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The Unaccountable "Knot" of Wordsworth's "Gipsies".

Two recent studies by David Simpson David Simpson may refer to:
  • Dave Simpson, ice hockey player
  • Dave Simpson (soccer)
  • David Simpson (cricketer)
  • David Simpson (UK politician)
  • David Simpson (motorcycle racer)
  • David Simpson (Australian Storm Chaser)
 have drawn renewed attention to William Wordsworth's "Gipsies." Simpson's critique re-establishes the important historical issues the poem reflects; but, in concentrating on questions of labor, he overlooks another important category, that of counting and abstraction. This issue is particularly vital at a time when England was first instituting a national census. Also, it has wide ramifications for Wordsworth's poetry, as a brief glance at an encounter in a more well known poem, "We Are Seven," shows. The encounter between the poet and the little girl in Wordsworth's "We Are Seven" dramatizes how representation is a contest between different systems of classification. Both the poet and the little girl insist on counting what is there, what can be pointed to, yet because they differ on what they determine to be there, they arrive at different sums. As Frances Ferguson Frances Ferguson (born 23 August 1947), a foremost theorist of representation and culture, teaches courses in eighteenth and nineteenth century materials and twentieth century literary theory.  notes, the little girl's "ability to count her siblings first merely involves her ability to place them des pite their physical absence from this place," and, in fact, her dead siblings and the proximity of their graves are more available for ostensiveness than her two other siblings who have "'gone to sea."' [1] The poet attempts to explain to her that, when counting people, the dead do not count. Acting like a census enumerator e·nu·mer·ate  
tr.v. e·nu·mer·at·ed, e·nu·mer·at·ing, e·nu·mer·ates
1. To count off or name one by one; list: A spokesperson enumerated the strikers' demands.

, he insists upon counting only those siblings who meet his own "pre-established codes of decision," and while his set criterion of living versus dead seems unexceptionable un·ex·cep·tion·a·ble  
Beyond any reasonable objection; irreproachable.

, her set criterion of near versus far seems equally unexceptionable. [2] While Ferguson is undoubtedly correct in deriding those readings of the text that see it as an attempt by the poet "to impose his hegemonic system upon an innocent victim," it is nonetheless important to recall that Wordsworth himself characterized the poem as showing "the perplexity perplexity - The geometric mean of the number of words which may follow any given word for a certain lexicon and grammar.  and obscurity which in childhood attend our notion of death, or rather our utter inability to admit that notion." [3] While different opinions of what is to count may m ake for good drama, ultimately somebody determines what is to count, just as the census enumerator records his count, closes his ledger, and moves on to the next village.

Bluff empirical men like the one depicted in "We Are Seven" fanned out across Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century to construct empirical representations of the nation. Counting and classifying--funded for the first time by the government--was carried out on a national scale, and the national institution of the census helped to consolidate the available representations of the nation, and to reduce the nation and its people to abstract empirical constructs. Contemporaneous with this national attempt at self-definition was Wordsworth's self-conscious attempt at mid-career to position himself as the poet of the nation; and because these attempts all emerged out of an Enlightenment episteme of measurement, classification, and control, the institution of the census and the activities of Wordsworth demonstrate dialectically how the attempt to consolidate available representations--of the nation, the poet, or the national poet--both overwrites other representations and calls counter-representations in to existence. However, if the taking of a national census is an epistemological act aimed at controlling the people by gaining knowledge of them, it would seem that to avoid being counted is to escape government supervision and discipline. While appealing to a romanticized celebration of individual defiance (and a paranoid view of government), such a view neglects the very real use to which the numbers are put. Census officials everywhere admit the possibility of undercounting, but what they are reluctant to admit is that some segments of the population are more liable not to be counted than others. The impact of race and class on the seemingly simple act of enumeration 1. (mathematics) enumeration - A bijection with the natural numbers; a counted set.

Compare well-ordered.
2. (programming) enumeration - enumerated type.
 has created a politics of counting that achieved widespread prominence in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  when the mayors of Detroit and New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, alleging an undercount un·der·count  
tr.v. un·der·count·ed, un·der·count·ing, un·der·counts
To record fewer than the actual number of (persons in a census, for example).
, sued the federal government following the 1980 census. Anticipating another undercount in 1990, a large coalition of cities, states, and minority interest groups filed a class-action lawsu it in 1988. In both cases, the plaintiffs alleged that there existed a knowledge, and a tacit acceptance, of the fact that certain groups, specifically poor, urban, and minority populations, were undercounted. The implication was that, as far as the federal government was concerned, certain people did not count, that some segments of the population could become or remain opaque knots of humanity, whether it be the faceless slum dwellers of a modern American city or the undifferentiated "knot" of gypsies found in Wordsworth's poem "Gipsies." However, while not being counted is tantamount to not counting in the social or political sense, not being counted also renders one unaccountable, unknown, and, in a certain sense, unknowable un·know·a·ble  
Impossible to know, especially being beyond the range of human experience or understanding: the unknowable mysteries of life.
, a source of power or of panic. Written within a few years of the first British national census, the "Gipsies" described by Wordsworth are just such a segment of the population, differentiated from the mainstream by the color of their skin and reduced to a "knot" that is both inconseq uential and yet dangerous. Contained and yet ultimately unknowable, these "tawny wanderers" (as Samuel Taylor Samuel (or Sam) Taylor may refer to:
  • Samuel Taylor (stenographer) (fl. 1786), invented shorthand system, attended Abraham Lincoln's death
  • Samuel Mitchell Taylor (1852-1921), US Congressman from Arkansas
 Coleridge called them) occasion a kind of epistemological panic in Wordsworth, who seeks to account for the unknowable through specificity and measurement and yet simultaneously courts the unknowable as a source of his power as a poet. [5]

Based on the poem, the poet's encounter with the gypsies was anything but fortuitous for the reputation of either gypsies or Wordsworth. Simpson, who has written at length on the poem, states that "Gipsies" has been "judged a terrible poem by a great poet," "an embarrassment," a poem that most critics "might wish had not been written by Wordsworth." [6] The encounter between the gypsies and the poet occasions a surprisingly elevated meditation on the idleness of vagrants set against the vast active machinery of the cosmos. While everything that loves the sun is out of doors and working, while even "The stars have tasks," the gypsies "have none." [7] It is this emphasis on the division between productive labor, unproductive labor, and outright idleness that Simpson unpacks in a marvelously dense reading of the poem's language and context. What seemed to interest Simpson initially was the hyperbolic hy·per·bol·ic   also hy·per·bol·i·cal
1. Of, relating to, or employing hyperbole.

