Abstract

Although scholars addressing William Wordsworth's shorter lyrics have traditionally praised his positive treatment of physical otherness, at least one commenter writing on The Prelude correctly characterizes Wordsworth's depiction of disabled individuals as "demonic" (Curran 184). This is a divide that as of yet has not been properly explicated, and one which I attribute to the shift in genre, from lyric to epic, which superimposes onto The Prelude pre-drawn battle-lines between the virile hero and the sluggishly-monstrous, aberrant creatures who stand in his way. Indeed, the poet's consistent stigmatization of disability coupled with an equally persistent insistence that physical ability is fundamental to his epic endeavor situates The Prelude more squarely within the epic tradition than previously noticed. As in the works of poetic forbears, disabled characters nearly derail Wordsworth from his epic project—the development of the poet's mind via the instruction of nature. But more importantly, it is Wordsworth's commentary on how one can most successfully participate in the natural world that definitively excludes physically-othered individuals from achieving even a romanticized iteration of heroic status. By the end of this essay, then, it will become clear that The Prelude, which many scholars consider to be extending Milton's epic turn inward in Paradise Lost, depends far more upon the physical realm, and ability, than previously believed.


William Wordsworth's Prelude (1805) seems most unconventionally epic as its poet-hero traipses through the Lake District, traverses the Alps, and flees the stifling worlds of Cambridge, London, and Paris right before the French Revolution. No other wars claim a place in this heroic poem; its protagonist wields none of Virgil's arma. Instead, Wordsworth centers The Prelude on a young man's struggle to prepare for the imaginative rigors of poetic composition. 1 His choice of subject, scholars have long argued, deems the poet an inheritor, even intensifier, of Milton's insistence on depicting "the real sphere of [epic] action [as] internalized" (Griffin 150). 2 But this essay shows that, in at least two important ways, Wordsworth's heroism of the internal—spiritual or mental—sphere depends far more upon the external—corporeal or physical—than critics have previously acknowledged. 3 First, Wordsworth's poet-hero must undertake the physically-strenuous task of learning from nature—hiking, climbing, and running through the outdoors—not only to develop his mind but also to establish the heroic credentials needed of an epic protagonist. Second, because the spectacular aberrance of the many disabled bodies Wordsworth-the-hero encounters on his journeys threaten to stunt his imagination, he must conquer these foes by mustering the mental energy to ignore their almost perverse allure.

For pitting the obviously able hero against monstrous impediments, Wordsworth finds ample precedent from previous epics—a tradition whose glorification of certain kinds of bodies disability scholars have strangely overlooked. 4 In the Iliad, for instance, Homer establishes this lasting antagonism between corporeal otherness and heroic ambition: Thersites encourages his Greek compatriots to abandon the Trojan battlefield and set sail for home (2.225-64). 5 Imprudent enough to question Agamemnon publicly, he is "[u]gly beyond all men who came to Ilios," "bandy-legged and lame in one foot," with a hunched back, shoulders slouched towards one another, and several other impairments (Murray 77). 6 Even so, Thersites becomes a dangerous hindrance to the realization of his comrades' destiny. So too, the eventually-blinded cyclops Polyphemus devours Odysseus' men en route to Ithaca (Odyssey 9.323-30); 7 Camões's deformed specter Adamastor demands that Vasco da Gama's crew desist its voyage to India (The Lusiads 5.39-48); and Cowley's "disease[d]" King Saul, overtaken by bouts of what we might now dub mental illness, attempts to extirpate his biblical successor David (Davideis 1.440). 8 Each of these figures foils his heroic counterpart, who must be "mobile and unencumbered" to assume his epic challenge (Miller 163). It should be no surprise then that—although Wordsworth's task is the ostensibly mental endeavor of writing an epic poem—The Prelude shores up its generic status as an epic by contrasting the corporeal excellence of Wordsworth-the-hero with the disability of the menacing figures he encounters, especially in London—figures who imperil his aim of composing heroic verse.

