In preparation for class today, I was reading an essay by the fine American poet Corey Marks, in which he addresses what he terms the “descriptive-meditative structure” in Romanticism.  Speaking of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” he writes:


“But with ‘somewhat of a sad perplexity’ he [the poem’s speaker] registers a difference between the memory he has carried of the place and what he now sees.  When he superimposes the picture held in memory over the actual scene, he finds they are mismatched.  Wordsworth referred to this device of aligning memory with immediate perception as the ‘two consciousnesses.’ Imagine looking through a View-Master, that childhood toy that layers two images over each other to create a 3-D scene. You expect to see a single sharply defined landscape but instead see two pictures, one hovering over the other, their differences disconcertingly apparent.”


This description reminded me of lines 41-48 from “Pale Fire,” where Shade wonders at the difference between his memory and his present observation:


I cannot understand why from the lake

I could make out our front porch when I’d take

Lake Road to school, whilst now, although no tree

Has intervened, I look but fail to see

Even the roof.  Maybe some quirk in space

Has caused a fold or furrow to displace

The fragile vista, the frame house between

Goldsworth and Wordsmith on its square of green.


Is it possible that this passage purposely reconstitutes Wordsworth’s notion?  Is the idea of “two consciousnesses” at the root of this passage?



Matt Roth

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