Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality”

In a letter written in 1814, Wordsworth referring to ” Intimation to Immortality’ ode wrote the following to clear his stand on the poem:

The poem rests entirely upon two recollections of childhood, one that of a splendure in the objects of sense which is passed away and the other an indisposition to bend to the law of death […]

[(Quoted in) Durant]

In a later comment, Wordswoth states that for a child, the world seems more vivid and has a strange charm, which an adult is unable to view. Wordsworth through his recollections tried to revisit that wonderland which he was more real for him than the present real world and it is on this recollection the Ode is based upon. Along with it Wordsworth has used many theories and myths regarding human existence. But it is sufficient to say that “From this starting point, the poem examines the whole story of humanlife as an excile from an earlier and more perfect state’ (Durant)

The primary point that the man lives in “less than perfect condition’, has been interpreted in various myths, one of which (and of course the most popular) is the myth regarding adam and eve in Bible. “This story tells us how through the eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, man first knows pain, guilt and anxiety’ (Durant).The Greek myth about Pandora’s box also narrates how the opening of the box by two children brought sorrows into the world.

Ancient philosophy also supported this myth indirectly. Plato’s adaption of Pythagorian theory states that the soul originally resides in the supernal region of the pure idea and when the soul is born, it enters into the “dark prison house’ of this world by losing its memory and thus goes farthest from heaven.

Though Wordsworth used this myth in his poem he doesn’t advance the argument in its favour. In Durant’s words: “The poem makes use of the myth of pre-existence, but this is not what the poem “means’ ‘ (Durant).

He more over adds that “In one sense the meaning of the poem is simple. The poet raises the question of the value of life itself, once the primal joy experienced in childhood gone by […] The first four stanzas are given to a statement of the sense of loss felt by the poet when as an adult he can no longer experience the unity of being and sense of illumination he remembers from his childhood’ (Durant).

In the first stanza he writes “There was a time’, referring to his childhood, when “the meadow, grove and stream, / The earth and every common sight’—- seemed to him in “celestial light’ which he “now can see no more’. This stanza infact describes poet’s lamentation (at least a kind of ) on not being able to see any more the “glory and the freshness of a dream’ that his childhood had.

Echoing What he said in the first stanza, Wordswoth writes in the second one that wherever he goes he knows “That there hath past away a glory from the earth’. The tone becomes more sad in stanza three and here the poet confess it in the line: “To me alone there came a thought of grief’ — and also provides the clue to the cause of writing this poem: “A finely utterance gave that thought relief’.

(c) 2005,  Samir K. Dash


Absurdity of Absurd: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

What makes ‘Absurd’ mean ?When I searched the glossaries ,I found the word to be ‘out of harmony’(1).But yet the definitions trying hard to explain the term , just to end in total ‘Absurdity’ (assuming for a patch that we cognize the meaning of the word),as they talk in total sense, the nonsense just about it and of course that means they fail(in their attempt ).But considering the term to be connected with literature (and different forms of art too!),when I searched for much I came across the lines that states that no ‘literary criticism’ [in which I include the attempts to explain the literary terms] can take the literary activity itself ,or to be much specific ‘…it [literary criticism]is not substitute for reading the activity itself’(2),as it [the piece of work]is the most exactly and precisely ,the thought sent or explained.So,I reached the idea that to understand ‘absurd’ .I must view an absurd activity by an artist, rather than poring over the talks just about it. Thence as a literary student what 1st came to my mind at this instant is none, but WAITING FOR GODOT by Prophet Beckett,the so called absurd play structured about ‘Godot’,the axis all absurdity[as till the date none could declare with confidence ‘who’ or ‘what’ Godot is !]

What I found in the ash bin of my memories just about this godot is:

“On 19 Nov 1957, a group of distressed actors were preparing to face their audience . The actors were members of the institution of the San Francisco Actors’ Workshop . The audience consisted of fourteen hundred convicts at the San Quentin penitentiary . No live play had been preformed at San Quentin since Wife Henriette rosine bernard appeared there in 1913 .Now ,fourty four years later ,the play that had been chosen ,largely because no woman appeared in it , was Prophet Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT’(3). …”Beckett real triumph ,…came once WAITING FOR GODOT which appeared in book form in 1952,was 1st create on 5 Jan 1953 , at the little Theatre de Babylone (now defunct ),…’(4)

And I found as well several lines of this play:




ESTRGON:I can’t go on like this.

