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Five Long WintersThe Trials of British Romanticism$
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John Bugg

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780804785105

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804785105.001.0001

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“I cannot tell”

“I cannot tell”

Wordsworth’s Gagging Acts

(p.137) Chapter Five “I cannot tell”
Five Long Winters

John Bugg

Stanford University Press

This chapter traces the career of silence in Lyrical Ballads. Published in 1798, the year that saw the decade’s highest number of arrests for sedition--an annus mirabilis for government spies--the political texturing of Lyrical Ballads engages the national climate of prosecution and paranoia. The rhetoric of locked jaws and silenced communities that marks the protests against the Gagging Acts by Coleridge and others is deeply impressed on Wordsworth’s Alfoxden poems in fractured dialogues and coerced discourse. Examining this poetics of troubled utterance, this chapter calls attention to Wordsworth’s use of rhetorical devices that characterize much late-1790s discourse: praeteritio and occupatio, figures of the disruption of expression.

Keywords:   Wordsworth, ballad, lyric, Afoxden, Lyrical Ballads, silence

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