And yet, a significant cadre of other critics focused primarily on Lyrical Ballads (1798) have celebrated Wordsworth for depicting the epistemological resources of non-normative embodiment. Emily Stanback, for example, points out that in "The Thorn"—which revolves around the mentally-ill mother of a deceased child—Wordsworth "insists upon" the madwoman's "human subjectivity and cuts through the gossip she has inspired" by impelling readers to "consider Martha's voice" ("Disability" 58). 9 Claire Laville stresses that "The Idiot Boy" "assert[s] the value of a life widely regarded as disposable" (200), while Albert E. Wilhelm celebrates the eponymous figure's "remarkable but mysterious insight" (23). And Fuson Wang generally theorizes the period as one that shows a "stubborn resistance to pathology." 10

The question then becomes, how can these scholars adamantly defend Wordsworth's iconoclastic depiction of corporeal aberrance as an enriching, and not necessarily tragic or monstrous, capacity when another commenter writing on The Prelude correctly characterizes Wordsworth's katabatic, or underworldly, depiction of the disabled in London as "demonic" (Curran 184)? 11 I attribute this divide to the shift in genre, from the lyric(al ballad) to epic, which superimposes onto The Prelude ready-made battle-lines between the virile hero and the sluggishly-monstrous, aberrant creatures who stand in his way. Indeed, the poet's consistent stigmatization of disability coupled with an equally persistent insistence that physical ability is fundamental to his epic endeavor situates The Prelude more squarely within the epic tradition than previously noticed. 12 But more importantly, tracking the differences between Wordsworth's treatment of non-normative embodiment from Lyrical Ballads to The Prelude affords me the opportunity to elucidate how a text's generic status and its representation of disability mutually inform one another.

Almost twenty years ago now, Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell observed in their seminal book Narrative Prosthesis that "disability pervades literary narrative, first, as a stock feature of characterization, and second, as an opportunistic metaphorical device" "upon which literary narratives lean for their representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical insight" (205). Numerous scholars have since aimed to nuance this provocatively ahistorical claim, including medievalist Joshua R. Eyler, early modernists Allison P. Hobgood and David Houston Wood, and Chris Mounsey, for the long eighteenth century. 13 These critics, Fuson Wang recapitulates, importantly "dwell with the unfamiliar disabled lives of the past and how they really made sense of their impairment, illness, and pain" (2), which impels him to argue that Romantic-era disability studies requires a similar "historicist turn" (1). 14

In this essay, however, I argue that the historicizing impulse of many disability theorists, while necessary, is not enough to hone Mitchell and Snyder's capacious arguments about the ways that literary narratives rely upon somatic atypicality. A concomitant formal turn—or attention to a text's generic status, acknowledging of course that "formal choices and actions" are also "enmeshed in networks of social and historical conditions" (Wolfson 5)—is similarly required to flesh out how corporeal aberrance informs the questions that scholars have been asking about certain literary works, in some cases, for centuries. The Prelude of 1805 and many of the Lyrical Ballads were written by the same man, within a decade of one another; we must do more to make sense of their opposed approaches to medically non-normative characters than historicize.

Admittedly, scholarship in the field of disability studies has, in the past, identified certain patterns of representing non-normative embodiment within certain genres, to call for more realistic depictions, but with little concern for why these genres demand particular kinds of disability portrayal—the focus of this essay qua epic. 15 As for what I mean by "genres," Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress's general definition proves sufficient because far more ink has been spilt on the subject than I can address here: "typical forms of texts which link kinds of producer, consumer, topic, medium, manner and occasion," and which "control the behavior of producers of such texts, and the expectations of potential consumers" (7). Genres thus act as "kind[s] of shorthand serving to increase the 'efficiency' of communication" (Chandler 6), and can prevent texts from devolving into "individualism and incomprehensibility" (Gledhill 63). 16

But the literary representation of disability undercuts the organizational paradigms of genre by creating confusion in two interconnected registers: within the world of the text between characters, and without for its readers. Here, I draw from disability theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's account of the encounter between able-bodied and disabled individuals: "[w]hen one person has a visible disability," she writes, "it almost always dominates and skews the normate's"—or simply put, medically-normative being's—"process of sorting out perceptions and forming a reaction," which may involve conflicting feelings of "fear, pity, fascination, repulsion, or merely surprise" (Extraordinary Bodies 12). Garland-Thomson's explanation shines light on the reactions of certain characters—e.g., Wordsworth in The Prelude—to somatic atypicality. And yet, the nature of these interactions is affected too by genre's influence upon the "expectations of potential consumers" and the "behaviors of producers" (Hodge and Kress 7).

