Poems from the academy selected by Christopher Ricks

July 8, 2005

The Prelude , or, Growth of a Poet's Mind. But since the mind of William Wordsworth, over a very long life (1770-1850), never ceased to grow (even if it grew arthritic), it is not surprising that this "autobiographical poem" never entirely satisfied him. He had started it in his twenties, revised it endlessly, and left it only when, at 80, he left life. It must be the greatest (and largest?) poem left unpublished by a long-lived genius.

Growth of a Poet's Mind : Cambridge University contributed to such growth, blessedly. Education knows what it is to educe (as well as to induce, adduce, conduce, produce... ): to lead out, to lead forth.

"Of College labours... ": the usher is a 70-word sentence. Of all these features of my education, Wordsworth straightfacedly says: "I make short mention." Ah. Grateful to his university, he yet sees his calling as a higher one than that of the life academic. The student as drop-in. "And, more than all, a strangeness in my mind, / A feeling that I was not for that hour, / Nor for that place".

It was left (bequeathed) to a great 20th-century critic, Lionel Trilling, to tuck a memory of those words within his evocation of the strangeness that graced his notable student at Columbia University, the poet Allen Ginsberg: Of This Time, Of That Place .

Christopher Ricks is professor of poetry at Oxford University and professor of the humanities at Boston University, US.

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