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I was appalled by the invitation to write this essay. Although I have always urged students to become aware of the way they read, of why they read in that silly fashion, and of how they might read more rewardingly, I have never bothered much with the history of my profession. I have written principally on Romantic poetry and nineteenth-century fiction. So the MLA seemed to have adopted the position of Senator Roman Hruska, who, defending one of President Nixon's feebler choices for the Supreme Court, argued that even if what was charged against the nominee was true, nonetheless mediocre minds had as much right as any other group to be represented on the Court. My hesitation at serving as token incompetent was increased by the unanimous advice of qualified modernists, distinguished critical theorists, and kindly strangers on upper Broadway that the task was impossible within the space allotted.
Wordsworth's “Home at Grasmere,” the one completed book of The Recluse, expresses a conception of home as a territorial sanctuary. The holiness of Grasmere Vale as a dwelling place consists in the possibility for ecological wholeness which it provides. The enclosure of the valley liberates the poet's psychic potency, because there he is encouraged to be receptive to multiple dimensions of experience. Through such openness he is consciously able to reintegrate his being into the enduring rhythms of natural existence, thereby articulating his unique individuality. “Home at Grasmere,” then, embodies Wordsworth's ideal of what poetry should be, namely, the realization through language of the intrinsic poeticalness of commonplace actuality. This true poetry, which is characterized by interplay between physical “fact” and mental “fancy,” liberates man from the prison of mere perception, revealing how individuals'—by fitting themselves to nature and fitting nature to themselves—can give unique expression to the unified, interdependent wholeness which is life, the expression being a fulfillment rather than a negation of fundamental inherent tendencies of natural process. In so celebrating such interaction of art and nature, Wordsworth raises questions about some current presuppositions of what constitutes basic interrelations among literature, civilization, and the physical environment.
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