Disability presents a challenge for authors, who can neither avoid the inescapable reality of the body's inherent fragility nor resist the metaphorical allure of impairment, which "offers narrative the one thing it cannot possess—an anchor in materiality," though not without certain complications (Mitchel and Snyder 63). The multifaceted affective response elicited by encounters with disability mutates into, as Mitchell and Snyder put it, a "cultural desire" on the part of the reader to make sense of corporeal aberrance's alarming presence—which is to say, "pursue disability's bottomless interpretive possibilities" (61).

Developing this theoretical insight further, Ato Quayson persuasively identifies, via rigorous close-reading, a phenomenon he calls "aesthetic nervousness," which occurs "when the dominant protocols of representation within the literary text are short circuited in relation to disability" (15) and is "coextensive with the nervousness regarding the disabled in the real world. The embarrassment, fear, and confusion that attend the disabled in their everyday reality is translated in literature and the aesthetic field into a series of structural devices" that often complicate hermeneutic endeavors (19). My close readings, in contrast, expose how disability ruptures not simply Quayson's aesthetic field but the very generic coherence of a particular text. That is, the overdetermined vehicle of corporeal aberrance undermines the contract between author and reader that is genre, "short-circuiting" the expectations of potential consumers because of disability's disorienting, confounding, "meaning-laden depths" (Mitchell and Snyder 61).

To curb these siren-like effects of somatic atypicality—or to avoid the "incomprehensibility" that can ensue without the safe, city walls of generic expectations (Gledhill 63)—authors, guided by the formal conventions within which they situate their works, must tame the vicious signifier that is disability. Let me offer a few examples of what I mean before proceeding with the substance of this essay vis-à-vis epic. In a tragedy such as Oedipus Rex, the eponymous king's swollen feet are couched foremost in doleful terms, the incorporate memory of an ominous, inaccessible former life about to resurface at any moment (Mitchell and Snyder 10), while his eventual blindness embodies the ostensible insight gleaned from cataclysmic experience; in horror, the disabled body is often coded as terrifically monstrous, currently a subject of considerable scholarly interest; 17 in comedy, authors regularly use its bumbling dysfunction as a vehicle for humor, and even slapstick; and in the sentimental novel—famously, Dickens's A Christmas Carol—the somatically-nonnormative figure such as Tiny Tim evokes the reader's pity, thereby effecting the reader's edification (Mitchell and Snyder 17). Not to sand over the abnormal body's rough contours of almost relentless signification is to invite the generic mayhem of a play such as Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida—whose disabled, free-wheeling fool Thersites captures the confoundingly humorous, tragic, treacherous, pitiable state of the figuratively-diseased Greek troops 18—or, as I show here, a collection like Lyrical Ballads.

In contrast, as I have briefly mentioned, The Prelude sees Wordsworth largely follow the lead of his epoist forbears in how he both redirects the potentially derailing significance of disability and maintains a sense of generic coherence: the poet positions corporeally-aberrant "others" against his able epic hero, who must persevere over these unacceptable obstacles as swiftly as possible. For epic relies upon a version of what Tobin Siebers calls the "ideology of ability"—the conviction that physiologically-able heroes will always remain so, while somatic atypicality is restricted only to the select few (9). Never the twain shall meet. The presence of a disabled individual—especially when confronting an able-bodied foil—not only calls this necessary truth into question but also threatens the teleology central to epic, that the hero will be able to fulfill his or her destiny by successfully completing a somatically-challenging task. For the sake of the genre, then, non-normative embodiment must be banished by the hero in a reassertion of epic ability, and a reaffirmation of epic ideology—an unnecessary recourse for the interests of the lyric(al ballad). I will quickly outline these in my final section as a counterpoint to epic's, which guide the condemnation of disabled characters and glorification of ability in The Prelude. 19