VLADIMIR: That’s what you think.

ESTRAGON:If we parted?That power be better of us .

VLADIMIR:We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow.(Pause)Unless Godot comes.

ESTRAGON:And if comes?

VLADIMIR:We’ll be saved


It is aforementioned just about Dramatist that once he was asked that what he meant by Godot he answered “If I knew ,I would-be have aforementioned so in the play”(6).’WAITING FOR GODOT makes not tell a story ;it explores a static situation ‘(7).So it is clean from the really beginning that Dramatist tried to create a ‘character’ with out a character’ as he himself doesn’t cognize him [Godot], and once much the movement of plot tends to zero ,i.e. there is dead no plot . Antecedently it was taken for granted that if there exits a literary piece then there must be either a story( or plot) to tellor any character to be delineate .But did exactly opposite to revolutionize his construct .He presents a ‘character’ whom he himself makes not cognize and tell a plot which is nothing but variations in arrangements and sequences of few events with negligible movement or action :’nothing happens , common man comes common man goes …’ (8).

But can be the term ‘Absurd’ appointed to but these qualities of the play? No, there are still much as mentioned by critics .In an essay on Kalfka ,Ionesco defined his understanding of the term as ‘ Absurd is that which is absent of purpose…’(9).And the purposeless becomes evident once ‘ the much things change , the much they are the same ‘(10).And this is done by creating uncommon situations in the play by Breckett . For instance the boy who carries message of Godot to Estragon and Vladimir fails to recognize them on each day of his reappearance .”The French version expressly states that the boy who appears in the second act is the same boy as the one in the 1st act , yet the boy denies that he has even as seen the two tramps before , and insists that this is the 1st time he has acted as Godot’s messenger’(11).And this is done patch ‘waiting’ which is understood by Martin Esslin as ‘Waiting is to experience the action of time , which is constant change . And yet , as nothing real ever happens , the change is itself an illusion .The continuous activity of time is a self defeating purposeless…’(12).

And thus by this meaninglessness Dramatist tries to prove the absurdity of his play .But is this actually absurd ? If we view it from several some point of views we can suddenly find thing contradicting . It is because we cognize the fact that ‘ truth is ne’er real’ ,and what we define for a situation becomes a truth for us , for that moment . So is the case of abnormality or normality of a situation . Once any action is most common that becomes ‘ normal ‘ for us and this is the really base of our understanding .We understand what is most common and general .We understand thing uncommon by referring it to several common things or actions we understand .So our really base of understanding is based upon several general truth or common events ,the state which we call normal .Now once we thing out of order in a play (e.g. WAITIG FOR GODOT) ,we interpret it in terms of those ‘ commons’ of our memory .But on this view we analyze , can uncommon or absurdity be perceived by us directly without any aid or reference to our definition of ‘normality’ ? It is similar to what Rene’ Wellek tried to explain in his essay ‘ATTACK ON LITERATURE’ by citing an example of Prophet Beckett’s ENDGAME .Becket has delineate a character in END GAME who was ‘ looking for the voice of his silence ‘(13).’The artist’s discontent with language can only be expressed by language .Pause may be a device to express the indescribable ,but pause can’t be prolonged indefinitely ,can not be just silence as such . It necessarily contrast , it necessarily a beginning and an end…’(14).
This statement suggests the importance of contrast and this is as true in case of absurdity and non-absurdity as it is true in the case of silence and music .
In this light we can reach decision that there is no sense of absurdity with out the normality . But how this is true in case of Godot can be analysed as follows :

Beckett tries hard to attain absurdity by doing through his characters , the abnormal things (or at least normal things in abnormal sequence ), still there remains the elements of non-absurdity in every corner of the play . The boy who doesn’t recognize the two tramps bring message from the same Godot (It ne’er happens ever that Godot brings a message from the boy ;or the tramps bring message from the boy to godot ;or tramps speak out the message that the boy brings from the Godot for them ;or Godot ne’er receives message from tramps and so many a can be the absurd case ).It was only one angle of interpretation of the situation .Other interpretations can be many a in amount :Godot waits for tramps ;or tramps don’t wait for Godot patch they say they waited. etc. etc.

