The Poem as a Creation of a Poet and a Reflection of Mankind
Wordsworth’s “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” redefines the nature and status of poetry as will be discussed in the next paragraph as applied to Walt Whitman’s “Dalliance of the Eagles” poem. At the onset, the Preface particularly asserts that his and Coleridge’s poetry breaks away from “triviality” and “artificiality” of the eighteenth century poetry. It also redefines the nature of poetry and the poet including their function in the society. The “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” outlines means on how to assess poems or any work of art as successful and effective or not. In general, Wordsworth formulates poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. Accordingly, a poet should be “a man speaking to men.” The paper shall examined how Whitman’s poem conforms or deviates from that of the Wordsworth’s standards of poetry in terms of the poem’s expressive lines, the poem’s role in the society, and the poet’s function in the society.
In terms of expression, I, Wordsworth, would despise the mimetic function of Whitman’s poem. In “Dalliance of the Eagle”, the narrative is purely that of mimesis. It is clear that your narration begins with a description of a river, then the sky, and then the dalliance of the eagles. While this narrative means something deeper than just two birds flirting with each other, I believe that rather than treating poetry as an imitation of an action (as in the poem’s description of the clinching interlocking claws, the beating wings, and the loosing talons) or object (as in the river); poetry should be the poet’s reflections and expression of his interactions with the world. Poetry is not just all about seeing things in a bird’s eye perspective and seeing objects independent and devoid of all emotions, poetry is all about feelings. The emotions that you get and extract from his/her experiences and interactions with the world should be evident and visible in the narrative.
Furthermore, poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of feelings.” The mere description of the eagles in contact with each other, the claws and the beaks that interlock may have showed the emotions going on between the eagles but it neither display nor exhibit the poet’s feelings and ideas towards the subject. Wordsworth’s nature poetry is less a reflection on nature than on the feelings and ideas excited in the poet as he contemplates nature. Wordsworth asserts that it is the feeling that gives importance to the action and not vice versa. What happened in Whitman’s poem is the opposite. The description of “eagles in dalliance” only exhibits actions instead of feelings.
You would agree with me that writing your own feelings and emotions would be selfish enough to just account for your own experiences and not of other people’s, I disagree with you. I particularly prefer poems that describe the feelings of the poet for I believe that is the only means that the poet can speak to men. Self-expression does not mean an end in itself; it is just a means to reach the truth, the universal, and the permanent. When you describe your own feelings, you are likewise describing the feelings of men, of all men. I advise you to not hesitate in incorporating your own feelings and emotions for they resonate a specific important event and feelings that are true to all men, that only a man speaking to men can recognize. The poet’s personal feelings and experiences mirror that of real men.
However, there is also an aspect of mimesis that I agree about. This is on the aspect of setting. I wrote myself on rural subjects not because the country made me feel good, but because in such setting I felt more in touch with the elementary feelings and durable truths. I believe the city and court life of the 18th century poet are artificial, insincere, and phony, and out of touch with the well- springs of our humanity. I believe that to find real passions and truths, one has to look at the freer life of the country. I admire Whitman’s use of the rural setting as more effective in evoking men’s true feelings. Your use of the river as the first imagery in the poem indicates the local scenery of the poem. You have drawn your readers into the rustic mood that made them go back to nature and realize the real. The chronicle of the eagles’ passion and love to each other, the details of their playful flirtation made your readers return back to nature to see the beauty of mundane things such as companionship, love, and relationships. I consider them as essential passions that show emphatic, unmediated kind of life that is important to be captured in poetry or in any form of art. In my poems, I always sought to imitate the life and passions of native Lake District for I believe that to imitate the simple and direct life of the country would make me effective speaking to men. To utilize the natural more than the cosmopolitan, you made your readers more live closer to nature and understand their feelings better. I admire this aspect of your poem because I particularly like the humble and the rustic life.
As a poet, you should also see yourself as a man that is not different to any other creature but rather the same kind as of all men but just differ in some degree. There is no such thing as “coterie of poets” as the 18th century would think of it. You possess a more organic, comprehensive soul than any other men. You are endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm, and tenderness with a greater knowledge of human nature. You are more in touch with your feelings. As a matter of fact, you need little stimulation to experience deep emotions that you are able to feel absent pleasures if they were not present. You rejoice in your own spirit of life and seek to discover that joy in the world around you. If it is non-existent, you will create you own. This is particularly seen in your poem “Dalliance of the Eagles” that I admire. You made a passionate scene out of a mundane event of two birds that fly in the skies. You made an eventful experience on the part of the persona while “skirting in the river road”, while he is having his “forenoon walk”. This daily forenoon walk of the persona has been handled as notable happening. The birds’ unremarkable activity was also modified into a seemingly significant aspect of nature. In that aspect, I admire your work. You should honor “the native, naked dignity of man” by humanizing all things in accordance with the human heart. The poem has done this very well. The activity of the eagles has been a way of portraying human’s deepest emotions of love and commitment. Despite the use of the imagery of eagles rather then humans, it still is able to elicit real human emotions.
Lastly, on the social function of poetry to restore the ability of humans to see emotions and spirituality in themselves and in the world because of the ill effects of urbanization and industrialization. I believe humans’ senses have grown dull and they have suffered emotional and spiritual deadness. As a matter of fact, they have lost the ability to be moved by simple beauty and truth. The social function of poetry that I want every poem should accomplish is to enlarge and refine our sensibilities, re-humanize us, and bring us back into the human community. The main role of poetry is to give human pleasure so that they go back into their own world and their own senses. As I see it in the poem, it may have elicited feelings from the readers but this has been successful as the poem is analyzed thoroughly and closely. I admire the fact that you were able to turn mundane things into notable ones that made the readers see nature as a source of love, life, and the vibrant things in life. However, your inability to draw on your emotions and feelings as I have said earlier had a negative effect. It made your readers feel that humans are no longer capable carrying emotions and we had to resort to the physical things such as nature to remind us of these feelings.
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Wordsworth, William and Coleridge, Taylor. Lyrical Ballads: William Wordsworth and
S. T. Coleridge. London: Routledge, 1991.
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