Tag Archives: Marxist literary criticism

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and Literary Criticism

Let me begin by saying that Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud is not one of my favourite poems. It is a pleasant piece of writing. It does not, however, resonate with me as much as does the poet’s The Solitary Reaper.

I am always a little wary of dissecting the work of poets. Many a dead poet would, I feel sure turn in his or her grave where they to hear literary critics discussing their work.

I don’t know whether Wordsworth would be amused or irritated by this video in which his I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud is dissected from a Marxist perspective, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnVAPhHvWek.

In summary, the Marxist critique of the poem is as follows. Wordsworth had the leisure to lie upon his couch “in vacant or in pensive mood”. To possess such leisure one must be wealthy. In addition the poet does not engage with the social ills of his time. Rather he retreats into his own private enjoyment of nature. At bottom the poem is, to the Marxist critic a selfish piece of writing, because it is about the poet’s private enjoyment of nature and does not engage with the public realm.

One major problem with this perspective is that by making the poem public Wordsworth brought (and continues to bring) pleasure to countless numbers of people. To share one’s poetry is, arguably an act of altruism because, as already stated, it has the potential to bring great pleasure to those who enjoy that particular art form. Indeed it can also be contended that when a poem is out in the public domain the poet (or any other creative person) lays themselves open to criticism, some of which can be extremely harsh. For a creative person to step out of the private realm and risk (in the most extreme case) public ridicule is therefore a brave and unselfish act.

In its most extreme form this Marxist view of art leads to a society where men and women on tractors are glorified, whilst art which engages with issues not to the taste of the governing Marxist elite (such as poems about nature) are side lined or, in the worst case scenario their creators are punished as class traitors.

There are, of course Marxists who write about nature, romantic love and other issues not connected with the workings of the market economy. When such poets pen their work, are they guilty of the same sin as Wordsworth – of not engaging with society?

Although, as stated at the beginning of this post, I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud is not amongst my favourite poems, it is a pleasant piece of writing and does not deserve to be misinterpreted in this manner.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about the Marxist criticism of literature, and those who oppose it, there is a very good debate between the late philosopher Professor Roger Scruton and the Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton. To watch the debate please follow this link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdMBDOj4ec