"Emotion Recollected In Tranquility"

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“Emotion Recollected in Tranquility”

            In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth explains his own take on his theory of emotions. One of his theories is that when writing a composition, which will recollect and recreate a powerful emotion, the writer must first be in a tranquil state of mind.

This idea has been demonstrated in the characters of the poetry written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Wordsworth believed that a peaceful mind is the key to opening emotions. Only then is he able to recreate a previous sensation: “I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” (212). This theory is also exemplified in works of Tennyson.

In his poem The Lady Of Shalott, the Lady of the island Shalott weaves beautiful pictures of the mirrored reflection on the other side of the river in Camelot. She is cursed, unable to leave her island in fear of an unknown consequence. However, one day she sees in her mirror Sir Lancelot, and she refuses to stay on the island any longer. She crosses the river on a boat, but dies before reaching the other side:

            For ere she reached upon the tide

            The first house by the water-side,

            Singing in her song she died,

            The Lady of Shalott (lines 150-154)

The Lady of Shalott was a weaving artist. As an artist, she could not go to the artistic world she weaved, which was why she was cursed. When she tried to do so, she died. This shows that artists can’t get too close to the world. They cannot be absorbed in the art and emotion that they are trying to create. Her weaving could only be done as a reflection upon the emotions, not directly in them.

            Wordsworth’s theory shows up again in Tennyson’s 19th poem of In Memoriam:

                        The tide flows down, the wave again

                        Is vocal in its wooded walls;

                        My deeper anguish also falls,

                        And I can speak a little then. (Lines 13-16)

The speaker of this poem had been crying in mourning over the loss of someone dear to him. While his eyes choke on tears not fallen, he is unable to speak, too overwhelmed with sorrowful emotion. However, when his powerful emotions begin to lessen and emotions begin to still, the speaker is able to speak a little. This exemplifies Wordsworth theory that poetry, or art, has it’s roots in tranquility because only when the speaker is closer to tranquility and out of the overflow of emotions is he able to speak.

            Wordsworth theory of how to recollect emotions in poetry, is shown also in the writings of Tennyson. Tennyson demonstrates it through his weaving Lady of Shalott, and through the choked up, mourning speaker of In Memoriam.

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