Before proceeding, I should note that others have committed the (slight) anachronism of discussing something akin to modern disability in the context of the romantic period. Increasingly in this era, boundaries were drawn between two categories defined by Emily Stanback as "non-normative and 'healthy'" due to the "[h]uman body becom[ing] an object of taxonomic investigation" and a commitment to developing a "singular concept of health and normative embodiment" (Wordsworth-Coleridge 12). Michael Bradshaw and Essaka Joshua, summarizing secondary scholarship on this point (10-16), similarly examine how the period witnessed the idea of "disability" become "the modern concept that describes the medically verifiable impairments of a heterogeneous range of people" (2). The "blind and idiotic," for instance, were "nearly always understood as non-normative," reports Stanback, and therefore "were used to help establish what it meant to have typical bodily function" (11). This nascent idea of "somatic non-normativity," in other words, encompassed blindness and what we now would call intellectual disability, as well as physical and other impairments, and is thus inextricable from the current identity category of "disability." 20 Both terms will be used here to denote deviations from "nature," whose authority was deployed in the natural/unnatural dichotomy used to classify and stigmatize impaired individuals until the concept of "(ab)normal" materialized in the mid-nineteenth century (Bearden 33). 21

Opposed to disability, epic ability refers to the naturalness of the hero's body, which is endowed with impressive fitness, vigor, and mobility to accomplish the rigorous work of epic. Jean-Pierre Vernant, for instance, stresses that Homer's "warfare privileges physical strength and valiant ardour" (60), a claim the Trojan ally Glaucus supports in the frenzy to save his comrade Sarpedon's corpse: "I have this terrible wound," he cries out, and "my arm is shot through with sharp pangs, nor can the blood be dried; and my shoulder is made heavy with the wound, and I cannot hold my spear firmly, nor go and fight with the foe" (Murray 201). He therefore pleads that Apollo "heal [him] of this terrible wound, and lull [his] pains now" and "give [him] might so that [he] may" return to the fray. 22 Here, the brittle body proves antipathetic to martial glory. As Jasper Griffin observes, "the poet dislikes any account of men being gravely wounded but not dying; a wounded man either dies quickly or recovers and fights" (90). 23 Lasting disability is not tolerated, and its one embodiment, Thersites, is expelled from the narrative by a vitriolic Odysseus—who calls to attention the upstart's corporeal aberrations, strikes his deformed back where an ugly welt soon blossoms, and sends him whimpering out of the assembly (2.261-71)—soon after he appears. 24 Wordsworth's quest to write epic does not require the kind of physiological feats displayed in the waging of war, of course, but it necessitates a similar vitality, in the tradition of Homer's heroes, all the same.

I. The Natural/Unnatural Dichotomy Established

The Prelude begins with its virile, ambulatory hero departing from London, welcomed by a "gentle breeze" to which he exclaims (1.1), "[a] Captive greets thee" (6), "from yon City's walls set free" (7), overjoyed that "[t]he earth is all before [him]" (15). On the one hand, Wordsworth self-consciously resumes from where Paradise Lost ends—"[t]he World was all before them" (12.646)—thus indicating his aim to interiorize his hero's quest further. On the other, Wordsworth's "joyous" heart, not fearful of "its own liberty" (16), harkens back to an older manifestation of the hero "pricking on the plaine" in the romance tradition (Spenser 1.1.1). And on still another, the poet's opening scene resembles Dean A. Miller's description of the traditional, even classical, hero's affinity for isolation and extended space: the "horizontal plane of adventure begins where settlement," "the solidities of culture," and "political order" end so that the "green presence of wilderness signifies both opportunity and threat," "and may provide a model or even an instructor" (151), as Nature does in The Prelude. Pursuant to convention, in other words, Wordsworth flees into the open, where his heroic traits—"youth, daring or arrogance, animal energy, and personal prowess," as Miller defines them—can flourish (152). 25 Homer's Achilles—who, with Odysseus, most hates his physiological foil Thersites—inhabits a similar space at the Iliad's start, angry with Mycenaean chieftain Agamemnon for seizing his prize Briseis, refusing to fight in the war, and sitting apart in his tent with only Patroclus for a companion. Mirroring the Myrmidon leader, Wordsworth removes himself from the established hierarchy for a verdant world lacking in definition.

This move from London becomes the first step towards the poet-hero's success in his quest. For The Prelude's commencement establishes its lasting city/country dichotomy, and we realize that only in the latter can the poet contemplate his purpose and glean the education from Nature needed to compose heroic verse. In contrast, the former represents "one of the chief … obstacles to the form of imaginative life he wishes to cultivate" (Brand 70). London, Wordsworth once wrote, contains individuals for whom mental excitement is an impossibility without "gross and violent stimulants" (qtd. in Brand 70). Reduced to insensate specters, they "crav[e] extraordinary incident" in "a state of almost savage torpor."

