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LIFE INT DEATH/DEATH INT LIFE:
TRAUMA, TESTIMONY AND THE 1798 LYRICAL BALLADS
JAMES R. FLEMING
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
James R. Fleming
To my mother, Ann Marie Fleming, and my wife, Colleen Marie Fleming.
I have a number of people to thank for this thesis: my teachers, my mother, and my
wife in particular. I would also like to thank the English Department at the University of
Florida for its gracious support and its high standard of academic competence. This
thesis would not have been possible without my diligent and always patient committee
members, Dr. Judith Page and Dr. Donald Ault. Both are brilliant and deeply insightful
in their unique approaches to English Romantic literature and critical theory. It remains a
pleasure to work with them both.
Thanks go to my close friend Dr. Anthony Merzlak, Chair of English at Suffolk
University, for first introducing me to critical theory and the English Romantics and for
continuing to remind me of the importance of literary study. Thanks go, also, to Dr. Peter
Caputo and Dr. Frederick Marchant, both also of the English Department at Suffolk
University, for seeing me through some of the early stages of the ideas that would
eventually develop into this thesis.
I would like to thank my mother, Ann Marie Fleming, who was my first teacher
and remains my tireless advocate, for always supporting and encouraging my passions.
Special thanks go to my wife, Colleen Marie Fleming, for her critical mind, staunch
support, inspiration, and willingness to listen to my ideas, even when I wake her up at 4
o'clock in the morning to share them with her.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv
AB STRAC T ................ .............. vi
1 TRAUMA, TESTIMONY AND THE ENGLISH ROMANTIC MOVEMENT..........1
2 "THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER" ............. ...............13.....
3 WORDSWORTH' S LYRIC S ................. ......... ...............21.....
LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............32........... ....
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............35....
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
LIFE AND DEATH/DEATH IN LIFE:
TRAUMA, TESTIMONY AND THE 1798 LYRICAL BALLADS
James R. Fleming
Chair: Judith W. Page
Major Department: English
Presently, literary critics and theorists are beginning to approach both modern and
contemporary literary texts, as well as a variety of pre-modern literary texts, with an eye
toward narrative representations of trauma and testimony. Drawing from the research
and speculation into trauma and testimony by such critics and scholars as Dori Laub,
Shoshana Felman, Jacques Derrida and Geoffrey Hillman, I examine representations of
trauma and testimony in the 1798 edition of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor
Colerid ge' s Lyrical Ballads.l~~~~1111~~~~111
Due to the early English Romantic predilection for personal examination and the
exploration of radical psychic states, the critical study of Lyrical Balladsllll~~~~~~111111 must give close
attention to textual representations of trauma and testimony to properly conceive of the
psychic dimensions that both of these authors explore and represent. Through a close
analysis of Coleridge' s "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the opening poem of the
1798 edition of Lyrical Balladsl~~~~1111~~~~111 Wordsworth' s "Tintern Abbey," the closing poem of the
volume, as well as Wordsworth's "The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman" and
"The Thorn" from Lyrical Ballads, I attempt to discern the radically different methods
through which each poet comprehend and represent post-traumatic reactions. I draw
largely from Derrida' s concept of a traumatic occurrence being, for the survivor, a direct
confrontation with "the imminence of death" to discuss the manners in which both
Wordsworth and Coleridge attempt to reconcile the fundamental connection between life
and death that they recognize as well as the resulting maps of the mind that they produce
in their texts. I argue, furthermore, that the Wordsworth-Coleridge controversy has its
roots in the poets' remarkably different conceptions of trauma and its effect on
I conclude by arguing that William Wordsworth was himself deeply traumatized by
the stark and decidedly pessimistic map of the traumatized mind that Coleridge presents
in "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I argue that Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," as well
as his "The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman" and "The Thorn," serve to radically
reconstitute "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and place Coleridge' s text under a form
of practical erasure.
TRAUMA, TESTIMONY AND THE ENGLISH ROMANTIC MOVEMENT
In his seminal essay "The Internalization of Quest-Romance," Harold Bloom
argues that "the deepest satisfactions of reading Blake or Wordsworth comes from the
realization of new ranges of tensions in the mind .. what [they] do for their readers, or
can do, is closely related to what Freud does or can do for his, which is to provide both a
map of the mind and a profound faith that the map can be put to a saving use" (3), a map,
that is, that can allow for the exploration of what Geoffrey Hartman refers to as "anti-
self-consciousness" in early English Romantic poetry. According to Hartman, anti-self
consciousness served as a remedy for "the corrosive power of analysis and the fixated
self-consciousness" (48) for a number of the early English Romantic poets. Hartman
suggests that "the Romantic poets do not exalt consciousness per se. They have
recognized it as a kind of death-in-life, as the product of a division in the self. The mind
which acknowledges the existence of immediate life knows that its present strength is
based on a separation from that life" (50).
As Hartman argues, the intention of the early English Romantics was not "to
escape from or limit knowledge but to convert it into an energy finer than intellect" (48),
nor was it a simplistic or naive desire to "return to nature" or to some idealized form of
primitive consciousness. Instead, the early English Romantics sought, at least in part, to
present "a vital, didactical moment of 'soul making'" (50), an attempt to construct "what
Yeats calls an anti-self, for the purpose of recovering deeply buried secrets" (5 1), in
consciousness in order, ultimately, to directly confront "the fact of self-alienation" (51)
that haunts a wide variety of early English Romantic texts. What the early English
Romantics and, as I will argue in the following, Wordsworth and Coleridge in particular
over the course of the 1798 edition of their Lyrical Balladsllll~~~~~~111111 collection, attempted to
develop through their explorations of consciousness is a remarkably different form of
consciousness than what had been previously explored in English poetry. Instead, they
attempt to present a form of consciousness that is not based around or grounded in a
steadfast notion of truth or falsity, of simple memory and perception, but, rather, a form
of consciousness that fully acknowledges the perils of consciousness as it confronts and
attempts to reconcile itself to some form or another of psychological trauma.
In Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth' s "Tintern
Abbey," the opening and closing poems, respectively, of the 1798 edition of their Lyrical
Ballads collection, the separation from immediate life that Hartman identifies as being
central to English Romantic poetry is directly connected to past traumatic experiences for
both the Ancient Mariner and Wordsworth's poet in "Tintern Abbey," experiences to
which they both attempt to reconcile themselves through direct testimony to third-party
listeners. But while Wordsworth's poet strongly implies a faith that his testimony and the
map of the mind that is developed over the course of the poem can be put to something of
a saving use, for his poet is indeed able to reconcile himself to the trauma he has
undergone, Coleridge' s vision is quite different. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,"
Coleridge presents a deeply and seemingly irrecoverably traumatized psyche unable to
reconcile itself to the fundamental separation from life that it has undergone, a separation
that has left the Ancient Mariner unable to draw any true intellectual or emotional
strength from his experience or resulting testimony and recognize that such has any form
non-personal relevance. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," then, provides a radically
different map of the traumatized mind than the one presented by Wordsworth in "Tintern
Both the Ancient Mariner and Wordsworth's poet issue testimonies to what
amounts to their own deaths, or, more exactly, to the death of their former selves before
their consciousness altering traumatic experiences, that which Jacques Derrida refers to
as the "imminence of death," from a state of relative disconnection from life that is quite
akin to the death-in-life that Hartman identifies as being at the core of the early English
In the following, I argue that the fundamental difference between Coleridge and
Wordsworth' s maj or contributions to the Lyrical Balladsll~~~~~11111~~~~ and the very roots of what
would eventually develop into the Wordsworth-Coleridge controversy, can be located in
each poet' s decidedly different conception of the effects of trauma upon the psyche.
While both Coleridge and Wordsworth realize that psychic trauma is intrinsically
connected to death, in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Coleridge presents a narrator
who is ultimately unable to accept the imminence of his death and is left unable to escape
from the vicious circle of perpetual traumatization and recurrent testimony that he is be
caught within. I will speculate that Wordsworth was deeply traumatized by the decidedly
dark and pessimistic conception of trauma and testimony that Coleridge posited in "Rime
of the Ancient Mariner" and attempted to place Coleridge' s text under practical erasure,
drastically revisioning it over the course of "The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian
Woman," "The Thorn," and "Tintern Abbey," before finally rejecting the poem outright
and attacking it in his 1800 "Note to 'The Ancient Mariner'" and excluding it from
subsequent editions of Lyrical Ballads.l~~~~1111~~~~111
Throughout a number of their poems in the first edition of their Lyrical Balladsl~~~~1111~~~~111
both Wordsworth and Coleridge wrestle with matters of anti-self consciousness and
death-in-life, though from radically different perspectives and to remarkably different
ends. Stephen Maxfield Parish argues that in terms of the early stages of the
Wordsworth-Coleridge controversy, "what was clearly on the surface a disagreement
about poetic diction may, underneath, have been a disagreement about dramatic method"
(3 17) between the poets, with each positing a radically different conception of the proper
form of psychological drama that should be explored throughout Lyrical Ballads.ll~~~~~11111~~~~ For
Wordsworth, poetic diction was simply a matter dramatic propriety. Wordsworth felt that
proper poetry should be in the language actually used by real people. Throughout his
early poetry, Wordsworth sought to capture the psychologies of actual, common people.
Coleridge's primary poetic interest was in grand philosophical representations, with the
dramatic effects of a poem serving simply as a vehicle for the conveyance of
In Demure: Fiction and' Testimony, Jacques Derrida argues that to issue a testimony
to a traumatic experience is to testify to the "imminence" of one' s own death, for "one
testifies only when one has lived longer than what has come to pass .. the witness is a
survivor, the third party, the testir and testis .. the one who survived .. I am the only
one who can testify to my death--on the condition that I survive it" (45). Trauma serves
to divide a survivor' s psyche, for, as Derrida writes, "at the moment of my attestation I
am no longer the same as the witness who lived and who remains irreplaceable" (65). In
the wake of a catastrophic cultural or personal traumatic event, one is psychically split-
divided between the self before a traumatic occurrence and after. There is, then, as
Derrida posits, the "I" who experiences a trauma and the particular, though now separate
"I" who testifies--that is, for the purposes of this study, the Mariner who experiences and
the Ancient Mariner who testifies, and, in "Tintern Abbey," the poet who experiences and
the poet who testifies. For Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, a fundamental division of
identity and, moreover, consciousness has occurred, a marked separation from life that
touches upon the very imminence of his own death. Considered from this perspective, it
can be seen that "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
both explore radically new ranges of tensions in the mind and, in turn, suggest entirely
new conceptions of the mind as well, conceptions, quite remarkably, that pre-date Freud
and, for that matter, Derrida' s conceptions of trauma and its effect upon and relation to
consciousness by several generations.
To properly locate the acts of testimony in Lyrical Ballads, we must begin by
discerning the differences between acts of literary confession and those of literary
testimony. Arthur C. Cochrane argues that a literary confession "always contains
explicitly or implicitly a polemic, a condemnation .. moreover, the confession does not
judge others .. it confesses an error, a denial, perhaps a blasphemy which has become a
reality in its midst" (76; 78). As Cochrane insists, when one issues a confession, one
admits to guilt and identifies a past action (or ideology or belief) as being wrong (and, in
turn, false) and a present course of action (that, usually, of issuing a confession) as being
correct (and, in effect, true). A confession is always personal, and tends, at least in terms
of literary confessions, to concern (at least directly) one's own self and actions. Derrida
views the act of confession as being ultimately self-centered, focused not on establishing
and conveying self-knowledge and identity but, instead, on offering a pardon for one's
past actions and presenting an autobiography that displaces and erases one's own
perceived guilt or responsibility.
