Wordsworth's Poetical Works

Two Interpretations of “A Slumber did my spirit seal”

William Wordsworth’s poem “A slumber did my spirit seal” compels different interpretations with different readers. In this case, two critics, Cleanth Brooks and F.W. Bateson, analyze the poem and produce two contrasting interpretations. For the most part both critics focus on examining the same facts in the poem, especially, the final two lines of the poem. However, although Brooks and Bateson draw their conclusions from shared facts, they approach the text with different assumptions. Brooks uses the method of New Criticism, wherein one focuses only on the words in the poem. Bateson, by contrast, takes into account influences such as the author’s life, his other poems and his philosophy about nature in general. Brooks struggles with a narrow spectrum for interpretation that leads him to a more biased report, while Bateson’s integration of other texts allows him to appear less biased and develop a more comprehensive interpretation.

Brooks’ commentary on the poem reveals that he is strongly influenced by the concept of New Criticism. This approach concentrates solely on interpretation through the poem’s language. It rejects the examination of biographical information, which can color the way one understands the poem. For example,...

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