2. Mathematics
a. Of, relating to, or having the form of a hyperbola.

, quasi-hysterical tone of the poem, which, along with the extravagant diction, are fractures in the surface of th e poem through which one can examine Wordsworth's underlying anxieties. In Simpson's first analysis, these anxieties center on questions of labor and property. In a subsequent examination, Simpson points to questions of gender roles and sexuality as another source of anxiety. [8] In both cases, the anxiety marks the location where sociohistorical circumstances have been displaced.

Simpson begins his first extended treatment of "Gipsies" with an examination of the hyperbolic tone of the poem, a tone that he initially attributes to the presence of a dramatized speaker, and one no less than Satan himself. Pointing to echoes of Paradise Lost Paradise Lost

Milton’s epic poem of man’s first disobedience. [Br. Lit.: Paradise Lost]

See : Epic
, Simpson recasts the poem as a Luciferic speech, the poet's own anxieties displaced into the convenient form of Satanic outsider:

This reflexively locates the gypsies as a paradisal society; they occupy the same position for the speaker as do Adam and Eve Adam and Eve

In the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, the parents of the human race. Genesis gives two versions of their creation. In the first, God creates “male and female in his own image” on the sixth day.
 for Satan...Looking again at the opening of Wordsworth's poem, we may now read behind the mood of outrage to notice that the gypsies are an 'unbroken knot' of human beings--a society self-contained, integrated, paradisal. Wordsworth too thus implies both a contempt for and an envy of a community wherein there is no sign of restlessness, vaulting ambition, or change...But the truly infernal predicament may well be that of the peripheral narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete. ...For him, the knot is broken. [9]

For Simpson, the speaker's relationship to the gypsy community is uncomfortably ambivalent, with the seemingly unproductive gypsy life, the life of idleness and wandering that the gypsies represent, approximating the life of the speaker himself. The gypsies are outside the conventions of normal society and seem not to share the values of that society. This subjects them to the "self-righteous bombast" of the Wordsworthian speaker, the very ferocity of which marks a moment of displacement. Simpson unpacks this moment by reading the "unbroken knot" used to describe the gypsy community as a figuration fig·u·ra·tion  
1. The act of forming something into a particular shape.

2. A shape, form, or outline.

3. The act of representing with figures.

4. A figurative representation.

 for a "self-contained, integrated, paradisal" society. [10]

Simpson attributes this mixture of fear and desire to Wordsworth's anxieties over his "labor" as a poet and the "property" represented either by his labor or his poems. In short, a poem like "Gipsies" expresses Wordsworth's uncertainty over whether he is a laboring man and thus, by contemporary standards, a virtuous man, or whether he is, as William Hazlitt called him, "'the prince of poetic idlers.'" [11] Thus, Simpson attributes the overheated rhetoric of "Gipsies" to Wordsworth's liminality, his occupation of the precarious territory between the working community and the idle gypsies, and his fear of being associated with the latter. In a subsequent essay, Simpson attempts to incorporate the issue of gender into his analysis of the poem. The structure of the analysis remains the same, with Wordsworth ambivalently occupying a liminal liminal /lim·i·nal/ (lim´i-n'l) barely perceptible; pertaining to a threshold.

Relating to a threshold.


barely perceptible; pertaining to a threshold.
 space between a desired and a feared community. The difference is that questions of sexuality, instead of economy, serve to distinguish the two communities. Now, while Simpson is undoubtedly correct in identifying vocational concerns in Wordsworth and also in stating that "Sexuality is indeed everywhere in [Wordsworth's] poetry," both of his readings of "Gipsies" rely on reading a knot as a solution to a problem and not as the problem itself. [12] Only by undoing the knot and making it knowable can Simpson unravel the mystery and opacity of the "Gipsies." This is not just an issue of interpretative license, but one embedded in the historical-materialist method itself and its often torturous and occasionally ambivalent relationship with the concept of truth and the desire for knowability. While untying that unbroken knot into its separate historical threads provides many insights into "Gipsies," the process of untying transforms the knot into a not knot. What I want to examine here is the effect of leaving the knot as a knot, an opaque undifferentiated tangle that marks the not of otherness.

"Gipsies" was originally published in Wordsworth's 1807 edition of Poems, in Two Volumes, and a careful examination of the placement of the poem reveals that it is possible that Wordsworth was aware of some of the problems that would face the readers of "Gipsies," and that he hoped to soften the harshness of the poem through attention to the poem's context. "Gipsies" was placed in the subsection titled "Moods of My Own Mind," in Poems, in Two Volumes. As printed in 1807, this subsection consisted of thirteen poems. In the introduction to the Cornell Wordsworth edition of the 1807 Poems, Jared Curtis points out that the "Moods of My Own Mind" subsection initially consisted of only ten poems, and the later addition of three poems into this subsection caused problems in the ordering of the poems. [13] Thus, the order of the poems as printed in 1807 did not agree with the order intended by Wordsworth, at least as far as that intent was recorded. The three added poems were "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud "The Daffodils" is an 1804 poem by William Wordsworth. It was inspired by an April 15, 1802 event in which Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy came across a "long belt" of daffodils. It was first published in 1807, and a revised version was released in 1815. ," "Who Fan cied What a Pretty Sight," and "Gipsies." The following shows the order of the poems as intended by Wordsworth and the actual order of the poems as printed in 1807:

One interesting result of this error is that, in the printed version, "Gipsies" follows "The Sparrow's Nest Sparrow's Nest is a park located in north Lowestoft, Suffolk close to the lighthouse, north beach and Unilever factory and is approximately 1km north north west of Lowestoft Ness which is Britain's most easternly point. " instead of "The Small Celandine celandine: see poppy. ." While this change appears minor, the effect produced by the different contexts is quite startling.

