The Practice of Pastoral Empathy in Wordsworth’s Salisbury Plain Poems


In Wordsworth’s Salisbury Plain (1793–94) and Adventures on Salisbury Plain (1795–99) the poet’s sense of the congruence of human mind and nature is aligned to the relationship between affect and history. This interest in the emotional binding or severing of people and their environments speaks to the comfort asserted by the dwelling space’s pastoral antecedents, particularly bringing into relief social inequity and the displaced working class. These concerns were part of Wordsworth’s engagement with enclosure in England, and its close relation, the Poor Laws. His departures from the pastoral mode represent his response to an emerging predicament, something that is clearest at those points in the poems at which the innocence of the Golden Age is met with a murder, a sacrifice and a hanging. This concern with the capacity of pastoral to establish relationships between trauma and transfigurative accounts of nature takes place while Wordsworth is reworking pastoral for Lyrical Ballads – the high point in British Romantic poetry which gives birth to the modern lyric (Kane 271). In the two poems under discussion, speaking subjects evoke a large canvas of sombrous allegories of communities in crises. I consider Wordsworth’s use of landscape and narrative that frames and colours dialogue through his modernising of a type of Eclogue, during a period that was to produce the social pattern of modern industrial England.

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Published 30 June 2015 in Afterlives of Pastoral. Subjects: Pastoral literature, Pastoral poetry, Wordsworth, William.

Cite as: Bristow, Thomas. ‘The Practice of Pastoral Empathy in Wordsworth’s Salisbury Plain Poems.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 30, no. 2, 2015, doi: 10.20314/als.335ec890fb.