track these poems’ moments of uncertainty about the ‘natural’ world, and their moments of confusion and obscurity. Thinking about perspective specifically, I was interested in how these poems move above and below their objects of attention and their environment, how they forge and falter in their means of building relationship, and how they register the agency of the non-human. In editing, the piece was slightly trimmed and split up to fit the book’s teaching purpose, which was a bit of a shame, but I hope that the idea that close reading can be a means of feeling for ambiguity, and about working between the past and our own present, is still discernible.

Rhian Williams, ‘Close-reading the ecology of Romantic poems’, in: Chaplin, S. and Faflak, J. (eds.) The Romanticism Handbook. Series: Literature and culture handbooks. Continuum (2010), pp. 52-71.