When I mean to say is that some action is done in the play has there fore the elements of non-absurdity .We could have recognized them if what we call absurdity would-be be the most normal and what we now feel normal would-be have been absurd .In fact we can’t express absurdity itself and this is the deceiving nature of ‘Absurdity’ , because the moment we speak out thing it becomes a little several from what we originally meant to express . ‘Words , the medium of fiction ,are a fabrication of man’s intellect .They are a part of human lie ‘(14).And for this reason any literature necessarily that medium to be expressed , that becomes deceptive .So Roland Barthes of France says therefore that ‘Literature is a system of deceptive signification…emphatically signifying ,but ne’er finally import ‘(16).

There fore what ever actions Dramatist tried to fictional in to the play , stands till now between in the limits of absurd and non-absurd and how this action is nearer to any of these two limits depends on what words are used and how they are used to define the limits .

That’s why the play ‘..of the purportedly arcane avant-grade do so imidiate and so deep an impact on an audience of convicts…’(17),where as the critics could not easily accepted the play as an art in the beginning .

Martin Esslin writes : ‘ because it confronted them [the prisoners] with a situation in several route similar to their own ? Maybe . Or maybe because they were un sophisticated enough to move to the theater without any create mentally notions and readymade expectations ,so that they avoided the mistake that cornered so many a established critics who condemned the play for its lack of plot ,development , characterizations , suspense or plain common sense ‘(18).And of course this is what we see as the attempt to define absurd with non-absurd .Similarly many a different attempts have been ready-made in the past and present to create uncommon out of common .For example the Dadaist Movement . ‘Attempts have been ready-made not only to widen the realm of art ,but to get rid of the boundery between the art and the non-art . In music , noises of machines or the streets are used ; in painting, collage uses stuck-on news papers , buttons , medals and so on , or ‘found objects’ –soup cans , bicycle wheels , electric bulbs , any piece of junks—are exhibited . the newest fad is ‘earth works’ , holes or trenches in the ground , tracks through a corn field , square sheets of leads in snow . A ‘sculptor’ , Christo wrapped a million square feet of Australian lineation in plastic . At 1972 Bicnnale in Metropolis , a painter ,Gino de Dominicis , exhibited a mongoloid picked up from the streets as a activity of art .In poetry poems have been concocted by the Dadaists by drawing news paper clippings from a bag at random ; much recently poems have been create by computer and a shuffle novel (by Brandy Saporta ) has appeared , in which every page can be replaced by another in any order …’(18).

Similarly we can cite the example of Pop-Culture now so popular by the young generations ,which was once considered as absurd .So what conclusion we reached can be seen in the light of that contrast theory of silence and music told in this essay in the beginning , that what ever we want to express (may it be ‘Silence’ or ‘Absurdity’ ) we need words to express . But ‘a word can ne’er be a thing ‘(20).So we can either attain a situation or express it , but we can not do several because , if we try to do , the situation won’t be the same .This is what we can imply once we speak of absurdity ; i.e. we can’t be all absured in expression as there is no proper medium exists .

By closing this I think I have reached at the ‘ right place at the right time’ , because if I am right then I wish reach the right thing , but if I reach the wrong (as I wish get non-sense)that wish be rather a right thing due to our context . My attempt of criticism , ‘ is an attempt to do us much reasonable’

(c) 2005, Samir K. Dash

Re-visiting Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria

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For Wordsworth, the justification of poetic meters had proved a particularly troublesome problem, because, although the natural language of feeling may be broadly rhythmical, the highly regular stress and stanza patterns would seem a matter not of nature, but of artifice and convention. Moreover he was not clear on the question of how a poem as an individual work of literary art differs from other forms of expression. Thus the old problem of the relation of ‘form’ and ‘content’ was still unresolved. In attempting to remedy this defect in Wordsworth’s argument, Coleridge put the philosophical inquiry into the nature and value of poetry on an entirely new footing. In fact Coleridge is the first English critic to base his literary criticism on philosophical principles. Coleridge conducted his argument in an elaborate and ambitiously conceived chain of reasoning which embraced all his general philosophical principles.

