1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Letter to Robert Southey; on Spenser's Stanza.

Memoirs of William Wordsworth. 2 Vols [Christopher Wordsworth, ed.]

William Wordsworth


William Wordsworth "writes to his friend, the Poet Laureate, referring at the same time to certain criticisms on 'The White Doe'" Christopher Wordsworth, Memoirs of William Wordsworth (1851) 2:59. Not seen.

"In February 1815, Wordsworth was reading The Faerie Queene . . .; consequently, perhaps, he wrote to Southey in the same year that the unsuitability of a stanzaic form for a long poem" W. J. B. Owen, Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 736; consult Owen's essay for a digest and discussion of remarks on Spenser in Wordsworth's correspondence.

Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend (aged 17): "Have you read The Excursion? and have you read the collection of Wordsworth's other poems, in two octavo volumes? I you have not, there is a great pleasure in store for you. I am no blind admirer of Wordsworth, and can see where he has chosen subjects which are unworthy in themselves, and where the strength of his imagination and of his feeling is directed upon inadequate objects. Notwithstanding these faults, and their frequent occurrence, it is by the side of Milton that Wordsworth will have his station awarded him by posterity" 17 August 1816; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 4: 194-95.




In respect to a stanza for a grand subject designed to be treated comprehensively, there are great objections. If the stanza be short, it will scarcely allow of fervour and impetuosity, unless so short, as that the sense is run perpetually from one stanza to another, as in Horace's Alcaics; and if it be long, it will be as apt to generate diffuseness as to check it. Of this we have innumerable instances in Spenser and the Italian poets. The sense required cannot be included in one given stanza, so that another whole stanza is added, not unfrequently, for the sake of matter which would naturally include itself in a very few lines. . . .


[Ed. Henry Reed (1851) 2:60]