Unlike a confession, a testimony has no inherent design on rendering a steadfast
claim of truth or falsity in regard to one' s past actions or experiences. A testimony
unveils one's experiences) and strives toward developing some form of self-knowledge
in response to those experiencess, forging a link between the self before an event and the
transformed self after the event has transpired. Though I agree with Julian Wolfreys's
assertion that "testimony is irreducible to some concept or figure, some genre or species
of narrative with historical narrative or literature" (192), that it is impossible to develop a
rigorous and wholly developed theory of trauma as it relates to narrative testimonies to
trauma, I would qualify his argument by adding that there are indeed a few key,
demonstrable elements that we can identify in terms of discerning what constitutes an act
In the most basic respect, an act of testimony represents a pronounced need to tell,
to certify and render a traumatic experiences in the psyche by the subj ect that has
undergone such. There is, at least in the psyche of the survivor driven to offer a
testimony to his or her experiencess, an imperative need to come to know their story
unimpeded by the ghosts of the past against which they have been forced to protect
themselves, for one has to know one's buried truth in order to properly and fully
undertake the task of living. Unlike a confession, a testimony serves to discover and
discern an inherent truth, to get to the proverbial bottom of things, but not to design or
Testimony represents an attempt to comprehend experience(2) and to reach a form
or dimension of self-knowledge by virtue of the establishment of a self-narrative through
which one might begin to discern some semblance of self-knowledge in respect to a
traumatic occurrence. And self-knowledge in testimony is key, for, as Derrida insists, "a
testimony is always auto-biographical; it tells, in the first-person, the shareable and
unsharable secret of what I was in a position to live, see, hear, touch, sense, and feel"
(43). But it is not simply to outside listeners that the subj ect testifies to his or her trauma
but to the self as well, for the purpose of rendering and ordering a traumatic experience in
consciousness. A testimony serves to place one's self on record and assert, as Derrida
I am the only one to have seen this unique thing, the only one to have
heard or to have been put in the presence of this or that, at a
determinable, indivisible instant; and you must believe me because
you must believe me--this is the difference, essential to testimony
between belief and proof--you must believe me because I am
A testimony functions as to establish and enforce one's individuality in relation to a
traumatic psychic experience. Testimony offers a claim of selfhood against the utter
incomprehensibility and relative imminence of death that is closely connected to a
traumatic psychological occurrence.
In its most basic respect, trauma can be defined as a psychic wound, not merely a
shock, but rather the result of a particular catastrophic psychic event that has transpired
and, in turn, seeped into and affected consciousness. Cathy Caruth defines trauma
as the response to an unexpected and overwhelmingly violence or violent
events that are not fully grasped as they occur, but return later in repeated
flashbacks, nightmares, and other repetitive phenomena. Traumatic
experience, beyond the psychological dimension of suffering it involves,
suggests a certain paradox: that the most direct seeing of a violent event
may occur as an absolute inability to know it; that immediacy,
paradoxically, may take the form of belatedness. (92)
Dori Laub argues that "massive trauma precedes its registration" (57). Whether
the trauma be cultural or historical in nature or highly and entirely personal, "the
observing and recovering mechanism of the human mind are temporarily knocked out"
(57) and the occurrence of a consciousness-altering trauma evades full mental perception,
reception and incorporation into the psyche. Cathy Caruth defines a post-traumatic
reaction, as being
the result of an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events, in
which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, and uncontrolled
occurrence of hallucinations, flashbacks and other intrusive phenomena. As it is
generally understood today, traumatic disorders reflect the direct imposition on
the mind of the unavoidable reality of horrific events, the taking over .. of the
mind by an event it cannot control. (24)
According to Freud, a traumatic event can be defined as a delayed and anxious
recognition of the significance of a particular memory or previous event that was not
considered threatening at the time of its occurrence but has since taken on a decidedly
different meaning in consciousness. For Freud, the repetition compulsion is a response to
a past occurrence that was psychologically catastrophic to such an extent that it was
prevented from being fully assimilated into consciousness. As a result, the enigmatic
past haunts the subj ect, leaving him or her, much like Coleridge' s Ancient Mariner,
continuously "repeat[ing] the .. material as a contemporary experience instead .. of
remembering it as something belonging to the past" (18).
According to Juliet Mitchell, "a trauma .. must create a breach in a protective
covering of such severity that it cannot be coped with by the usual mechanisms by which
we deal with pain or loss .. in trauma we are untimely ripped" (121). She argues that
"Freud, Lacan, Green, and Herendez .. speak and write of the hole (trou-ma), breach, or
utter dependence .. as the condition expression of trauma" (124). Derrida notes that "a
testimony is always given in the first person" (3 8), and that it can only be delivered by
the survivor of a particular traumatic event. Derrida posits that testimony "is first a
present act" (Demure 38) for "the martyr [when he testifies] does not tell a story, he
offers himself" (38). We can see and example of this in "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner." The Ancient Mariner does not simply tell his story, but offers himself entirely
to the Wedding Guest, both in body and in spirit. When subj ects testify to their trauma,
they offer themselves and reveal themselves in a completely unbridled fashion.
According to Jennifer Lackey, "it is often assumed that neither memory nor
testimony is, strictly speaking, a generative source of knowledge: while the latter
transmits knowledge from one speaker to another, the form preserves belief from one
time to another" (471) instead, it is generally thought that knowledge can only be
transferred or transmitted through testimony. Hartman argues that "traumatic knowledge
would seem to be a contradiction in terms" for it "is as close to nescience as to
knowledge" ("On Traumatic Knowledge" 538) and contends that:
Knowledge of trauma .. is composed of two contradictory elements. One is the
traumatic event, registered rather than experienced. It seems to have bypassed
perception and consciousness, and falls directly into the psyche. The other is a
kind of memory of the event, in the form of a perpetual troping of it by the
bypassed or severely split (dissociated) psyche. (538)
It is through testimony, Hartman contends, that traumatic knowledge, the
knowledge of the particular occurrence and resulting effect of a traumatic experience,
becomes transmissible from one party to another. A testimony to a traumatic occurrence,
in Derrida' s view, "brings to knowledge," "it says something, it describes something, it
makes known .. it informs; one could almost say that it recounts, it gives account" (38).
