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Reviews Making Tales: The Poetics of Wordsworth's Narrative Experiments , by Don H. Bialostosky; xi & 208 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, $12.50. Wordsworth generally makes die short list of English poets, his influence, not to mention his originality, being at least comparable to diat of Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton. But no other great poet has so many poems of debatable merit, foremost among them being a portion of Wordsworth's contribution to die Lyrical Ballads. Don H. Bialostosky designates poems such as "The Idiot Boy," "The Thorn," "Goody Blake and Harry Gill," "We Are Seven," and "Simon Lee" as "narrative experiments" and is determined to ensure their respectability by grounding them in die poetics of an ancient, Plato, and a modern, Mikhail Bakhtin. These poems have been much ridiculed. Byron called their audior "the simple Wordsworth ," simple here being tantamount to blidiering. Wordsworth is "that mild apostate from poetic rule" who contrived to prove that "verse is merely prose." Referring to "The Idiot Boy," Byron writes, "all who view the 'idiot in his glory' / Conceive the bard die hero of the story." Even Coleridge, Wordsworth's partner in the Lyrical Ballads, had reservations about die poetic dieory Wordsworth, at Coleridge's own urging, articulated in the 1800 Preface and 1802 Appendix. Bialostosky begins with Coleridge's objections. From Coleridge to Geoffrey Hartman, Bialostosky maintains, influential critics have mistakenly applied an Aristotelian rather dian a Platonic poetics to diese poems. Plato's "poetics of speech," outlined in Book III of The Republic, focuses our attention principally upon the narration ofdie poem, instead ofupon die imitation of the action. Speech in the experimental narratives is not, then, a medium only but "is the object of representation itself" (p. 15). Bialostosky now turns to Bakhtin's "sociological poetics," which he finds a fruitful supplement to Plato. Bakhtin instructs us how to "'read' the intonation which connects the words of an utterance to the speaker's unstated evaluations," diose latent assumptions informing all communication. Consciousness to Bakhtin is "not just a psychological phenomenon but also, and above all, an ideological phenomenon, a product ofsocial intercoursé" (p. 61). We must, dierefore, take into account die hierarchical and implicidy political differences between, for instance, the rich and the poor, the bard and the idiot, the adult and die child. Close readings comprise the remaining two-thirds of the book. They are meticulous as well as interesting, if not so revolutionary as die excursions into Plato and Bakhtin promise . Perhaps overeager to complicate Byron's "simple Wordsworth," Bialostosky sometimes borders on the implausible. For instance, "Anecdote for Fathers" labors under a sly Freudian rendering: "That he [the young son in die poem] calls it a 'weathercock' 290 Reviews291 instead of a 'weather vane' may hint at his unconscious identification of it with his father" (p. 1 1 1). "Simon Lee," the tale of a now lame old man who in his youth had been a "running huntsman merry," also suffers from too much ingenuity: "The pattern of'run-ons' or enjambments [of die poem's lines] ... is indeed interesting in ways that go beyond this punning [itself intended as a pun on "running"] association of sense and prosodie device" (p. 51). This is not unthinkable, but it remains unconvincing unless die audior proves Üiat Wordsworth's use of enjambment, which he employs often, is distinctive here. A broader focus, a larger context would have made the overall argument more convincing . For instance, how is it that Coleridge, Wordsworth's devoted friend and intellectual ally during these formative years, failed to grasp the distinctive poetics of these poems? Nevertheless, Bialostosky does a real service in commending what he sees as Wordsworth's experiments (and, incidentally, he has a fine command of die bibliography and a superb ability to summarize other critics' positions). Above all, he conveys a "delight"— Wordsworth's own criterion for the reader — in these bold if sometimes obdurately humble poems. ScRipps CollegeRichard Fadem Marxism and Deconstruction: A Critical Articulation, by Michael Ryan; xvii & 232 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, $18.50. In this provocative book, Ryan seeks to "alloy" (rather than compare) deconstruction and critical Marxism. This involves freeing Marxism from metaphysical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 290-291
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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