The shift intone in·tone  
v. in·toned, in·ton·ing, in·tones
1. To recite in a singing tone.

2. To utter in a monotone.

 between "The Sparrow's Nest" and "Gipsies" is abrupt, even unsettling un·set·tle  
v. un·set·tled, un·set·tling, un·set·tles
1. To displace from a settled condition; disrupt.

2. To make uneasy; disturb.

, and could not have worked in favor of the latter. Like most of the "Moods of My Own Mind" poems, "The Sparrow's Nest" begins with a very specific perception, "five blue eggs are gleaming there," specific in number, color, substance, quality, and location. The location receives further specification when we learn that "there" refers to

The home and shelter'd bed,

The Sparrow's dwelling, which, hard by

My Father's House, in wet or dry,

My Sister Emmeline and I Together visited.

(pp. 212-3, lines 6-10)

The close conjunction of the sparrow's nest and "My Father's House" seems to imply that this is a poem about domestic arrangements, a remembrance of a past domestic idyll idyll
 or idyl

In literature, a simple descriptive work in poetry or prose that deals with rustic life or pastoral scenes or suggests a mood of peace and contentment.
 that would soon be shattered by the death of Wordsworth's father and the dispersal of the Wordsworth children. The specificity of the description points to a need for establishing particulars, as if particular details of location could establish a place as fixed and rooted.

However, the poem does not end there. The second stanza stan·za  
One of the divisions of a poem, composed of two or more lines usually characterized by a common pattern of meter, rhyme, and number of lines.

[Italian; see stance.
 records Emmeline's reaction to the sparrow's nest, a reaction that mixes desire and fear. Emmeline "look'd at it as if she fear'd it; / Still wishing, dreading to be near it," and this response seems to recall to the poet the fragility of domestic arrangements (lines 11-2). Instead of closing with a reiteration of the joys of domestic bliss, the poem concludes with a recognition of the child's power to be moved by lack of certainty, by the charms of mystery itself. This theme is picked up in "To the Cuckoo," the poem that was supposed to follow "The Sparrow's Nest," which praises the cuckoo as an "invisible Thing, / A voice, a mystery," and blesses the bird for making "the earth we pace" appear to be "An unsubstantial, faery place" (pp.213-5, lines 15-6, 29, and 31).

Regardless of what Wordsworth intended, the text printed in 1807 was quite different. As the manuscript evidence makes clear, Emmeline was Dorothy Wordsworth Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (December 25, 1771 – January 25 1855) was an English poet and diarist. Biography
She was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, the sister of the poet William Wordsworth.
, and "The Sparrow's Nest" closes with one of Wordsworth's sweetest acknowledgments of his sister's care expressed in simple, almost childlike language:

She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;

And humble cares, and delicate fears;

A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;

And love, and thought, and joy.

(lines 17-20)

Here Dorothy's responses are figured as gifts to her brother, the gifts of childlike responsiveness and sympathy. In the 1807 printed text, this passage is followed by the terse and self-righteous opening lines of "Gipsies," creating a disquieting dis·qui·et  
tr.v. dis·qui·et·ed, dis·qui·et·ing, dis·qui·ets
To deprive of peace or rest; trouble.

Absence of peace or rest; anxiety.

adj. Archaic
Uneasy; restless.
 shift of language and tone that accentuates the underlying nastiness of "Gipsies."

Yet are they here?--the same unbroken knot

Of human Beings, in the self-same spot!

Men, Women, Children, yea the frame

Of the whole Spectacle the same!

Only their fire seems bolder, yielding light:

Now deep and red, the colouring of night;

That on their Gipsy-faces falls,

Their bed of straw and blanket-walls.

--Twelve hours, twelve bounteous boun·te·ous  
1. Giving or inclined to give generously.

2. Generously and copiously given. See Synonyms at liberal.
 hours, are gone while I

Have been a Traveller under open sky,

Much witnessing of change and chear,

Yet as I left I find them here!

(pp. 211-2, lines 1-12)

Instead of the specificity of the "five blue eggs," we have an undifferentiated "knot/Of human Beings," and, in place of the "home and shelter'd bed," we have "their bed of straw and blanket-walls." There is here no meditation on the fragility of domestic arrangements to soften the speaker's disgust at the gypsy life. The order of these poems as printed in 1807 serves to isolate and highlight the harshness of the speaker's judgment by seeming to contradict the gifts he has received from his sister in "The Sparrow's Nest," the gifts of humility and sympathy, the gift of "A heart, the fountain of sweet tears." Perhaps Emmeline should have accompanied her brother on this particular excursion.

When the printed order of these poems is compared to Wordsworth's intended order, it becomes clear how important these contexts are. Wordsworth had intended that "The Small Celandine" precede "Gipsies." In "The Small Celandine," the focus is on the unusual behavior of the celandine or pilewort, and the equally unusual reaction of the poet. After observing that the pilewort is subject to age, the poet concludes:

And, in my spleen, I smiled that it was grey.

To be a Prodigal's Favorite--then, worse truth,

A Miser's Pensioner--behold our lot!

O Man! that from thy fair and shining youth

Age might but take the things Youth needed not!