Unsurprisingly, the urban strawman which Wordsworth first fabricates to exemplify these characteristics bears marks of corporeal non-normativity, the famed Prodigy, an embodiment of all the sins of the modern metropolis. He also showcases two of the "predominating modes" of disability representation that Mitchell and Snyder enumerate: "overheated symbolic imagery and disability as a pervasive tool of artistic characterization" (16). The Prodigy's exclusive characteristic becomes his corporeal grotesquery, which is simplified into a signifier for the grotesque perversions of the times—in stark contradistinction to the body of The Prelude's protagonist—a strategy typical of authors needing to cool the "overheated" iconography of corporeal aberrance. But the epoist must do this more definitively, and quickly, than writers of most other genres to justify the hero's worthiness and ensure his persistence on his given quest. Because I further explore the reasons for this urgency in the following section, for now, note Wordsworth-the-character's horror, which takes Garland-Thomson's account to the extreme.

The poet-hero claims to "have recoiled / From shewing it as it is, the monster birth / Engendered by these too industrious times" (5.291-3). Yet Wordsworth details the ghastly result of its horrific delivery all the same, dubbed a "prodigy" not only because of its capacious knowledge but also because the creature is "a monster" or "freak" (OED), in keeping with the "prodigy books," especially popular in the early modern period, which exploited readers' fascination with physical aberrance (Semonin 72). Diction such as "recoiled" and "shewing" underscores this resonance: the former interrupts the normal metrical pattern of Wordsworth's blank-verse line with its unaccented hyperbeat, followed by the interruptive anapest to reflect the urban prodigy's unnaturalness. The latter, "shewing," meanwhile invokes the freak-show tradition. Both lines are enjambed—amidst eleven end-stopped peers—which works, again unnaturally, to split apart closely-related words: "from" and its governing verb "recoiled," the participle "engendered" and the prodigy's "monstrous birth," upon which pamphleteers had long capitalized as evidence of the corrupt spirit of the times. 26 In this case, the era proves "too industrious."

As a result, Wordsworth's prodigy is "no Child, / But a dwarf Man; in knowledge, virtue, skill, / In what he is not, and in what he is" (5.294-6). Interjected dramatically with epanorthosis, the freak's true identity—stripped of childish innocence—is marked with the trochaic inversion of 295, a vehement upbeat that upsets the meter with its unmistakably adversative "But." Similarly, the faltering rhythm of the verse—also hitched with a medial caesura in both lines and an asyndetic catalogue of traits—reflects the abnormality of this being. Although he seems good, the prodigy is merely "garnished out" (306), as if depending upon a prosthetic since he is nothing more than a "noontide shadow of a Man complete" (297).

At last, Wordsworth declares with surprisingly pellucid phrasing, "He is a prodigy" (5.320), one whose "discourse moves slow, / Massy and ponderous as a prison door" (320-1). Not only do rhythmic irregularities abound, but 320 and 321 are hypermetrical, conveying the torpor—i.e., function-impairment—of this being who refuses to play with items "Grandame Earth" "has designed" (346). Wordsworth bemoans that even if "a thought of purer birth should rise" (358), "[s]ome busy helper" will "pound him like a Stray" (360-61). The prodigy is unable to reform his defects, or if he does, is immobilized—in contrast to the unfettered poet. The two directly oppose one another. Although prodigiousness has not yet threatened the epoist-hero's endeavors—as do Thersites, Adamastor, or Saul their heroes'—London and its quintessential spawn foreground what dangers a disabled presence portends: the sluggishness antithetical to Wordsworth's, and nearly every other hero's, epic quest.

II. Dichotomy Fortified: Monstrous London and its Homeric Precedent

The prominence of this natural/unnatural dichotomy in epic poetry can at least in part be explained by Garland-Thomson's concept of the normate: the "figure outlined by the array of deviant others whose marked bodies shore up the normate's boundaries" (Extraordinary Bodies 8). It is, in other words, "the social figure through which people can represent themselves as definitive human beings" (Extraordinary Bodies 8). The epic hero becomes, in some ways then, the ultimate normate, for no being better exemplifies the human body at its most functional than he (or she), who is generally "of superior social station and physique, is pre-eminent in fighting" and courage (Toohey 10-11), and thus seems, according to Seth L. Schein, "the fullest realization of human potential" (68). And yet, the only way of fully appreciating the epic hero's requisite ability is by juxtaposing him against those antithetical to this heroic standard: the corporeally-unnatural.