Over the past decade a number of critics have begun to recognize a fundamental
connection between various forms of Romantic ideology and literary expression and
traumatic experiences and reactions, with numerous critics and biographers of Romantics
figures making generous use of theories of traumatic experience to explain various
Romantic predilections, tropes and images. Though, as Deborah Jenson notes, "the
Romantics did not employ a discourse of trauma" (16) per se in their respective
ideologies and poetic approaches, Romantic expressions of consciousness, in their myriad
of forms, are "characterized by a lachrymose, often Christological crimson-tinged-if-not
stomach-turning pathos" (16). Furthermore, as she claims, Romantic texts on both sides
of the English Channel tend to show a pronounced concern with matters of Romantic
wounding, which serves, on a basic level, as part of what Jenson refers to as the
Romantic "discourse of pain" (17) with symbolic wounds (whether psychic or physical)
serving to "represent Romantic narcissism and melodrama" (17). It must be noted that
Jenson neglects to consider the traumatic elements of the lyrics of Wordsworth, for
example, whose pathos, as we can see in both "Tintern Abbey" and "The Thorn," while
often lachrymose in mood are hardly "crimson-tinged" or, for that matter, "stomach-
turning." Rather, in Wordsworth's lyrics traumatic reactions and testimonies tend to be
meditative and subdued, as his testifying subj ects struggle to order their experiences and
provide them with some measure of voice and render them transmissible and capable of
being brought to knowledge. Melodrama and narcissism, which might be apparent in
Coleridge' s "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," are hardly evident in Wordsworth' s
Leon Waldoff connects "the self-dramatizing moments of new awareness in the
Romantic lyric" (42) to traumatic experiences and psychological reactions, and relates the
lyric form, in Wordsworth in particular, closely to traumatic occurrences and reactions.
Waldoff contends that traumatic reactions "in Wordsworth's poetry are also deferred
reactions to an earlier event or memory charged with traumatic potential. The poet
represents them as moments of unexpected discovery, but the dynamics of repetition ..
and of traumatic experience indicate that they are always revisionary afterthoughts" (43).
Waldoff further contends that
Moments of new awareness in Romantic poetry differ in a crucial way from those
in traumatic experience: They typically do not result in flight, phobia, inhibition
of thought, or paralysis of action, but rather result in a presentation of self-
dramatization and wish-fulfilling variation on a traumatic theme .. Moments of
new awareness in Romantic poetry, therefore, through deferred reactions, try to
solve a crisis or present a consolation. Rather than register painful insights into
the self, as in traumatic resolution. (45)
In early English Romantic poetry, this new awareness can be associated with a new
understanding and perception of the effects of traumatic psychological experience, a
perception that is not associated with the traumatic experience itself (which is, in its
immediate form, beyond immediate comprehension or representation). In Wordsworth,
this new awareness tends to be dedicated not simply to explication of trauma, but to
providing something of a resolution to it, a manner in which the mind can directly
confront trauma and begin to reconcile itself to the imminence of death through a process
of individuation, to render it no longer merely traumatic, but as a moment of new
psychological awareness. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Coleridge does not
position the Ancient Mariner' s testimony as a point of creation for a new awareness that
is beyond the realm of the traumatic. Rather, Coleridge provides a form of traumatic
resolution at best, one that is fundamentally incapable of solving its crisis or preventing
anything in the way of a sure-footed consolation.
"THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER"
In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Coleridge does not chronicle the initial
occurrence of the Ancient Mariner's trauma directly, but, rather, positions the Ancient
Mariner as the direct narrative source of our knowledge of what has happened to him, in
turn positioning both the Wedding Guest and we as readers, though to a far lesser extent,
as party to its creation. The Ancient Mariner' s trauma now exists for him entirely in
memory, the only place in which it can exist. What we learn of the Ancient Mariner
concerns only himself in direct relation to his traumatic experience, for he does not
recognize himself as having any form of purpose or existence apart from it. In this
respect, we might consider the Ancient Mariner' s testimony to be a flawed testimony,
perhaps even an outright failure of testimony at that. Coleridge provides no indication
that the Ancient Mariner' s ritualistic testimonies provide him with anything in the way of
liberation or peace. At the conclusion of his testimony to the Wedding Guest, it appears
as if the Ancient Mariner is still locked in an endless cycle of obsessive recounting that
serves only to perpetuate his trauma.
Over the course of his testimony, the Ancient Mariner formulates no sure-footed
comprehension of his experience and seems to remain in the same static psychological
position in which he considers himself to have been when he was pulled aboard the skiff-
boat, refusing to fully recognize and accept the actuality and utter incomprehensibility of
his experience, the fact that he has, in essence, died, or, at the very least, undergone an
experience that is quite analogous to death. The Ancient Mariner, as we realize, has
entered into what constitutes a radically different ontology and returned, then, an entirely
different man, one for whom, as Derrida would say, only "chaos remains" (Derrida 92).
The Ancient Mariner refuses to recognize that a fundamental divide has occurred in his
psyche and that his former self is now another, that he has lived longer than what has
come to pass and has been witness to the death of his former self.
During his testimony, the Ancient Mariner repeatedly attempts to affirm the
actuality of his life to the Wedding Guest, resisting even the slightest notion that he too
might have been, or, in fact, might still be, among the dead.
The many men so beautiful,
And they all dead did lie!
And a million million slimy things
Liv'd one-and so did I. (lines 23 8-241)
He states, furthermore, that "Seven days, seven nights I saw that curse,/ And yet I
could not die," (263-264) insisting, in essence, that his death was not and is not
imminent. Still, even despite his claims to the contrary, the Ancient Mariner touches
upon the possibility of his own death and his intrinsic relation to it during his testimony
to the Wedding Guest.
I mov'd and could not feel my limbs,
I was so light, almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed Ghost. (307-310)
He describes himself, in essence, as being dead at that point in his past experience
and somewhere beyond his mortal coil. Yet he continues immediately after to attempt to
affirm his status among the living, stating that, "But ere my living life returned," (410),
even though the skiff-boat crew found him, as he says,
Like one that had been seven days drown'd
My body lay afloat:
But, swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot's boat. (509-602)
With this in mind, the Ancient Mariner's encounter with the Eigure of Life-in-Death
(as Coleridge names her in the 1817 version of the poem), takes on a far deeper level
significance than has previously been considered by critics of the poem. The Ancient
Mariner recalls the specters of Life-in-Death and Death playing a game of dice for the
lives he and his crew-mates, resulting, after the victory of Life-in-Death over Death, in
the deaths of everyone on board save for the Ancient Mariner, which, as Michael O'Neil
insists, "makes .. human existence as arbitrary as a throw of dice" (82) for the Ancient
Mariner, and leaves his entire conception of the world in virtual chaos. Interestingly, the
Ancient Mariner refers to the figure of Life-in-Death as a "Night-Mair," suggesting her
intrinsic relation to his psyche at the time of his testimony, for it is through nightmares, as
Cathy Caruth argues, that "the survivor is forced, continually, to confront [the threat of
death in the past] over and over again" (62). We might see the Eigure of Life-in-Death as
the very symbolic personification of the Ancient Mariner' s traumatic reaction to his
confrontation with the imminence of his own death.
