The Poem as Epitaph

  • D. D. Devlin


The “fine balance of truth in observing, with the imaginative faculty in modifying, the objects observed” is only one of the many reconciliations which Coleridge noticed in Wordsworth’s poetry; the same sentence comments on the “union of deep feeling with profound thought” which had so impressed him in Lyrical Ballads.1 In a later chapter of Biographia Literaria he records how his early conversations with Wordsworth “turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry” (which when successfully achieved became one). These were “faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination.” This is later rephrased more simply: “Mr. Wordsworth … was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day.”2 In Chapter 22 Coleridge lists what he considers to be Wordsworth’s characteristic defects and excellences. These opposing lists are sometimes taken as the source of the “Two Voices” theory of Wordsworth’s poetry:

Two voices are there: one is of the deep …

And one is of an old half-witted sheep

Which bleats articulate monotony,

And indicates that two and one are three …

And, Wordsworth, both are thine …3


Common Life Deep Feeling Imaginative Faculty Accidental Situation Great Crime 


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  1. 11.
    C. C. Clarke, Romantic Paradox (London, 1962) p. 8.Google Scholar
  2. 19.
    Christopher Salvesen, The Landscape of Memory (London, 1905) p. 169.Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    A. de Vere, “Recollections of Wordsworth” (Essays Chiefly on Poetry 1887, ii, pp. 276–7). Quoted by Bateson, op. cit., p. 164.Google Scholar
  4. 32.
    Donald Davie, “Dionysus in Lyrical Ballads”, in A. W. Thomson (ed.), Wordsworth’s Mind and Art (Edinburgh, 1969) p. 111.Google Scholar
  5. 40.
    S. M. Parrish, The Art of “Lyrical Ballads” (Cambridge, Mass., 1973) p. 14.Google Scholar

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© D. D. Devlin 1980

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