As the epic genre evolves with less of an emphasis on heroism exemplified strictly through success in military conflict, as in the Homeric poems, the need for such a juxtaposition becomes more, rather than less, acute. For the epoist is now left with fewer means by which to foreground his hero's epic ability, the realization of which—at least to some degree given generic conventions that prime the literary consumer's expectations—enables the poem to be read as an epic in the first place. Snyder and Mitchell argue that "the act of characterization is such that narrative must establish the exceptionality of its subject matter to justify the telling of a story" because "[a] subject demands a story only in relation to the degree that it can establish its own extraordinary circumstances" (54). Put simply, "difference demands display. Display demands difference"; I do not disagree. But we part company when they further argue that "[d]isability inaugurates narrative" (56-7). This is oftentimes not the case in epic, where epic ability sounds the proverbial call to narrative arms. The somatic excellence of the Trojan War heroes, for example, endows with importance what would otherwise be a milquetoast story of one city, Ilium; Odysseus's nostos proves notable, even narratable, only because his epic ability enables him to triumph over many foes; and the singularity of Aeneas, paradoxically war-weary while also fit for warring against those (often somatic others) in the way of Rome's destiny, animates Virgil's Aeneid—the list continues.

Disability, in this light, shades into an ominous register, threatening the existence of the epic genre by suggesting that epic ability, or the physicality of heroism, is far more labile, susceptible to atrophy, and precarious than the epoists who depend upon it for their poems would have us believe. Already in the Iliad, as I have mentioned, this concern is acknowledged and quickly overcome with Thersites, whose body forces his comrades to realize the fragility of their dreams of kleos—or eternal glory—that makes any war worth fighting in the first place. As Gregory Nagy points out, although Achilles' choice of "violent death over life in order to win the glory of being remembered forever" may seem inexplicable (12), it is "in death" that "the hero wins the ultimate prize of life eternal in song" (22-3); it must therefore be timed perfectly. Corporeal aberrance, resulting in one's inability to fight properly, becomes a figural death before the literal death that should preserve the hero's fame, rendering impossible the perfection of this latter demise and moot the entire motivation for fighting, as well as the epic poem itself. 27 For the Greek kleos can also denote epic, which becomes forever intertwined with the glory of which it sings. Homer thus introduces Thersites only to exile him because the threat of physiological weakness looms so large in the warrior's world, where danger skulks around every corner, that it must be expelled to reaffirm that kleos is indeed the end of epic ability. After confronting this challenge, however, Homer moves on from (permanent) bodily aberrance to focus only on battle wounds followed by either recovery or death. 28

Wordsworth cannot get off so easily. Because his poet-hero no longer makes an obvious show of the physiological mettle required of epic heroes on the battlefield, his epic ability must constantly be reaffirmed by contrasting it with the disabled corpora he encounters. And yet, the hero must also be quickly rid of these bodies for the sake of his quest—and the epic itself. Here, the generic expectation that somatic aberrance threatens epic teleology translates into the phenomenon of spectacular disabled bodies—inextricably associated with London, where Wordsworth experiences "disgusted horror" (Tucker 111)—stunting the imagination our poet needs to write his epic masterpiece The Recluse.

This pattern begins in earnest when Wordsworth is a schoolboy and thoughts of London still "delight" (7.91). After his classmate, "a Cripple from birth," returns from visiting the mysterious city (95), Wordsworth voyeuristically "set[s] eyes / Upon" him (98-9) and is "disappoint[ed] to behold the same / Appearance, the same body, not to find / Some change, some beams of glory brought away" (101-3). Several observations could be made of these lines: enjambment allows the poet to barrel into his conclusion that nothing has altered; the ploce of "sameness" emphasizes frustration with his classmate's form; the anaphoric repetition of "some" reflects his yearning for at least something to have transmuted. But Wordsworth's fantasy that his peer would be cured—that the default rule of ability would not be complicated by this exception—is dashed, and so within twenty lines, we witness an associative reversal: since London sports no curative powers, it becomes a locus of disease, entrenching the dichotomy between ability and disability further, especially concerning the Blind Beggar and Bartholomew Fair.