(pp. 209-10, lines 20-4)

Apparently, Wordsworth has forgotten his promise to "think of the Leech-gatherer on the lonely moor," for the mood at the end of this poem is surprisingly like the "Dim sadness" and the recurring "fear that kills" that troubles the speaker in "Resolution and Independence" (pp. 123-9, lines 147, 28, 120). In addition, the last stanza of "The Small Celandine" is set off from the rest of the poem by a sudden elevation in diction and a shift to a more complex syntactical structure. The stilted imperative of "behold our lot! / O Man!" echoes the impassioned language of many of the 1807 sonnets, particularly the "Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty," and is a striking moment when one recalls that this exclamation was brought forth by a consideration of the pilewort (lines 22-3). There is also a peculiar economy at work here. In the poem "To the Small Celandine," which appears earlier in the collection, the celandine is praised as "a careless Prodigal PRODIGAL, civil law, persons. Prodigals were persons who, though of full age, were incapable of managing their affairs, and of the obligations which attended them, in consequence of their bad conduct, and for whom a curator was therefore appointed.
," ready to tell "tales about the sun, / When we've little warmth, or non e" (pp. 79-81, lines 30, 31-2). While in that earlier poem the celandine's prodigality prod·i·gal·i·ty  
n. pl. prod·i·gal·i·ties
1. Extravagant wastefulness.

2. Profuse generosity.

3. Extreme abundance; lavishness.
, its willingness to give, is what makes it the subject of praise, in "The Small Celandine" age and time eventually reduce the prodigal to scarcity, the lot of the "Miser's Pensioner PENSIONER. One who is supported by an allowance at the will of another. It is more usually applied to him who receives an annuity or pension from the government. ." The celandine becomes an emblem of a boom and bust In economics, the term boom and bust refers to the movement of an economy through economic cycles. The Boom-Bust economic cycle
According to most economists, an economic boom is typically characterized by an increased level of economic output (GDP), a corresponding
 economy, and careless giving leads not to praise but censure when abundance turns to scarcity.

From this rather perverse enjoyment of the sufferings of the pilewort, it is a very short step to the petulant pet·u·lant  
1. Unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish.

2. Contemptuous in speech or behavior.

[Latin petul
 uneasiness that marks the beginning of "Gipsies":

Yet are they here?--the same unbroken knot

Of human Beings, in the self-same spot!

Men, Women, Children, yea the frame

Of the whole Spectacle the same!

The negation "not" that closed "The Small Celandine" is picked up by the homonymous homonymous /ho·mon·y·mous/ (-i-mus)
1. having the same or corresponding sound or name.

2. pertaining to the corresponding vertical halves of the visual fields of both eyes.
 "knot" of gypsies. I will examine this negation in greater detail later. For now, it is enough to notice the consistency of style and tone between the last stanza of "The Small Celandine" and "Gipsies," a consistency that seems to imply that both poems represent a similar "mood" of the poet's mind. In addition, both poems reflect the anxiety occasioned by the economy of prodigality and scarcity, and one possible source of the speaker's petulance toward the gypsies is that the common perception of gypsies was that they were both prodigals and pensioners. David Mayall summarizes the early-nineteenth-century conception of gypsies as "alleging they did not perform 'real' work but rather occupied themselves with as little toil as was compatible with survival." Mayall concludes that gypsies "were thought to be idle, parasitical and beggarly, with no belief in the value of work." [14] As I mentioned earlier, it is this disgust at, fe ar of being associated with, and secret envy of the gypsies that Simpson identifies as the source of the harsh and hyperbolic language that marks the poet's anxieties. Also, that the speaker has been active for "twelve bounteous hours" while the gypsies have been idle echoes the fear of waste expressed in the conclusion of "The Small Celandine."

When I refer to the harshness of "Gipsies," I am referring both to the unfeeling and self-righteous attitude of the speaker and to the incongruity in·con·gru·i·ty  
n. pl. in·con·gru·i·ties
1. Lack of congruence.

2. The state or quality of being incongruous.

3. Something incongruous.

Noun 1.
 between the poem's language and subject. Coleridge notes both of these characteristics in his criticism of "Gipsies":

the poet, without seeming to reflect that the poor tawny wanderers might probably have been tramping for weeks together through road and lane, over moor and mountain, and consequently must have been right glad to rest themselves, their children and cattle, for one whole day; and overlooking the obvious truth, that such repose might be quite necessary for them, as a walk of the same continuance was pleasing and healthful health·ful
1. Conducive to good health; salutary.

2. Healthy.

healthful·ness n.
 for the more fortunate poet; expresses his indignation in a series of lines, the diction and imagery of which would have been rather above, than below the mark, had they been applied to the immense empire of China improgressive for thirty centuries. [15]

This latter characteristic was called "mental bombast" by Coleridge, and not surprisingly "Gipsies" was one of the examples he selected from Wordsworth's poetry. [16] Coleridge rebukes Wordsworth for his ungracious attitude as well as for his diction and imagery. What troubles Coleridge about this poem is the disproportion disproportion /dis·pro·por·tion/ (dis?prah-por´shun) a lack of the proper relationship between two elements or factors.

cephalopelvic disproportion
 between the rhetorical machinery of the second stanza and the trivial subject of the poem, a disproportion that Simpson designates as a sign of displacement. However, the emphasis on the "mental bombast" of the second stanza has obscured some of the interesting assumptions that underlie the first stanza, assumptions concerning what is available for poetic manipulation and appropriation. In addition, the charge of "mental bombast" has meaning only when the subject matter is trivial, an assumption that appears to apply to "Gipsies" but which, as Simpson has shown, can be made problematic by closer examination.

