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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

THE DARKENING GREEN Heather Glen, Vision and Disenchantment: Blake's "Songs" and Wordsworth's "Lyrical Ballads" (Cambridge University Press) £25.00, £9.95 pb.

We are used to the idea of the socially committed novelist, or the dramatist engagé, but to find the same demand made of the poet is unusual - perhaps because we associate poetry with a legitimized subjectivity. To look for social commitment in Romantic poetry might seem positively perverse. It is, however, a covert demand that runs as a continuous thread throughout Heather Glen's book which pays minimal attention to the canon of literary criticism and seeks, instead, to locate Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads within the discourse of history, psychology and philosophy of social change.

Not surprisingly, then, the book opens with an examination of the two texts as products of certain social and cultural forces and these early chapters are a mine of fascinating quotations from contemporary letters, political pamphlets, journals and mystic writings. The author makes it clear, however, that although each volume was published within a commercially successful literary genre (in Blake's case children's verse, in Wordsworth's, magazine poetry) both writers frustrated the expectations of the 'polite' reader and thereby attacked - at an imaginative rather than a discursive level - many of the underlying assumptions of the dominant culture of late eighteenth-century England.

Having explored what Blake and Wordsworth have in common, Heather Glen goes on to examine what makes their poetry so radically different. Blake's poetry is seen as rejecting the possibility of a common language whilst the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads ...


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