David S. Mial takes a decidedly different view of the origin of the Ancient
Mariner' s initial point of traumatization, contending that his traumatization originates not
with his encounter with Life-in-Death and Death, but, rather, with his witnessing the
death of his two hundred crewmates, arguing, in essence that the Ancient Mariner suffers
from an extreme form of survivor' s guilt. He contends that for the Ancient Mariner
"such an overwhelming encounter with death results in a psychic closing-off which is at
the same times accompanied by a profound sense of guilt. To have been singled out for
survival, by being stronger or luckier than others, is itself to be guilty" (646). What Mial
does not recognize, though, is the integral connection between the figure of Life and
Death and the Death of the Ancient Mariner' s crewmates. It is, after all, Life and Death
who is the ultimate catalyst for the death of the Ancient Mariner' s crewmates.
The naked Hulk alongside came
And the two were playing dice;
"The Game is done! I've won, I've won!"
Quoth she, and whistled thrice.
Four times fifty living men,
With never a sigh or groan,
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump
They dropped down one by one. (191-194; 208-211)
Mial's critique assumes that the traumatic incidents which the Ancient Mariner
testifies to actually occurred in the manner in which he presents them to the Wedding
Guest and that his testimony represents a readily discernable, literal trth. Mial does not
consider the likely possibility that the Ancient Mariner is not recollecting exactly what
occurred out on the sea, but, instead, a deeply symbolic account of his own understanding
of his now inexplicable experience. Furthermore, the Ancient Mariner' s account might
represent what Michael D. McDonald refers to as the Ancient Mariner' s refusal to face
the brutal truths "regarding human existence" (543). MacDonald argues that the Ancient
Mariner' s testimony can be "interpreted as a mental adventure" (546) for his tale clearly
"mingles conscious and subconscious experience" (546). The origin of the Ancient
Mariner' s initial traumatiziation might be beyond his recollection and understanding.
It deserves note that the Ancient Mariner does not issue his account directly to the
reader (or, for that matter, to himself as an internal monologue) but, rather, to a listener
placed directly within the reality or ontology of the poem. O'Neill argues that "this
process of witnessing is an integral part of the experience of reading The Ancient
Mariner" (83). But that is true for not only the Wedding Guest, but for the reader and the
Ancient Mariner himself as well, all of whom are positioned as witnesses in the text,
albeit at different ontological levels.
The Ancient Mariner's choice of the Wedding Guest as his listener is clearly not a
random or haphazard decision. He claims that,
I have strange power of speech,
The Moment that his face I see
I know the man that must hear me;
To him my tale I teach. (lines 634-637)
Still, Coleridge does not identify what exactly it is that the Ancient Mariner looks
for in his listener, only that there is, indeed, something, a certain type of listener, that he
seeks. Interestingly, the Wedding Guest is presented by Coleridge as being virtually
anonymous (as is every human figure in the poem as Susan Eilenberg points outs,
suggesting that "anonymity is the common linguistic condition of people and things in
[Coleridge's] tale" ((289))) and without a past. Daniel MacDonald argues that the
Wedding Guest "is the archetype of one living a frivolous, surface existence, ignoring the
deeper realities" (550), of life and consciousness, much like the Ancient Mariner
represents himself as having been before shooting the albatross. In this respect, the
Wedding Guest appears to mirror the Ancient Mariner, with his own experience of
listening to the Ancient Mariner' s testimony serving as a reflection of the Ancient
Mariner' s own traumatic experience.
At the start of the Ancient Mariner' s account the Wedding Guest is not a willing
listener to his tale. It is only through "hypnotic" means that the Wedding Guest listens to
the Ancient Mariner' s tale, an account which he "cannot chose but hear" (22), just as the
Ancient Mariner himself does not, as McDonald writes, "choose to face the hard facts of
reality. Invariably, reality is thrust upon him" (352). Through his testimony to the
Wedding Guest, it becomes apparent that the Ancient Mariner is recycling and
reconstructing his own traumatic experience through his testimony. At the opening of the
poem the Wedding Guest is presented as being much like the Ancient Mariner at the start
of his j ourney, seemingly innocent and fancy-free, is reluctantly seized by a supernatural
power (in his case the Ancient Mariner and, in the Ancient Mariner' s case, the specters
and other supernatural elements that he encounters), and forced to "witness" virtually the
same horror as the Ancient Mariner, and is left, as Coleridge writes, "like one that hath
been stunn'd/ And is of sense forlorn" (664-665). One can easily imagine the Wedding
Guest going about wandering and confronting others after his encounter with the Ancient
Mariner, saying, "It was an Ancient Mariner,/ And he stoppeth me ."
It seems possible, then, diagnose the Ancient Mariner, then, with an acute case of
post-traumatic stress disorder (and with a repetition complex to boot), resulting from the
undoubtable horror of his experience and the resulting intrusion of such upon his psyche.
The Ancient Mariner' s obsessive need to testify might be viewed as an attempt to keep
his story fresh, for, as Dori Laub notes, for the subj ect of a traumatic occurrence, "the
events become more and more distorted in their silent retention and perversely invade the
survivor's daily life" (79). For the longer the story of a traumatic occurrence remains
untold the more the survivor doubts the validity of what has occurred. As the sole
survivor, it is his sole responsibility to tell, for, as Shoshana Felman argues, "to be a
witness is take responsibility for truth .. to take responsibility--in speech--for history
and for the truth of an occurrence, for something which, by definition goes beyond the
personal, in having general (non-personal) validity and consequence" (204). The Ancient
Mariner's mind has clearly been hij acked by his trauma, a trauma he can neither reconcile
himself to nor, for that matter, fully comprehend. The Ancient Mariner does not
recognize that his testimony has any form of non-personal validity or consequence, that it
can reach beyond himself and his listener and be put to a saving use.
