‘Ghostly Language’: Wordsworth’s Ghosts and Spectral Subjectivity

The poetry of William Wordsworth is littered with ghosts and haunted sites. Although Wordsworth never claimed to have actually seen a ghost, his evocation of haunted landscapes and symbolic spectral figures taps into what he called in The Prelude “the ghostly language of the ancient earth”. Dr Mark Sandy investigates the way the ghosts of sound and place haunt Wordsworth’s verse. [MP3 version]

This lecture focuses on the Romantic poetics of memory and the spectral geography of mourning to explore how those ghostly presences, which inhabit and haunt Wordsworthian landscapes are equally those figures of a poetic past (Milton, Spenser, and Wordsworth himself) whose return, through a series of imaginative allusions, both constitute Romantic writing and point to the spectralisation of Romanticism itself in Romantic and post-Romantic writing and theory. Paradoxically, then, Romanticism comprises its own ‘ghostly memory of mourned absences’ and the haunted presence of its own future absence.

This lecture formed part of an Institute of Advanced Study series on the evidence of spirits, co-organised between the Department of English Studies, Centre for Poetry and Poetics, and Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures. The series continues until March, and is accompanied by an exhibition of spirit photography at Durham World Heritage Site visitor centre.

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