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Politics and other unnatural acts
  1. By Ellen Holiday - Ellen Holiday
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By Ellen Holiday - Ellen Holiday

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Yet, far from her home in Tennessee and betrayed by a man she thought her friend, she finds herself seeking the Maybe It's Just Me. Welcome back! This new collection contains humor columns written between July and May , an This new collection contains humor columns written between July and May , an overly odd time by anybody's standards. Russia hosted the Winter Olympics It ended up being the most expensive Winter Games in Notebook Thirteen.

Fifty years of writing add up to this, my thirteenth book of poetry.

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When we When we reach my age it is easy to feel that our sun is going down, that the best part of life's journey lies behind us, and If "Christabel" uncovers the possibility that sapphic desire can overtake the daughters of noblemen, "To the Lady E. Miss P. Titled to convey nothing so much as title itself, the poem mutes sapphic desire through re-naming and metaphor. Like "Michael," "To the Lady E. Where "Christabel" feigns silence yet tells all in a poem left deliberately unfinished due to its "subtle and difficult" idea, William's sonnet gives a sense of fullness and closure, of an absence of mystery, a translation of anything foreign into ordinary Englishness Coleridge, Specimins To the Lady E.

Composed in the Grounds of Plass Newidd, near Llangollen, The poem subordinates them to the landscape of Llangollen Vale in which legend and literature had inscribed them, yet the sonnet never names Llangollen itself.

Instead, an elaborate set of synechdoches ends up carrying so attenuated a relationship to the women as to substitute the place for the persons rather than evoking the persons by the place. Instead of the "mingling" of Butler and Ponsonby, we get the "mingling" of stream and river; the women "favour" the river rather than one another; they "have abode so long" not with each other but "on Deva's banks"; and when their love is finally proclaimed—twice over—in the closing couplet—it arrives in the trope of sisterhood, a trope arguably not devoid of erotic potential for a Wordsworth, but hardly the marital partnership that Butler and Ponsonby lived out.

And they have been faithful not to one another but to "a low-roofed Cot," an image that rather flattens the imposing enough two-story home of whose improvements they were so proud. Arguably the "Cot" could also stand for their shared bed, a place, like the vale itself, not of excitement but of "repose," its low roof a signifier of the phallic lack. Eventually—in the sonnet's last couplet—the love does rise—or rather, more laboriously, climb—but only, it seems, because it is "allowed" to do so, as if against someone's will.

Transcending "the reach of Time," it receives immortality—and perhaps sublimity—at the body's expense. The sonnet's central project is one of renaming, of purifying the "new place" Plas Newydd, as Butler and Ponsonby had named their home that had become a cultural metonym for women in love.

Although "fierce Britons" have already supplied a sanctifying place-name, Wordsworth must rename the vale yet again, displacing the "Cambrian tongue" to cover or supplement the sanctifying name with one that reinforces the Anglicization of Celtic space. In naming the Glyn the Vale of Friendship, whatever is fierce or wild is yet a second time covered by English gentility. One must smile, however, when one learns that in the Welsh, Wordsworth in his misspelling has actually named this the Vale of Horse Haunches or Horse Shanks—"Glyn Cafaillgaroch"—close to, but not the same as, the correct word for friendship, "Cyfeillgarwch"—an unintended signifier of the physicality that the poem shows itself in the act of covering.

That the sonnet is a cover story is suggested by Wordsworth's private account of meeting Butler and Ponsonby, which was published with the poem in The women appear to him a bizarre and rather gothic pair: "so curious was the appearance of these ladies, so elaborately sentimental about themselves and their 'Caro Albergo', as they named it in an inscription on a tree that stood opposite," and "so oddly was one of these ladies attired that we took her, at a little distance, for a roman Catholic priest.

They were without caps, their hair bushy and white as snow, which contributed to the mistake" Wordsworth, Complete. Such a passage makes clear the selectivity of the images in the sonnet and the project of substitution that erases Butler and Ponsonby's strange, curious, odd, old, and foreign—Catholic, Italian—style. Against Coleridge's gothic horror we have Wordsworth's cleansing rite. Where Coleridge points to the sexual through metonym, Wordsworth erases it through metaphor. These two poems, aesthetically and formally incommensurate to be sure, seem to me nonetheless to embody the oppositions that sapphic subjectivity is negotiating in the Romantic age: on the one hand, the secret realm of the sexualized and dangerous, on the other the public and sisterly space of the pastoral.

Mediating these poetic postures, whether in explicit response or only implicit dialogue, is Dorothy Wordsworth's "Irregular Verses," which laments the loss of just the kind of female affinity that Butler and Ponsonby lived out. Wordsworth lost her mother at six and her father at twelve and lived most of her childhood apart from her family.

She loved two people with particular passion and in different ways lost both of them. Much has rightly been written about Dorothy's devotion to William, and without question William provided the most lasting connection of her life. But Dorothy also loved Jane Pollard, her closest friend in Halifax, and the biographical record has played down the intensity of that love.

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Dorothy had hoped to make a life with Jane, assuring her in one early letter that "no man I have seen has appeared to regard me with any degree of partiality; nor has anyone gained my affections, of this you need not doubt" Dorothy Wordsworth, Letters As her own doubts assail her, she tells Jane that "no words can paint my affection and friendship for you my dear Girl.

