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Boundaries of Mourning:
Gender, Poetry, and Place in Wordsworth’s “Maternal Grief”

University of Bergen, Norway

This essay uses a neglected poem of William Wordsworth’s, “Maternal Grief,” to explore the intersection of questions concerning gender, poetry and place in his oeuvre. The differing versions of the poem – primarily a 1814 draft, the published 1842 version, and a part printed in The Recluse – illustrate how mourning is essential not only to the thematics of Wordsworth’s poetry, but also its overall architecture. These versions of the text all respond to the loss of Wordsworth’s children, Catharine and Thomas, in 1812. Close reading shows how what might be taken as a typically censorious portrayal of feminine affect actually is more complicated – and is closely bound not only to an important turning point in the poet’s career, but also his understanding of poetry’s essence. As a result, Wordsworth’s poetic persona is demonstrated as having a strong, albeit precarious, investment in the vagaries of maternal grief. His attempt to seal off the biographical dimension of the text from its more strictly literary confines is subject to the same structural problems – problems which are identified as being at the heart of romantic organicism – that haunt the mother in “Maternal Grief,” and her attempt to clearly separate life from death.

Romanticism, gender, femininity, place, mourning, boundary, revision, organicism, narcissism, and community



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