Wordsworth' s ultimate rejection of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is well
known. In his 1800 "Note To 'The Ancient Mariner,'" Wordsworth claimed that
the poem of my friend has indeed great defects; first, that the principles person
has no distinct character, either in his profession of mariner, or as a human being
who having been long under the control of supernatural impressions might be
supposed himself to partake of something supernatural: secondly, that he does not
act, but is continually acted upon: thirdly, that the events having no necessary
connection do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is somewhat
too laborously accumulated. (389-390)
Wordsworth' s assertion that "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" "contains many
delicate touches of passion" (390) is especially notable, given Derrida's insistence that
the concept of "passion" as it relates to a testifying subj ect implies not only "finitude"
(26) but also "liability .. imputability, culpability, responsibility" (27) and "an
engagement that is assumed in pain and suffering, experience without mastery and this
without active subjectivity" (27). A sense of passion, a passionate impulse, a passion to
tell "has become inseparable from the desire to avow, for the confessional testimony and
from truthfulness, from telling the other and identifying with everything" (26), as Derrida
contends, "implies an engagement that is assumed in pain and suffering, experience
without mastery and this without active subj activity" (27). A sense of passion or a
passionate impulse is connected, intrinsically, to a testimonial act. In essence, every
testimony arises not out of a passion, but is, in fact, a passion in itself, for, as Derrida
insists, "a passion always testifies" (27). The passion that Wordsworth identifies so
many Eines touches of throughout "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is that of
testimony, a testimony the originates in a sense of culpability and impunity, itself an
engagement with pain and suffering, lacking equally both mastery and subjectivity. In
his 1800 "Note to 'The Thorn," Wordsworth further defines the role of passion in poetry,
contending that "poetry is passion: it is the history or science of feelings; now every man
must know that an attempt is rarely made to communicate impassioned feelings without
something of an accompanying consciousness of the inadequateness of our own powers,
or the deficiencies of language" (389). In this respect, Wordsworth' s definition of poetic
passion might also serve as an early definition of traumatic testimony and a realization of
the crucial connection between traumatic representation and poetic narration.
In such Lyrical Balladsllll~~~~~~111111 pieces as the "The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman,"
"The Thorn" and particularly "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth demonstrates a particular
interest in matters of testimony to psychological trauma. In "The Complaint of a
Forsaken Indian Woman," Wordsworth positions his narrator as a testifying subj ect,
though one without a present listener or witness. Her testimony is very much an internal
testimony delivered entirely to her self. Unlike Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, she calls
out for death and renounces her seeming status among the living after falling ill and being
left behind by her tribe. As she lays abandoned yet still alive, she states that "An yet I am
alive/Before I see another day,/Oh let my body die away" (lines 8-10). Here Wordsworth
offers a testifying subj ect who clearly recognizes the imminence of her own death yet
remains, despite her resignation to her fate, unable to die. Unlike the Ancient Mariner,
the Indian woman recognizes that she has, indeed, loved longer than what has come to
pass for her. She contends that her soul, her "fire," is now dead, "yet it is dead, and I
remain" (12). She feels nothing in the way of pleasure or pain now; she is but a ghost of
her former self. All she wishes for is death. "Forever left alone I am,/ Then wherefore
should I fear to die?" (59-60). By the end of the poem, the Indian woman, much like
Coleridge's Mariner, still has not died. In terms of the Indian woman's attitude toward
death, Wordsworth' s poem can be seen as a radical revisioning of "The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner," for it practically reverses the very nature of the Ancient Mariner' s
testimony. The Indian woman does not have the same benefit of a witness as the Mariner
does. The fact that she cannot die, despite her wishes to the contrary, might indicate the
beginning of Wordsworth' s own understanding of the intrinsic connection between
witnessing and the completion of a testimony that can allow one to fully confront and
accept the imminence of their death.
In "The Thorn," Wordsworth attempts yet another reconfiguration of "The Rime of
the Ancient Mariner," though in this case he focuses primarily on revising the figure of
the Ancient Mariner. Stephen Maxfield Parish contends that "'The Thorn' is not a poem
about an abandoned mother and her murdered infant .. nor a poem about a maternal
passion" (99). Rather, as Parish insists, "The Thorn" is in many respect very much a
poem about psychology, about the waking of the mind of the narrator who happens
himself to be an old Mariner. The events that are recounted in the poem are unimportant
and irrelevant except in terms of how they reflect the workings of the narrator' s own
imagination. According to Parish, the poem's "central 'event' has no existence outside of
the narrator' s imagination" (100). It is not until the seventeenth line of the poem, when
he begins to provide a first hand testimony to have witnessed the plight of Martha Ray.
Parish contends that "his testimony is highly important because he has already suggested
that no one else has seen her" (102), with the Mariner claiming that "I never heard of
such who dare/Approach the spot when she is there (lines 98-99), and that his testimony,
in turn, is uniquely and entirely his own.
In "The Thorn," Wordsworth experiments with a different form of poetic narrative,
one rather akin to Coleridge's in "The Ancient Mariner" in its introspecting and degree of
philosophical awareness. Jacobus notes that "'The Thorn' is not just a poem about
suffering, but about the difficulty of comprehending it" (24). Over the course of the
poem, the narrator (himself a mariner) tells of Martha Ray's constant an unfailing misery
and her inability to come to terms or any rigorous understanding of what has occurred as
well as the Mariner' s inability to grant it any semblance of meaning or order, for there is
a great deal of knowledge that he utterly lacks, as he insists that "I cannot tell how this
may be" (line 243). The Mariner issues a testimony to what he has been, somehow,
inexplicably, in a position to hear and to see. Wordsworth's Mariner, though, is clearly
quite different from Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. In his "Note on the Thorn,"
Wordsworth describes his narrator as
a Captain of a small trading vessel .. who being past the middle age of life, had
retired upon an annuity or small independent income to some village or country
town of which he was note a native, or in which he had not been accustomed to
live. Such men having little to do become credulous and talkative from
indolence; and from the same cause .. they are prone to superstition. On which
account it appeared to me proper to select a character like this to exhibit some of
the general laws by which superstition acts upon the mind. Superstitious men are
almost always men of slow faculties and deep feelings; their minds are not loose
but adhesive .. (388)
Again Wordsworth seems to be providing a reimagining of Coleridge' s "The Rime
of the Ancient Mariner," positioning his Mariner as a version of Coleridge' s Ancient
Mariner divorced from his traumatic reaction and fully capable of undertaking the task of
living. For Wordsworth, the purpose of "The Thorn" was not to represent supernatural
occurrences, but, indeed, to dismiss them. In his 1800 "Note to 'The Thorn',"
Wordsworth stated that "it was my wish in this poem to shew the manner in which ..
men cleave to the same ideas; and to follow the turns on passion, always different, yet not
palpably different, by which their conversation is swayed" (388). Wordsworth, then,
recasts Coleridge's Ancient Mariner as simply a superstitious man who's curiosity and
imagination get the best of him and lead him into practical hallucination.