The former, referring to a sightless mendicant whom Wordsworth encounters in London, has attracted more scholarly attention: optimistically, Stanback argues that he bridges the appearance of the Discharged Soldier (4.401-505)—whom the poet-hero, as a child, once encountered on a deserted country road—and Wordsworth's eventual ability to "see into the depth of human souls, / Souls that appear to have no depth at all" (12.166-168). The Blind Beggar therefore becomes pivotal "to the development of the poet's perceptive capacity" (245). For Francois Hugo however, the mendicant is reduced to a "[s]ymbol of human helplessness," highlighting the "[r]eality of human weakness" (13). James Heffernan similarly argues that he "is yet another specimen of deformity and confusion, something between man and object" which exhorts Wordsworth "to close his eyes to all the sights of the city," turn around, and envision "himself as universal man, emperor of all humankind, the imperial self rivalling the imperial city" (439). I agree and contend that the episode foregrounds the poet-hero's able-bodied prowess.

That the Beggar's description follows Wordsworth's commentary on how "the face of every one / That passes by [him] is a mystery" in this place of "madness" and "overflowing Streets" indicates that the vagrant offers up not a perceptual second chance but rather a proleptic image of what the poet could become if he remains within the city (5.597-8, 589, 594): sightless. Already, "the shapes before [his] eyes be[come] / a second-sight process, such as glides / Over still mountains, or appears in dreams" (601-3).

The immobile vagrant—"propped against a Wall" (7.613)—thus becomes the Wordsworthian version of Camões' Adamastor: a creature whose warning should be considered but not engaged, in this case embodying London's deleterious effects which impinge upon Wordsworth's heroic perspicacity. As scholars have rightly emphasized, the Beggar seems to be a Miltonic figure who, according to Dana Brand, reminds Wordsworth that "he must never be so charmed by the pleasures of immediate experience that he neglects to impose a form upon it" (72). But I believe the associations that Wordsworth's mendicant evoke prove more complicated: on the one hand, he certainly does recall Milton and what Wordsworth can still accomplish poetically. On the other, Milton is evoked only because the Beggar is so clearly his antitype. Devoid of status, which even after the Restoration Milton regained with the publication of Paradise Lost (Campbell and Corns chs. 15-6); commanding only a short note as his legacy, in contrast to Milton's epic masterworks; and likely having been forced to cede his "Story of the Man"—allusive to epic's central vir 29—to another person due to probable illiteracy, the sightless mendicant activates Wordsworthian insecurities that become a mainstay of the poem. Not only might the poet forfeit the opportunity to write his epic if he remains in the city, but even attempting to do so could be feckless if "the utmost" we can ever "know" (7.619) is reducible to a mere "Label" (618). The "another world" Wordsworth references thus seems more like the Underworld (623), as Stuart Curran argues, than the literary past, in which case the Beggar is but another monstrous figure in the tradition of Virgil's katabasis. 30 Wordsworth knows that despite London's alluring spectacles, his time there betrays the epic development of his mind; staying might well render his inchoate blindness permanent.

This reading of the city comes to a head in the following scene as Wordsworth visits Bartholomew Fair in a moment unaddressed by Stanback. Until its termination in 1855, the Fair was a "mecca for monsters" (Semonin 77), and according to contemporary historian Henry Morley, the experience included "[c]ripples about the altar, miracles of saints, mummings of sinners"—almost anything that featured "the grotesque images which gave delight to an uncultivated people" (qtd. in Semonin 76). At the "Fair, monsters were normal" and "part of a spectacle of the unnatural" (Semonin 77). For Wordsworth, then, it typifies one of the "gross … stimulants" of the city (qtd. in Brand 70).

