Spring 1951 • Vol. XIII No. 2 NonfictionApril 1, 1951 |

Sense in the Prelude

One does not think of the poetry of Wordsworth, even the parts which expound his philosophy, as depending on a concentrated richness of single words. There are of course "key" words like Nature and Imagination, and these may in reality be very puzzling, but he seems to be making a sturdy effort to expound them in discursive language. The apparently flat little word sense has I think a more curious part to play. It comes into practically all the great passages of Tintern Abbey and The Prelude on the mind's relation to Nature. And so far from being expounded it might seem a kind of expletive that he associates with this line of thought, or a convenience of grammar for expressing it. Yet in fact, of course, whether or not Wordsworth is drawing on Hartley or Coleridge, his whole position depends on some rather undeveloped theory about how the mind interprets what it gets from the senses. Nor does the word drop from him casually; in the great majority of uses he makes it prominent by put

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William Empson (1906-1984) is best known for his first work, Seven Types of Ambiguity: A Study of Its Effects on English Verse (1930). He was an English poet and supported the school of literary criticism known as New Criticism through his many works and his critical process. Empson encouraged a close and detailed reading of works and was well known for his ability to explain meaning in poetic language.

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Tom Jones

By William Empson

One does not think of the poetry of Wordsworth, even the parts which expound his philosophy, as depending on a concentrated richness of single words. There are of course "key" […]

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