In a letter to Lady Beaumont dated 21 May 1807, Wordsworth attempted to combat the charge of triviality that had been leveled at Poems, in Two Volumes by insisting that the various subdivisions of poems be read as integrated units. Of "Moods of My Own Mind," he thought that "taken collectively" the poems fixed "attention upon a subject eminently poetical, viz., the interest which objects in nature derive from the predominance of certain affections more or less permanent, more or less capable of salutary renewal in the mind of the being contemplating these objects." [17] What is striking about this description is the focus on "objects in nature" and the implied opposition established between such objects and the "mind of the being contemplating" those objects. Clearly, the object in nature is passive and subject to observation and appropriation, and, in fact, only exists for the "salutary renewal" of the contemplating mind. When that object in nature is a butterfly (or two), or a small celandine, or a rainbow , or a nightingale, or a cuckoo, or some daffodils (these are some of the occasioning objects of the "Moods" poems), this process of observation and appropriation seems altogether natural and benign. However, when the object of nature turns out to be human, then the process of observation and appropriation seems to take on an insidious quality.

In addition, this emphasis on objects in nature calls attention to the depopulated de·pop·u·late  
tr.v. de·pop·u·lat·ed, de·pop·u·lat·ing, de·pop·u·lates
To reduce sharply the population of, as by disease, war, or forcible relocation.
 landscape of the thirteen "Moods of My Own Mind" poems. With the exception of two brief appearances by "Emmeline" (the Dorothy surrogate) and the appearance of laborers in "Written in March," the only human presence in this sequence of poems is the poet himself and the gypsies. This encounter between the contemplating mind and the gypsies points up the essentially disciplinary nature of contemplation and observation, and the anxiety occasioned by the recognition of the limitations of observation. What makes this disciplinary nature suddenly seem present (it always was present) is the application of the poet's gaze to other human beings. To get at this anxiety, we can begin by asking quite simply, how does the poet know that the gypsies have been idle for "twelve bounteous hours." For the past twelve hours the poet has been "a Traveller under open sky" and has not been observing the gypsies, and, unlike a pilewort, a gypsy is n ot necessarily sedentary. Indeed, the accusation is more often the opposite, as Mayall points out when he states that antipathy toward the gypsies "was rooted in a long-standing conflict between the traveling and sedentary ways of life." [18] Thus, part of the anxiety registered in "Gipsies" is the recognition that observation requires the continued presence of the observer and the observed.

While this appears to be a trivial objection, it does point out an assumption underlying the question which opens the poem, "Yet are they here?" This question only has meaning if this encounter is a repetition of an earlier encounter. To put it simply, how does the poet know that these are the same gypsies that he saw earlier? His evidence is given in the first four lines, repeated again here:

Yet are they here?--the same unbroken knot

Of human Beings, in the self-same spot!

Men, Women, Children, yea the frame

Of the whole Spectacle the same!

Identity is established between the two different encounters by the sameness of the physical configuration of people ("same unbroken knot"), the sameness of the location ("self-same spot"), and the sameness of "the frame." In each case, the identity is explicitly marked as the "same" and this insistence on sameness seems to call that very sameness into question, or at least to render it as an experience of the uncanny. And what does it mean that the "frame" is the same? Does "frame" refer to the delimiting margins of this observation? the structure of this experience? the cognitive schema? the state of mind of the observer? It is unclear, though it seems that "frame" refers to the observer and not to the observed, so that any sameness attributed to this observation might be due to the identity of the observer and not to a repetition of the observation.

The intent of this line of inquiry has been to focus on what cannot be known about the gypsies. If while "a Traveller under open sky" the poet has witnessed a great deal of "change and chear," why must the gypsies have remained static? Why must they have remained an unbroken knot? One reason is that they are cognizable The adjective "cognizable" has two distinct (and unrelated) applications within the field of law. A cognizable claim or controversy is one that meets the basic criteria of viability for being tried or adjudicated before a particular tribunal.  only as an unbroken knot, only as a multitude abstracted into a unity that eradicates the individual members of the multitude. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, when I asked how we know these to be the same gypsies, I could ask the question only because the poem fails to differentiate adequately this unbroken knot of gypsies from any other unbroken knot of gypsies. This might be a subtle form of racism or an overt case of egotism Egotism
See also Arrogance, Conceit, Individualism.

Baxter, Ted

TV anchorman who sees himself as most important news topic. [TV: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in Terrace, II, 70]

. What is clear is that by collapsing the "Men, Women, Children" into an unbroken knot, there is no longer any need to note the num-ber of men, women, and children, nor is there any particular reason to remark their individual "gipsy-faces." The totalizing sign of the "knot" so complete ly subsumes the identities of the individuals that we need to be reminded that they are "human Beings."

We need to be reminded that this is a knot of human beings because gypsies were commonly depicted as not human at all. Mayall notes that, in racist discourse, gypsies were deemed "nearer to animals" than any other race in Europe, and Wordsworth's image of this knot of people with their bold fire and their beds of straw does nothing to contradict this perception. [19] While questions of economy and of productive and unproductive labor certainly figure in this depiction, Wordsworth's poems are full of beggars who are not made the subject of a lecture on idleness. The story of "The Female Vagrant VAGRANT. Generally by the word vagrant is understood a person who lives idly without any settled home; but this definition is much enlarged by some statutes, and it includes those who refuse to work, or go about begging. See 1 Wils. R. 331; 5 East, R. 339: 8 T. R. 26. ," her inability to frame her tongue to "the Beggar's language" and the dismal picture of charity "Now coldly given, now utterly refused," is, in many ways, a call for greater charity, as are the stories of Goody Blake and Alice Fell (lines 189, 256). [20] "The Old Cumberland Beggar BEGGAR. One who obtains his livelihood by asking alms. The laws of several of the states punish begging as an offence. " becomes the occasion for the quintessential Wordsworthian assertion that "man is dear to man," because "we have all of us one human heart. " [21] "The Farmer of Tilsbury Vale" is celebrated as both prodigal and pensioner, who in good times gave to the poor "the best that he had," and, in bad times, when forced to beg for himself, found others ready to give. [22] Clearly the problem is not the beggarly life, nor is it a question of honest or dishonest begging. Indeed, despite the fact that the farmer of Tilsbury Vale acquired a great deal of charity and then "Turn'd his back on his country," Wordsworth admonishes the reader who would say of the farmer, "O the merciless Jew!" (lines 36, 37). [23] The farmer escapes this epithet ep·i·thet  
a. A term used to characterize a person or thing, such as rosy-fingered in rosy-fingered dawn or the Great in Catherine the Great.

 because, as Wordsworth warns his readers, the farmer "was never more cruel than you" (line 38). This warning calls attention not to how these beggars differ from Wordsworth and his readers, but to how they are the same, their shared possession of English faults and English values, and their shared inclusion in the English race.

