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Myself and Some Other Being

Wordsworth and the Life Writing

Daniel Robinson

Publication Year: 2014

As a young writer with neither profession nor money, William Wordsworth committed himself to a career as a poet, embracing what he believed was his destiny. But even the “giant Wordsworth,” as his friend and collaborator Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him, had his doubts. In Myself and Some Other Being, Daniel Robinson presents a young Wordsworth, as ambitious and insecure as any writer starting out, who was trying to prove to himself that he could become the great poet he desired to be and that Coleridge, equally brilliant and insecure, believed he already was.

Myself and Some Other Being is the story of Wordsworth becoming Wordsworth by writing the fragments and drafts of what would eventually become The Prelude, an autobiographical epic poem addressed to Coleridge that he hid from the public and was only published after his death in 1850. Feeling pressured to write the greatest epic poem of all time, a task set for him by Coleridge, Wordsworth feared that he was not up to the challenge and instead looked inside himself for memories and materials that he might make into poetry using the power of his imagination. What he found there was another Wordsworth—not exactly the memory of his younger self but rather “some other being” that he could adapt for an innovative kind of life-writing that he hoped would justify his writing life. By writing about himself and that other being, Wordsworth created an innovative autobiographical epic of becoming that is the masterpiece he believed he had failed to write.

In focusing on this young, ambitious, yet insecure Wordsworth struggling to find his place among other writers, Robinson ably demonstrates how The Prelude may serve as a provocative, instructive, and inspirational rumination on the writing of one’s own life. Concentrating on the process of Wordsworth’s endless revisions, the real literary business of creativity, Robinson puts Wordsworth forward as a model and inspiration for the next generation of writers.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Note on Editions

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pp. ix-xii

For ease of reference, I cite the 2010 paperback selection of Wordsworth’s poems edited by Stephen Gill. Unless otherwise indicated, all citations of Wordsworth’s poetry and prose refer to this edition...

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Prelude

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pp. 1-6

Nearing the completion of the thirteen-book draft of his autobiographical poem The Prelude, William Wordsworth wrote to his friend Sir George Beaumont in 1805 that it is “a thing unprecedented in Literary history that a man should talk...

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Two Consciousnesses

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pp. 7-19

In these lines from The Prelude, Wordsworth explains the relationship between the remembered past and the active, creative present—that is, the life writing— as his experience of seeming to be “two consciousnesses”: “Myself,” he writes, and “some other Being.” This...

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The History of a Poet’s Mind

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pp. 20-27

Near his thirty-first birthday in 1801, Wordsworth claimed that his life had been “unusually barren of events.”2 He was lying. Perhaps even to himself. The last decade of the eighteenth century had been particularly eventful, often deeply distressing...

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Trances of Thought

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pp. 28-40

Wordsworth began writing this “history of a poet’s mind” addressed to Coleridge during the last year of the eighteenth century, in the coldest winter that century had seen, when he and his sister were far from home, huddled...

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A Chosen Son

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pp. 41-59

The epic poet is the archetypal literary badass. The difficulty of producing the epic poem is a trope of heroic poetry going back to Homer, wherein the task is so momentous that it requires divine assistance. In the end, the work pays off and guarantees poetic...

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There Was a Boy

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pp. 60-67

There was a boy, and it used to be Wordsworth. Literally, figuratively, textually. The boy of Winander (or, as the place is known today, Windermere) in the untitled poem from the 1800 Lyrical Ballads—the first passage from The Prelude to appear...

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Shrines So Frail

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pp. 68-81

Like “There Was a Boy,” many of the new poems Wordsworth wrote in Germany appeared in the two-volume Lyrical Ballads of 1800, the greatly expanded second edition of the book originally published in collaboration with Coleridge two years earlier. The first volume is a reordering of the 1798 edition, which includes...

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Spots of Time

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pp. 82-97

William Blake should have read The Prelude instead of The Excursion, which gave him a bowel complaint.2 But, like almost everyone else, he didn’t know it existed. Had he been able to read The Prelude, he would have appreciated...

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Finale

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pp. 98-104

The Prelude takes for granted that reading and writing are important life-affirming, mind-altering, soul-making activities. If this is true, then the poet—the writer—is quite possibly the most important person in the world. The Prelude is a poem about...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 105-106

I absolutely must thank Robert D. Richardson for seeing the potential in my project for the Muse Books series. Writing this book has been the most enjoyable project of my career, and I am deeply grateful to Professor Richardson for giving me this opportunity. Special thanks...

Notes

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pp. 107-116

Index

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pp. 117-119

Series Page

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E-ISBN-13: 9781609382582
E-ISBN-10: 1609382587
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609382322
Print-ISBN-10: 1609382323

Page Count: 132
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1st paperback
Series Title: Muse Books

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Subject Headings

  • Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850. Prelude.
  • Autobiographical poetry, English.
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