In "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth shifts perspectives and positions his narrator as
the sole consciousness in the poem and the testimony offered serves as a testimony to the
poet' s own experience. The crucial difference between Coleridge's Mariner and
Wordsworth's poet in "Tintern Abbey" is that while the Mariner is incapable of
recognizing and reconciling the fundamental psychic split between himself before his
trauma and afterwards, Wordsworth's poet is able to begin to do so over the course of his
testimony. Wordsworth's poet issues his testimony from an entirely different
psychological disposition than that of the Mariner. His disposition is not one of
obsession and borderline madness like that of the Mariner, but, rather, one of quiet and
Though absent long
These forms of beauty have not been to me,
As is a landscape to a blind man's eyes;
But often, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart. (lines 23-28)
The time of "rapture" at the sights before him has passed, though a new feeling has
arisen within him, one of discontentment and doubt. A pronounced strand of melancholia
runs throughout the poet's narration, a sense of loss and pain, though hardly as acute as
the misery that the Indian woman and Martha Ray cry of.
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity. (89-92)
This is the first clear indication that a separation has occurred within the psyche of
the poet. Harold Bloom argues that in "Tintern Abbey," "Wordsworth comes to a full
understanding of his poetic self. This revelation, though touches upon infinity, is
extraordinarily simple. All that Wordsworth learns by it is a principle of reciprocity
between the eternal world and his own mind ." (140). Bloom reads the poem, then, as
"a sublime act of humanity, and prepares us for the Wordsworth who is the first poet ever
to present our human condition in its naturalistic truth, vulnerable and dignified, and
irreducible, not to be explained away in any terms, theological or analytical, but to be
accepted as what it is" (148). While Bloom does not recognize the pronounced element
of trauma in the poem, he does recognize the acceptance that rests at the core of the
poet' s testimony. Jacobus argues that "'Tintern Abbey' proffers a statement of belief;
individual consciousness finds its fullest expression in the consciousness of something
beyond the self" (104). What Jacobus does not explore are the consequences of the
poet' s realization of his own divided nature, namely the power of the trauma he has
endured and, mutually, the testimony he offers.
Sometime over the course of the past five years, the poet seems to have undergone
a significant psychic trauma, though clearly not one that is represented in as overt and
explicit a manner as the Ancient Mariner' s. The poet speaks of how,
In darkness, and amid the many shapes
Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the form of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,
How often, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! Though wander through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!i (lines 52-58)
The poet further asserts that "many recognition [are] dim and flint somewhat of
sad perplexity" (60-61) that his memories are fading, that he feels disconnected, with his
"genial spirits .. decay[ing]" (114), hinting, quite possibly, that something dark and
deeply disturbing has occurred in his past.
Richard Onorato connects the poet' s underlying traumatic reaction to
Wordsworth's unconscious attachment to his mother, who died when the poet was eight
years-old. Waldoff contends that "when the speaker is identified with the biographical
Wordsworth, his defensive insistence that 'Nature never did betray' and his anxiety over
absence can be traced to Wordsworth's traumatic loss of his mother .. or to possibly
some earlier disturbance in their relationship" (71). One can also easily read the poem
through Wordsworth's own biography and associate his traumatic reaction not only to the
early death of his mother, but also to later the failings of the French Revolution and his
broken love affair with Annette Vallon. But to examine "Tintern Abbey" in search of any
direct statement or indication of what the poet' s trauma might be serves only to dismisses
what Heidi Thomson considers to be one of the poem' s fundamental points, particularly
The loss of script to articulate "powerfully disturbing statements" in a
controlled manner. For Wordsworth it is no longer possible to articulate
painful experiences in the ultimately reassuring forms of sensibility .. it ..
creates the lonely burden of finding a form for expression of the emotions
which accompanying these painful experiences .. "Tintern Abbey" is
Wordsworth's experiment to consider how he himself copes with the loss of
innocence and with the disappointments of the insufficiency of recompense.
Like the Mariner, Wordsworth's poet suffers from a lack of access to any external
frame of reference, an acute ability to formulate a psychic connection between himself
before his mind-altering trauma and after. He is left disj pointed and disconnected by his
experiences, whatever exactly they might consist of, and struggles to cope with his
divided consciousness and lost innocence. Jacobus contends that in "Tintern Abbey,"
Wordsworth is more concerned "with what is apprehended rather than seen" (110), what
is felt more so than what is comprehended. The poem explores, as Jacobus argues, "the
area lying between experience and recall, past and present" (123), a realm beyond that of
Throughout "Tintern Abbey" we find the poet wrestling with not only the difficulty
of comprehending his inexplicable experience, but, also, a sense of incomprehensibility
in terms of his life before the trauma occurred. He states that he feels himself to be
"changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first/ I came among these hills" (lines 67-68)
as a younger man. He refers to the unrememberedd pleasure[s]" (32) of his previous
(pre-traumatic) experience, as well as his unrememberedd acts/ Of kindness and love"
(35-36) and apparent new found sense of the world being "unintelligible" (41). He
makes further mention of his "half-extinguish'd thought,/ With many recognition dim
and faint" (59-60), before concluding, finally, that "I cannot paint/ What then I was" (76-
77). The poet is fundamentally divided not only from any direct comprehension of his
experience, but also any clear understanding of his past self. The trauma he has endured
has greatly upset the very foundations of his psyche, leaving him grasping, at the opening
of his testimony, for meaning and some semblance of self-understanding in the wake of
his traumatic experience.
