"... as far as words can give:" Romantic poetry as displaced mystical experience in William Wordsworth's Prelude

Kallenbach, Bradley Dean
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
This dissertation investigates the ways in which a broad and perennial problem – ‘the problem of dualism’ - is approached by three areas of inquiry, namely, English Romanticism, mysticism and contemporary studies of consciousness. By comparative analysis of key passages in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, Huxley’s survey of mystical traditions in the Perennial Philosophy and work by contemporary philosopher Colin McGinn on the ‘mind-body problem,’ I explain how each discipline proposes an ideal state of ‘synthesis’ or ‘coalescence’ between the subjective and objective as a solution to ‘the problem of dualism.’ In turn, each discipline discerns a faculty or means towards such a synthesis. These are the ‘Imagination,’ ‘Third Eye,’ and ‘Bridging Principle’ respectively. Thus, this dissertation has three additional aims. First, I argue that the Romantic ‘Imagination’ and mystical ‘Third Eye’ faculty are conceptually similar in an attempt to show that certain Romantic poets (primarily Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley) sought access to a super-sensuous realm via the ‘Imagination.’ However, seminal texts such as Coleridge’s Biographia, Shelley’s Defence of Poetry and Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy imply that the Romantic poet, unlike the mystic, is thwarted from voluntary and veridical access to these realms: the Imagination reaches an impassable threshold which the mystical ‘Third Eye’ traverses. This condition, coupled with an inability to convey mystical experience in language with greater acuity, I argue, may account for the presence of melancholy in key Romantic works such as Wordsworth’s Prelude and Immortality Ode. I thus seek to enhance our understanding of the critical commonplace referred to as “Romantic melancholy.” Second, I aim to illustrate this view by analysis of key passages in Wordsworth’s Prelude and Immortality Ode. Finally, I aim to show that the early Coleridgean understanding of ‘the problem of dualism’ as highlighted in the Biographia can be further elucidated by contemporary theories of consciousness on the ‘mind-body’ problem.
M.A. University of the Witwatersrand, 2011