The "poor tawny wanderers" with which Coleridge attempts to sympathize and the "Gipsy-faces" given the "colouring of night" by their bold fires are unremarkable in their difference from one another and their difference from other travelers. The darkness of their skin marks them as gypsies and differentiates them from the English vagrants that people Wordsworth's poems. As this brief survey shows, each of these English beggars is differentiated from the others by their stories, the histories of woe that render them fit objects of sympathy and charity. However, when gypsies speak, they lie. The regal gypsy woman with face "of Egyptian brown" who confronts the poet in "The Beggars," pours out "sorrows like the sea;/Grief after grief:--on English Land/Such woes I knew could never be" (pp. 113-6, lines 14-6). What marks this beggar is her otherness, her inability to frame her tongue to a proper tale of woe fit for an English beggar on English land. Unable to be properly English, they are cast out, though it is al so clear that no matter how they might properly fit their tongues to the appropriate "Beggar's language," they would remain outside because of their race. As Wordsworth makes clear in the new conclusion to "Gipsies," which he added in 1820, gypsies "are what their birth/And breeding suffers them to be;/Wild outcasts of society!" (p. 122 n, lines 26-8).

The gypsies depicted in "Gipsies" have no story to tell and it is just such a silence that Coleridge attempts to fill with his explanation of the gypsies' idleness. In their silence and "colouring of night" they have no existence other than as a knot, an undifferentiated mass of human beings. Lacking individuation individuation

Determination that an individual identified in one way is numerically identical with or distinct from an individual identified in another way (e.g., Venus, known as “the morning star” in the morning and “the evening star” in the
, they are not available for the type of government inspection exemplified by the taking of a national census. In fact, like most people who avoid or are missed by the census, gypsies had every reason to avoid contact with the government. The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1596 had declared gypsies as a race to be rogues and vagabonds and thus subject to prosecution. The Justices Commitment Act of 1743 had extended this prosecution to anyone living the gypsy life. While the Egyptians Act of 1783 repealed many of the more draconian aspects of this persecution, the gypsies and their vagrant life remained the subject of many local prosecutions, and the Vagrancy vagrancy, in law, term applied to the offense of persons who are without visible means of support or domicile while able to work. State laws and municipal ordinances punishing vagrancy often also cover loitering, associating with reputed criminals, prostitution, and  Acts of 1822 and 1824 reinstated many of the har sh restrictions repealed in 1783. One such local prosecution shows clearly why gypsies would want to remain invisible to the government. In 1799, the Sussex General Quarter Sessions QUARTER SESSIONS. A court bearing this name, mostly invested with the trial of criminals. It takes its name from sitting quarterly or once in three months.
     2. The English courts of quarter sessions were erected during the reign of Edward III. Vide Stat.
 of the Peace, in response to "the great number of Gypsies and other Vagrants of different descriptions infesting this County," ordered "that if any Gypsies or other Vagrants of whatever description, should be found therein...they will be punished as the Law directs." [24] Since to be identified as a gypsy was to risk being fined or imprisoned, it seems likely that the gypsy population would want to remain a mysterious and unknown entity despite the government's attempt to count the people.

But, as the plaintiffs in the recent spate of lawsuits against the United States government allege, undercounting can also be a government strategy for underrepresenting or even denying the existence of certain types of people. If only a cursory attempt is made to count the homeless population of a large urban American city, then the resulting statistics could end up "proving" that homelessness really is not as much of a problem as people believe it is. If very little attempt is made to count the gypsy or the migrant or the slum-dwelling or the "unproductive" poor population, then the resuiting statistics could end up "proving" that such populations are not really as large as people perceive them to be, or perhaps that such populations do not really exist at all. As sociologist Harvey Choldin suggests of recent United States censuses, when an alleged undercount "refers to people who were not counted, how does anyone know that they exist, let alone their numbers?" [25]

Whether undercounting is produced by the desire of certain classes of people to avoid being counted or by the desire of governments or certain other classes of people to deny that some people exist at all, the net result is that a certain segment of the population is denied an empirical existence. While the 1753 debate on a proposed census raised concerns over the powerlessness of the people to avoid being counted, not being counted, or not being worthy enough to be counted, has come to be the true mark of powerlessness. But, despite their lack of political power, those uncounted multitudes lay claim to a certain sublime power in that their physical presence (and statistical absence) produces a space of unknowability on the margins of epistemological certainty. If, as Benedict Anderson Benedict Richard O'Gorman Anderson (born August 261936 in Kunming, China) is a scholar of nationalism and international studies. Biography
Anderson was born in Kunming, China, to an Anglo-Irish father and English mother.
 states, the "fiction of the census is that everyone is in it, and that everyone has one--and only one--extremely clear place," the uncounted and perhaps unaccountable multitude prove that fiction to be a fiction. [26] If ontol ogical presence maps to epistemological certainty and numerability maps to accountability, then the possibility of numerical instability produced by the presence of that which is not or cannot be counted produces a kind of epistemological panic. For Michel Foucault Michel Foucault (IPA pronunciation: [miˈʃɛl fuˈko]) (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984) was a French philosopher, historian and sociologist. , this panic is both creative of and created by the emerging technologies of "discipline," of which the census is merely one. In language similar to Anderson's, Foucault notes that discipline assumes that "each individual has his own place; and each place its individual," and that the purpose of such discipline is to make legible such absent and illegible il·leg·i·ble  
Not legible or decipherable.

 populations as the gypsies:

One must eliminate the effects of imprecise distributions, the uncontrolled disappearance of individuals, their diffuse circulation, their unusable and dangerous coagulation; it was a tactic of anti-desertion, anti-vagabondage, and anti-concentration. Its aim was to establish presences and absences, to know where and how to locate individuals, to set up useful communications, to interrupt others, to be able at each moment to supervise the conduct of the individual, to assess it, to judge it, to calculate its qualities or merits. It was a procedure, therefore, aimed at knowing, mastering and using. Discipline organizes an analytical space. [27]

It is because of the threat of such diffuse circulation and dangerous coagulation that Wordsworth asserts the sameness of his two encounters with the gypsies, and it is against such a threat that he directs his petulance. If the fiction of the census is that it organizes an analytical space and enables "knowing, mastering and using," the uncounted gypsies represent that which remains unstructured--diffuse, dangerous, unknown, and perhaps sublime.

The Kantian aesthetic sublime represents an attempt to contain the unknowable within structure. The possibility of such unstructured experiences occasions for Immanuel Kant the aesthetic category of the sublime, which by Kant's definition is the sensation produced when the classifying and categorizing mind encounters that which exceeds the mind's ability to classify and categorize. While Foucault's disciplines focus on the paranoid (or ecstatic) fantasies of totalization to·tal·ize  
tr.v. to·tal·ized, to·tal·iz·ing, to·tal·iz·es
To make or combine into a total.

, Kant's aesthetic sublime serves as a curious abjection of those experiences that defy totalization, those experiences that lead to a conflict between the imagination's attempt "to progress toward infinity" and the reason's demand for "absolute totality as a real idea." [28] The Kantian category of the sublime then gives structure to the unstructured experience, names and locates the "abyss in which the imagination is afraid to lose itself," and makes the unaccountable accountable, if only to the idea of unaccountability un·ac·count·a·ble  
1. Impossible to account for; inexplicable: unaccountable absences.

. [29] The poet's enco unter with gypsies, while seemingly no subject for the sublime, calls forth the machinery of the sublime, or, more specifically, what Kant calls the mathematical sublime, to defuse the dangerous coagulation and contain the diffuse circulation of a knot of gypsies.

The desire awakened in Wordsworth by the gypsies is the desire for pattern and order, for knowability through accountability. Most of the poems in "Moods of My Own Mind" deal with singular entities, like a particular butterfly or cuckoo bird or rainbow. These singular entities are knowable because they are countable and thus fixed and locatable. Even when the poems deal in multitude, they are fixed multitudes such as the "five blue eggs" found in "The Sparrow's Nest," or they are countable multitudes such as the daffodils found in the most famous "Moods of My Own Minds" poems. In "Gipsies," we have no such movement toward increased specificity. The "knot" of gypsies remains opaque and unavailable for individuation or counting of its members. It is an absolute totality that contains a multitude, but the cost is that they remain uncounted and therefore unaccountable. The knot of gypsies is also always--to pick up the homonymous last word of the poem which was supposed to precede "Gipsies"--the "not" of gypsies, the otherness of a community that is outside of community, and outside of the epistemological control of the poet.

It is the "not" of the "knot" that occasions epistemological panic, and accounts for the elaborate cosmological machinery of the second stanza. Simpson has provided an excellent compendium of the sources of the heightened language and imagery, which he traces to John Milton. The second stanza is devoted to demonstrating the presence of pattern, order, and purpose in the movements of the sun, moon, and stars, movements that are carefully coordinated and fixed in time. First the sun sets, then the evening star rises, then one hour later the moon rises, and then the dangerous multitude of stars is rendered safe by the imposition of identities and tasks. If we assume that the idleness of a band of gypsies is the only occasioning force behind all this, then Coleridge seems justified in his remark that the elaborate rhetoric "would have been rather above, than below the mark, had [it] been applied to the immense empire of China improgressive for thirty centuries." If, however, the gypsies occasion both the subtle racism of undifferentiated "gipsy-faces" and a recognition of the cost in knowability that such totalizing signs produce, then the elaborate rhetoric can be seen as necessary to contain the otherness which has been invoked, the otherness of the potential innumerability of the "knot." Kant's description of how one contains such experiences mirrors Wordsworth's strategy in the second stanza of "Gipsies." According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 Kant, one attempts to master the infinite through the use of increasing scales of reference:

Now when we judge such an immense whole aesthetically, the sublime lies not so much in the magnitude of the number as in the fact that the farther we progress, the larger are the unities we reach. This is partly due to the systematic division in the structure of the world edifice; for this division always presents to us whatever is large in nature as being small in turn, though what it actually presents to us is our imagination, in all of its unboundedness, and along with it nature, as vanishing[ly small] in contrast to the ideas of reason, if the imagination is to provide an exhibition adequate to them. [30]

The invocation of the vast cosmos, the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, is just such an attempt to increase the scale and reduce the infinite potential for multiplicity represented by the knot of gypsies. If Wordsworth believed "Gipsies" to be a poem of the imagination (and so it was classed from 1815 onwards), it is because imagination provides the mechanism by which both the potentially infinite multiplicity and the unaccountable otherness of the gypsies are contained and made "vanishing[ly small]" by the progression toward ever larger unities, a progression which does not end until we reach the workings of the cosmos itself. The increased scale virtually eliminates the gypsies, and the extent of this increased scale, which Coleridge termed bombast, merely points up the perceived danger and the subsequent need for containment occasioned by this experience. This containment and control accounts for the unaccountable and renders it safe. The reduction of human presence to a knot and a not is the inevitab le outcome of an encounter between the powerless and the power of abstraction.

