Creative process: The “decline” of Wordsworth’s poetic powers

In his essay, “Sensation and Vision in Wordsworth,” Carlos Baker  sees creative capability as having a life-cycle much like our journey through life. (1)

“Too much has probably been made of the alleged shrinkage of power in Wordsworth, as if, after forty, his stature had suddenly declined to that of a dwarf. We read of how his genus decays, of how ‘tragically he is carried off the stage on the double shield of religious orthodoxy and political conservatism. This is a ‘despondency’ about Wordsworth that needs to be corrected, and a number of modern critics have undertaken the task of correction…

Mr Baker continues” [Wordsworth’s] powers ripened gradually, reached a peak in his middle and late thirties, and thereafter very gradually declined. In that development and decline, as in so many other respects, the giant Wordsworth is one of us: the epitome of the normaal man.”

Wordsworth expresses this naturaal cycle, particularly as in his own personal experience,  in the first nine lines of his Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
         To me did seem
     Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore —
         Turn whereso’er I may,
             By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more (2)

So, rather than “decline” it might be more realistic to say that Wordsworth experienced  an sustained  high plateau of outstanding work in his poetic creativity and output during a specific time period in his literary life, commonly cited as the years 1797 to 1808.

Scientific studies have shown that highly creative people  who produce outstanding work generally have a period in which they were particularly original and prolific, and it is usually in the earlier and mid parts of their professional life.

I wonder if this tendency to examine and dwell on the concept of the decline of creative powers is more prevalent in the literary world compared with other fields of the arts, or with mathematics, medicine, and other sciences.

(1) As published in the anthology English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism, Edited By M.H Abrams, Cornell University, A Galaxy Book, Oxford University Press, New York, 1960

(2) From The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition, Volume 2, M.H Abrams General Editor, W>W> Norton & Company Inc., New York, 1974

Dennis Mellersh

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