‘Language Really Used by Men’: Cowper, Coleridge, and Wordsworth
This chapter focuses on the development of the conversation poem from William Cowper on to the experiments of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the 1790s. It traces Cowper’s development of a conversational style in his Poems (1782) and The Task (1785). In the latter, domestic conversation emerges as a key scenario for the winnowing of the contentious content of the newspapers and the development of an evangelical idea of truth. The next section relates Coleridge’s admiration for Cowper’s ‘divine Chit Chat’ to his ‘conversation poems’ in the 1790s, exploring the tension between dialogue and the transcendence of difference in the poems. Coleridge’s desire for communion is contrasted with Wordsworth’s poetry of conversational failure in The Lyrical Ballads, where there often seems no shared code available to sustain any kind of exchange. These scenarios of encounters with strangers are compared to those in Thelwall’s The Peripatetic (1793) and the aspiration towards creating a language of poetry based on the conversation of the middle and lower classes announced in Wordsworth’s own prose.
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