The common perception of gypsies was of a population that was circulating dangerously out of control, and yet Wordsworth's complaint is that these gypsies have not been circulating enough. But physical mobility should not be confused with semantic mobility, and so the threat of the gypsies is the movement made possible by the "not" that makes them unreadable and that places them outside the control of the poet. They remain the unbroken knot, and the knot is simultaneously the totalized structure imposed by the observer that eradicates singularity and the unaccountable opacity of the object that eludes or negates specification. They remain uncounted and unaccountable, their time remains unaccounted for An inclusive term (not a casualty status) applicable to personnel whose person or remains are not recovered or otherwise accounted for following hostile action. Commonly used when referring to personnel who are killed in action and whose bodies are not recovered. , and the anxiety they occasion is the anxiety of not knowing.

James M. Garrett teaches at Occidental College. He is working on a study of Wordsworth and nationalism.


(1.) Frances Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), p. 165.

(2.) This phrase occurs in the "Advertisement" to the 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems is a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first published in 1798; it is typically considered to have marked the beginning of the Romantic movement in literature. , rprt. in Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, 1797-1800, ed. James Butler James Butler may refer to:
  • James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde (c.1305–1338)
  • James Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormonde (1331–1382)
  • James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde (1361–1405)
  • James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormonde (1392–1452)
 and Karen Green (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1992), P. 739.

(3.) Ferguson, p. 165; William Wordsworth, "Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1800," in Lyrical Ballads in Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, 1797-1800, p. 745.

(4.) The Post-Enumeration Survey (PES pes (pes) pl. pe´des   [L.]
1. foot.

2. any footlike part.

n. pl. pe·des
1. The foot.

) conducted by the United States Bureau of the Census Noun 1. Bureau of the Census - the bureau of the Commerce Department responsible for taking the census; provides demographic information and analyses about the population of the United States
Census Bureau
 following the 1990 census estimated the undercount at 2.1 percent. The PES found that the black undercount was 4.8 percent, the Hispanic undercount 5.2 percent, the Asian undercount 3.1 percent, and the American Indian undercount 5.0. For whites, the undercount was 0.7 percent. For background on the undercounts and the cases presented by the cities and the federal government, see Harvey M. Choldin, Looking for the Last Percent: The Controversy over Census Undercounts (New Brunswick New Brunswick, province, Canada
New Brunswick, province (2001 pop. 729,498), 28,345 sq mi (73,433 sq km), including 519 sq mi (1,345 sq km) of water surface, E Canada.
: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1994).

(5.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria Biographia Literaria is an autobiography in discourse by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which he published in 1817. The work is long and seemingly loosely structured, and although there are autobiographical elements, it is not a straightfoward or linear autobiography. , vol. 7 in The Collected Works Collected Works is a Big Finish original anthology edited by Nick Wallace, featuring Bernice Summerfield, a character from the spin-off media based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who.  of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate bate 1  
tr.v. bat·ed, bat·ing, bates
1. To lessen the force or intensity of; moderate: "To his dying day he bated his breath a little when he told the story" 
, 16 vols. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), 7.2:137.

(6.) David Simpson, Wordsworth's Historical Imagination. The Poetry of Displacement (New York and London: Methuen, 1987), p.25.

(7.) Wordsworth, "Gipsies," in Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, ed. Jared Curtis (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 212-3, line 24. Unless otherwise noted, references to all Wordsworth poems will be from this edition and hereafter will be cited parenthetically par·en·thet·i·cal  
adj. also par·en·thet·ic
1. Set off within or as if within parentheses; qualifying or explanatory: a parenthetical remark.

2. Using or containing parentheses.
 in the text with inclusive page numbers on the first reference and line numbers on subsequent references.

(8.) "See Simpson, "Figuring Class, Sex, and Gender: What Is the Subject of Wordsworth's 'Gipsies'?" in Romantic Poetry: Recent Revisionary Criticism, ed. Karl Kroeber Karl Kroeber is a scholar of American Indian literature and the son of the anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber and Theodora Kroeber Quinn.

He is professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
 and Gene W. Ruoff (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 154-72. I should note that Simpson's attempt to study the impact of gender focuses almost exclusively on the subject of sexuality and its primarily masculine figurations.

(9.) Simpson, Wordsworth's Historical Imagination, p. 33.

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) Quoted in Simpson, Wordsworth's Historical Imagination, p.33.

(12.) Simpson, "Figuring Class, Sex, and Gender," p. 158. Alan Liu provides an extended treatment of Wordsworth's class and vocational anxieties in Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 311-58.

(13.) Jared Curtis, "Introduction," in Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, pp.3-39.

(14.) "David Mayall, Gypsy-Travellers in Nineteenth-Century Society (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), p. 46.

(15.) Coleridge, Biographia Literaria 7.2:137.

(16.) Coleridge, Biographia Literaria 7.2:136.

(17.) Wordsworth, Letter to Lady Beaumont, 21 May 1807, in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years, 1806-1820, ed. Ernest de Selincourt and Mary Moorman Mary Ann Moorman (born August 5 1932) was a witness to the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

Moorman was standing on grass a couple feet south of the south curb of Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, directly across from the
, 2d edn. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 147.

(18.) Mayall, p. 3.

(19.) Mayall, p.80.

(20.) Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, 1797-1800, pp. 50-8, lines 189, 256.

(21.) Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, 1797-1800, pp. 228-34, lines 140, 146.

(22.) Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, 1797-1800, pp.289-92, line 19.

(23.) This phrase appeared in the first version of the poem published in The Morning Post (21 July 1800) but was deleted in all subsequent versions. See Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems 1797-1800, pp. 289-92.

(24.) Quoted in Mayall, p.151

(25.) Choldin, p.42.

(26.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities The imagined community is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson which states that a nation is a community socially constructed and ultimately imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. , rev. edn. (London: Verso ver·so  
n. pl. ver·sos
1. A left-hand page of a book or the reverse side of a leaf, as opposed to the recto.

2. The back of a coin or medal.
, 1991), p. 166.

(27.) Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), p. 143.

(28.) Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987), p. 106.

(29.) Kant, p. 115.

(30.) Kant, pp. 113-4.
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Date:Sep 22, 2000
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