I ended my last exploration of Aurora Leigh with the following questions: How do all the references, the actual weaving of an epic from bits of stories and themes from such a large range of sources affect her audience base? Does the poem, in order to be fully comprehended, require certain education or experiences of the audience, if so, or if not, might this risk prove or disprove her argument about the place of poetry in modern life? Do you think this novel-poem experiment was successful by her own criteria :line 183, book 5,
But poets should
Exert a double vision: should have eyes
To see near things as comprehensively
As if afar they took their point of sight,
And distant things as intimately deep
As if they touched them. Let us strive for this.
I would like to start here in my exploration of the relationship between realism and theory in the text. Aurora Leigh, in her development as a poet, traverses great theoretical ground. But it seems as if two things occur. First, she doesn't let her theory shape her form (her style, writerly focus, etc); second, she seems to over-look the impact of this set of developing ideas in favor of a universal spiritual connection with her reader as the tie between intellect and experience. Hopefully what I'm referring to will be more clear as we go to the text.
Near the beginning of the sixth book Aurora talks about the differences between France and England. She is also, concurrently, talking about ways of thinking, the way things are "learned" out of a people. She takes the English educational and philosophical ideas of correction and repression of life and thought into a series of dualities and places it against a more French convention of operating on "turn," or, within the complexities of experience (I'd say this is a general trait of cultures that are in some way subordinate). This comparison is relevant for the poet because it represents the challenge of translation: how to communicate between these conventions, how to take a larger idea (which would be some uncollapsed truth) and show in a real way without hiding behind the distance and superfluousness of intellect, and how to use it this supposed, larger truth in a socially active way. This is just another incarnation of the typically Victorian struggle between idea or art and action. Aurora posits the following:
I walked on, musing with myself
On life and art, and whether, after all
A larger metaphysics might not help
Our physics, a completer poetry
Adjust our daily life and vulgar wants.
Last modified 16 October 2003