When shall we meet! Another letter imagines their reunion:. It is interesting that the triadic family Dorothy imagines here bears the shape not of "Michael" or of the biographical threesome that forged the Lyrical Ballads —two Wordsworths and Coleridge—but that of the Leolines: two women and a man. Here Dorothy is the hinge uniting William and Jane.

But William, of course, married, and so did Jane, and in her later years an ill and emotionally isolated Dorothy lamented happier times when longing was still tempered by hope. Most of Dorothy Wordsworth's poetry dates from these years; she seems to have used the poems as a means of measuring early fantasies against her later life. Among the several interesting features of this poetry are lush images that one can read as sexual: "foaming streamlets," "secret nooks," and rocks "with velvet moss o'ergrown" and "hips of glossy red" to which the poet is "tempted" and "seduced.

Asked by Jane Pollard's daughter Julia to write a Christmas verse, Dorothy began her extended work on the poem she would call " Irregular Verses. But Dorothy infuses sexuality back into the scene, as if revising her brother's imagery and suggesting the compatibility of pleasure and virtue in female same-sex bonds.

Their stream does not merely "mingle" but "foams"; their wanderings "to the topmost height" are invited rather than simply allowed; and there is no "lack. Surely this scene figures a sapphic sublimity implicitly as sexual as that of "Christabel" but without any of Coleridge's predatory and foreboding images. The difference makes it worth speculating that Dorothy may have influenced the rejection of "Christabel" for the Lyrical Ballads once she came to terms with its partially demonic rendering of sapphic desires.

But "Irregular Verses" turns away from its own "sight to dream of" to the barren reality that befalls not those who transgress but those who are afraid to transgress, as we suddenly learn that "the cottage fled in air" and the "streamlet never flowed. Jane's daughter, the "natural" fruit of this marriage, is figured as "placid" and "staid," a poor copy of the mother with whose heart the writer's own still beats in unison. And even poetry—William's child, one could argue—is superfluous where there is love, Dorothy suggests in a passage that surely raises questions about a woman who centered her life on her brother and his work.

Wordsworth apparently worked intensely on this poem over a period of several years; that she made at least three fair copies suggests that she wanted the poem to circulate. But key lines and sections of the poem are absent from the two variant copies: the entire last section ; the mention in line 16 of a "bliss that so deemed we should endure" and, most dramatically, the section that begins with the fleeing cottage and extends to the prince's diadem In other words, the variant versions skirt the drama of homoerotic desire and its concession to heterosexual convention that is at the heart of the poem: the rupture itself and the constancy of the longing after so many years: the love that is also, if differently, "beyond the reach of Time.

The representation of female intimacy in "Irregular Verses," as the poem's own title suggests, extends beyond content and image to poetic form. Dorothy used the word "irregular" in the titles of three of her poems, but "Irregular Verses" bears the most glaring metrical aberrance of the three: the moment in line 43, the only line of heptameter in the poem: "Though in our riper years we each pursued a different way.

This "irregularity" seems to me to be a powerful poetic statement in itself, a truth the speaker "ne'er strove to decorate" and thus refuses to reduce to the tetrameter that is the poem's basic metric form.

The few lines of hexameter also stand out for their common theme: the brightness of youth, the joys one remembers, the beloved's "rising sigh" for what could not be. In this uses of irregular metrics, prosody itself turns into trope: it stands in for, or figures, something that cannot be said straightforwardly. But as readers of Virgil well know, the pastoral is already charged with homoerotic possibilities.

It is a female inscription of these possibilities for bliss in a "humble cottage"—a gender swerve that parallels the one Byron makes in his list of loving couples—that Dorothy Wordsworth's "Irregular Verses" takes up as it mediates the poetic poles here represented by Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Whether in explicit response to her brother or only in implicit dialogue, "Irregular Verses" mourns for just the kind of female affinity that Butler and Ponsonby lived out. Wordsworth loved two people with particular passion and in different ways lost both of them. Much has been written about the metrics of "Christabel," and it is not my intention to argue that Coleridge's meter which, as several critics have noted, he himself does not accurately describe [11] is simply a function of the "irregular" sexuality of the text. But the preface does suggest some connection between the text's "imagery or passion" and its prosody and Coleridge's choice of the term "wantonly" underscores the possibility that the "passion" in question is sexual.

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Ann Batten Cristall's use of "irregular" in the subtitle for both her volume Poetical Sketches in Irregular Verse and for a very specific male-female love poem, "Thelmon and Carmel: An Irregular Poem," also links sexuality to irregular prosody. My suggestion that sexual content in particular may be connected to professions of irregular poetic form finds a further source in yet another poem about two women, Percy Shelley's "Rosalind and Helen" Shelley's "modern eclogue" is prefaced by a disclaimer similar to that of "Christabel" and possibly influenced by it: "the impulse of the feelings which moulded the conception of the story," says Shelley, "determined the pauses of a measure, which only pretends to be regular inasmuch as it corresponds with, and expresses, the irregularity of the imaginations which inspired it" Shelley As Shelley scholar Neil Fraistat assures me, this claim of "irregularity" is rare if not unique in Shelley's work.