July 13, 2013

An incomprehensible series of apparently random preferences, revulsions, divagations, and evasions

That intriguing title comes from this excerpt from Coming of Age as a Poet: Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath by Helen Vendler and echo something Wordsworth wrote about the "terrors, pains, and early miseries, regrets, vexations, lassitudes, interfused within my mind."

To the young writer, the search for a style is inexpressibly urgent; it parallels, on the aesthetic plane, the individual’s psychological search for identity--that is, for an authentic selfhood and a fitting means for its unfolding. The human search for identity is conducted blindly; we find ourselves as adolescents suffering an incomprehensible series of apparently random preferences, revulsions, divagations, and evasions. We don’t at the time know why our feelings drift hither and yon on the waves of inexplicable compulsions, griefs, and admirations: it is only later that we may be prepared to acknowledge, with Wordsworth, how strange are the ways of identity-formation:
How strange that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes, interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself!
(1850 Prelude, I, 344-350)
Wordsworth awakes after early miseries, regrets, and terrors to an adult identity, pursuing an existence which derives calm from its conscious awareness of its selfhood, no longer mystified by youth’s emotional vicissitudes.

Wordsworth has recounted in this passage the normal course of individual human formation. But for a young writer, the stakes are doubled. The youthful writer cannot pursue an evolution to adulthood independent of an ongoing evolution of style. To find a personal style is, for a writer, to become adult.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get through this "normal course of human formation"... 
Elsewhere, Helen Vendler writes about Wordsworth and about poetry, in general:

 "To make poetry is one of the modes of living, one of the ways in which life manifests itself. For Wordsworth especially, to create is to live, to become that "sensitive being" and "creative soul" for whom the essence of living is responding and creating."

I have been neither responding nor creating, just dying a slow death then! And so it goes...

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