Heidi Thomson focuses, in particular, on the role of the poet' s sister in the poem
and argues that "Tintern Abbey" is ultimately "about the necessity of a shared experience
with a beloved person. Moreover, the poem argues that the certainty of a shared
experience far outweighs a merely remembered or projected experience" (535). Though
Thomson acknowledges that the poet is engaging in memory work with his sister, she
does not recognize the testimonial nature of the poet' s address. It is not simply an
expression of "the need for an extended vision within a circumscribed context" (Thomson
535) that the poet offers, as Thomson claims, but, more exactly, a testimony to trauma.
Wordsworth's primary focus in his address is not, at least directly, an attestation to "the
infinite superiority of shared experienced over the individual, isolating one" (535), in fact
it is anything but, at least fundamentally.
The poet's address, like the Ancient Mariner' s, represents a single, highly particular
vision, for, as Derrida argues, "A witness and a testimony .. must first be singular,
whence the necessity of the instant: I am the only one to have seen this unique thing, the
only one to have heard or have been put in the presence of this or that at [an] ..
indivisible instant .. when I testify, I am unique and irreplaceable" (40).
The primary purpose that the figure of the poet' s sister serves in the poem is that of
the listener. It is to her, perhaps, (and, at least in part, because of her) that the poet is able
to pronounce his testimony and give it structure and form, for, as Dori Laub notes, during
a testimony to a trauma occurrence "the listener .. is a party to the creation of
knowledge .. the testimony to the trauma is, so to speak, the blank screen on which the
event comes to be inscribed for the first time." (57) She is, quite clearly, physically
present during the testimonial act ("For though art with me, here, upon the banks/ of this
fair river; thou, my dearest friend" ((lines 115-116))), yet unlike the Wedding Guest, she
offers the poet nothing in the way of doubt, assertion or protest, only the necessary
silence in which he can testify. She is, in this respect, the ideal listener for the poet's
Dori Laub asserts that, in the midst of a testimony, "the task of the listener is to be
unobtrusively present, through the testimony," for "the listener to trauma .. needs to
know 'the lay of the land'--the landmarks, the undercurrents, and the pitfalls of the
witness and himself .. that the speaker about trauma on some level prefers silence so as
to protect themselves from the fear of being listened to" (58).
In "Tintern Abbey," the poet connects Dorothy to his former self, stating that,
And in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting light
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! Yet a little while
May I behold in them what I once was .. (lines 117-121)
In "Tintern Abbey," the poet' s experiences, as fragmented as they might be, are
still entirely his own. Though he suggests that his sister might indeed suffer as he has in
the future ("If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,"/ Should be thy portion," ((lines 144-
145))), he does not identify his trauma as being shared with her. The poet recognizes his
trauma as being uniquely his own.
But unlike Coleridge's Wedding Guest, who repeatedly interrupts the Ancient
Mariner' s address with his own exclamations and comments and stands as a virtual
doppelganger of the Ancient Mariner' s younger self, in "Tintern Abbey,"
Dorothy is a living, recognizable, present person, and not just a metonymic
signified .. Her identity cannot just be read in terms of the speaker's own
self .. the address to Dorothy is not only about the meaning she has for the
speaker as a younger version of himself in response to the speaker's loss of
time. (Thomson 539)
What is remarkable is the fact that the poet connects this vision of Dorothy to his
former self and not to his present self. She reveals to him what he is beginning to
recognize himself to no longer be. Bloom argues that Dorothy is "an incarnation of [the
poet' s] earlier self .. In her wild eyes he sees the gleam that he can no longer see in
nature, but that once he did see, so that he almost literally reads his former pleasure in the
eyes of another" (146; 147). Wordsworth's poet has begun to accept that a fundamental
and irrevocable division has occurred in his consciousness (one that seems to be
somewhat akin to Jung' s notion of individuation) and does not attempt to resist or deny
that separation like the Ancient Mariner does.
That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not from this
Faint I, nor moumn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense, For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity. (lines 84-92)
By the conclusion of "Tintem Abbey," Wordsworth' s poet is able, in however
fragmented a fashion, to begin to issue a testimony to the imminence of his own death.
We haven't any indication that the poet' s testimony will be endlessly repetitive (or, for
that matter, that we could fairly diagnose him with a Freudian repetition complex), at
least in the static sense that the Mariner' s appears to be. Clearly the poet is able by the
end of his testimony to distinguish between himself now and himself then as being
wholly separate entities. And in that recognition lies the fundamental difference between
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Tintem Abbey," as well as that of Coleridge' s
Mariner and Wordsworth's poet. While the Ancient Mariner appears to be locked in a
static and vicious circle of seemingly endless testimony and re-traumatization, both for
himself and for his listeners, in which he refuses to acknowledge the imminence of his
own death. Wordsworth's poet is able to at least begin to recognize and move beyond
such, to accept "that time is past," to begin a process of individualization in which he is
able to realize that he has, in essence, lived longer than what has come to pass, and that
the man he once was, the form of consciousness he once possessed, is no longer, and that
there is life in death and that some form or another of present strength can indeed be
drawn from such.
Wordsworth' s attempted revision and ultimate rej section of "The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner," suggests, perhaps, that he himself was traumatized by the text and the
particular conception of trauma and testimony that Coleridge suggested throughout it.
Wordsworth attempted, throughout a number of his contributions to the 1798 Lyrical
Balladsllll~~~~~~111111, to counter and erase Coleridge' s vision, to drain it of its force and ultimate
weight. Wordsworth's "Note on 'The Ancient Mariner'" and his refusal to incorporate
the poem into the subsequent editions of Lyrical Balladsllll~~~~~~111111 suggests the degree of his
antipathy toward the poem and his desire to put it under erasure, to both remove it from
publication and to radically rewrite it through "The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian
Woman," The Thorn," and Tintern Abb ey." In that respect, the Wordsworth-C ol eri dge
controversy might be considered to have ultimately been a controversy over the nature
and propriety, for each of the poet' s, of traumatic and testimonial poetic representation,
namely the method through which trauma and testimony should be presented in
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James R. Fleming was born in Hyannis, Massachusetts. James received his B.A. in
English from Boston's Suffolk University in 2002 and has studied at the University of
Florida for the past two years. He will be continuing into the Ph.D. program in English at
the University of Florida as a Kirkland Fellow in the summer of 2006. James is
particularly interested in studying Romantic English literature, visual narrative and
critical theory. James currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and Gainesville, Florida,
with his wife, Colleen Marie Fleming.