In the beginning of Chapter XIV is the Coleridge’s attempt of differentiating qualities of poetry and the raison d’être of these different qualities. His philosophy begins by making just distinctions and end by discovering how these distinguished characteristics form a unity among themselves.

How does a poem differ from other ways of handling language? What is the point its so differing? How are these points of difference justified by the function and nature of a poem? This is what might be called the ontological approach. And Coleridge uses this ontological approach by defining a poem as a means to an ‘object’, ‘purpose’ or ‘end’.

A poem according to Coleridge contains the same elements as a prose composition. Both use words. The difference between a poem and a prose composition cannot then lie in the medium, for each employs the same medium i.e. words. It must therefore “consist in a different combination of them, in consequent of a different object being proposed”.

A poem combines words differently, because it is seeking to do something different. Of course, all it may be seeking to do may be to facilitate memory. One may take a piece of prose and cast it into rhymed and metrical form in order to remember it better, as in the following verses on the number of days in the months —  “Thirty days hath September/ April, June and November”  etc.

And as a particular pleasure is found in anticipating the recurrence of sounds and quantities, all compositions that have this charm super added, whatever be their contents may be entitled as poem. But in such cases object proposed – facility to memory is served by the mere addition of meter and rhyme. Their use is not necessitated by anything in the content or matter of the poem. There is no natural relation between the two.

So, is there anything in the content of a poem that can necessitate its expression in the metrical form? As the content is determined by object the question is ultimately one of the difference between the objects and the difference ways of writing – “Scientific” and “Poetic”:

“A poem is that species of composition which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth”

Each of scientific and poetic writing has an immediate object and ultimate object. Science has truth and poetic writing has pleasure as its immediate end. Yet science may have some profound pleasure and poetry may have some profound truth as their ultimate objective.

But as it is immediate object of poetry to produce pleasure and meter conduces it, poetry prefers it to the language of prose.

These conditions are that it should suit the language of content of the poem and not be a mere super addition for ornament’s sake or to facilitate memory.

So, from this Coleridge proceeds to make a definition of what he calls “a legitimate poem”. According to him a legitimate poem is the one where each point (content and super added forms) contribute and must support each other to explain each other. This is what refers to Coleridge’s concept of “Organic Unity”. He believes that as a legitimate poem the objective (to produce pleasure) is carried out with the remaining part preserved.

One point to note that unlike Sidney and some of other critics, Coleridge is not discussing about imaginative literature in general, but about poems. Does that mean Coleridge’s view of what is true to poem is not related to other forms of literature? Does Coleridge’s notion  is restricted to ‘legitimate poem’ and not to other literature or writing that are different from science or history?

The clue to this lies in the distinction he proceeds to make immediately after his definition of a legitimate poem. It is the distinction, he made between a “poem” and “poetry”.

But, many critics have been puzzled by the argument Coleridge provides in this distinction. Shaw Cross in his standard edition of Biographia comments “It is doubtful wheather the distinction [between poem and poetry] […] makes for any clearness”.

Such comments are made by many , because “Coleridge gives no real justification of the old statement of a poem of any length, neither can be or ought to be all poetry”. Poetry for Coleridge is a wider category than that of a poem, i.e. poetry is a kind of activity which can be engaged in painters or philosophers or scientists and is not confined to those who employ metrical language, or even to those who employ language of any kind. Poetry in this larger sense, brings “the whole soul of man” into activity, with each faculty playing its proper part according to its relative worth and dignity. This takes place whenever the “Secondary imagination” comes into operation.

In other words, whenever synthesizing, the integrating powers what Coleridge calls the “Secondary imagination” are at work, bringing all aspects of a subject into a complex unity, then poetry in this larger sense results.

Poetry in the narrower sense – that is a poem – may well use the same elements of as a work of poetry in this larger sense , but it differs from the work of poetry in the larger sense by combining its elements in a different objects being proposed. That different object is immediate pleasure. But since a poem is also a poetry, the communication of pleasure may be its end, but not poetry’s whole function. Poem is distinguished from other art (whose communication end is immediate pleasure) due to the fact that it uses language as its medium.

 (c) Samir K. Dash, 30 April 2010.