Nor does the poet mince words regarding his horror at this display. The Fair puts "[t]he whole creative powers of Man asleep," and the explication that follows reintroduces many of Wordsworth's favorite devices when adumbrating medical non-normativity: medial caesuras, asyndeton, metrical irregularities, but my close-reading here will center on Wordsworth's obsession with repetition, reflecting his inability to parse out individual differences within the expansive display as well as his unwillingness to make sense of the panoramic scene (7.655). 31 The text therefore contorts back onto itself, cycling about while going nowhere in particular—defying the teleological emphasis quintessential to epic poems—as Wordsworth barrages the reader with his rhetorical attempts to reflect this cacophonous "hubbub" (227). Setting himself apart, Wordsworth notes that "[a]bove the press and danger of the Crowd, / Upon some Show-man's platform: what a hell / For eyes and ears" (658-60), with 659's colon imitating the action just described, pointing us forward to learn more. The Fair's senseless amalgamation becomes clearer through a sort of grammatical anaphora—repetition of the same part of speech at the commencement of six lines from 558-663—as Wordsworth's influx of prepositions emphasize the many dimensions of action involved. The lines themselves meanwhile contain dysphemistic overviews of this freakish spectacle, overrun by "anarchy and din" both "[b]arbarian and infernal" (660, 661). Recalling Milton's description of Satan's journey through Chaos, Wordsworth recounts that "[m]onstrous in colour, motion, shape, sight, sound" are the figures milling about in an area "alive / With heads" (662, 664-5). 32 And so this expanse of different humans congeals into a single monstrous image of the polycephalous hydra.

Along the way, disgust rings stridently with the discordant hiss of sibilance—"shape, sight, sound" (7.662)—and the persistent duplets—"press and danger" (658), "anarchy and din" (660), "[b]arbarian and infernal" (661)—that mock the excess of the Fair, "thronged with … / Dumb proclamations of the prodigies." (666-7). Wordsworth's profusion of present-active participles—"staring" (666), "chattering" (668), "dangling," "whirling" (669)—similarly accentuates their constant, though senseless, activity: like verbs now stilted into adjectives, the freaks accomplish little as the crowd encourages "buffoons against buffoons / Grimacing, writhing, screaming" (672-4, my emphasis).

Enumerating the specific figures he observes, Wordsworth cuts off with a dash, unusually at 680's commencement, following a mark of terminal punctuation, to repeat "all" epanaleptically at the start and near-end of the line: "All moveables of wonder from all parts / Are here" (7.680), which launches him into another list that includes Albinos, Indians, Dwarfs, fortune-tellers, and "[s]tone-eaters" (683). This crucial repetition of—including three more appearances of "all" from 688-9—indicates that Wordsworth observes no difference between the performers who become "[a]n undistinguishable world" (700), "melted and reduced / To one identity, by differences / That have no law, no meaning, and no end" (703-5). As Heffernan observes, "Wordsworth sees only the lawless confusion of human beings, animals, and things" (442). Yet in addition to noting different kinds of medical non-normativity, the description culminates in a litany of pejorative references to disabled beings, "far-fetched, perverted things, / All freaks of Nature" (688-9), "All jumbled up together to make up / This Parliament of Monsters" (690-1). 33 Wordsworth's lengthy appositive cements The Prelude's, and epic's, central dichotomy: the single, legible, corporeally-normative man must resist the derailing allure of physiological aberrance. Just as Thersites threatens to upend the promise of Achaean destiny, so too the monsters of Bartholomew Fair stand in the way of Wordsworth's epic composition. For as I mentioned before, impaired individuals were regularly understood as "unnatural" or contrary to the natural order (Hobgood and Wood 37)—as in Bacon's "Of Deformity," Burton's reading of Fernel, Paré's explanation of monstrosity and, now, Wordsworth's phrase "freaks of Nature." 34 This last formulation especially begins to explain why disability is antithetical to a quest based on Nature's instruction: it is situated beyond her governance.

Garland-Thomson again proves helpful to understanding Wordsworth's horrified reaction: "Rather than accepting disability and accommodating it as an expected part of every life course, we are stunned and alienated when it appears to us in others or ourselves," and so, "we stare in fascinated disbelief and uneasy identification" (Staring 20). The poet himself admits that the Fair proves "an unmanageable sight" but not "wholly so to him who looks / In steadiness" (7.709, 710-1), which leads Wordsworth to superimpose onto the Fair's participants the outline of a mountain, "its steady form" (723) and "pure grandeur" (724). Both italicized words, my emphasis, refer to anxieties provoked by disability: a fear of precariousness and that change to one's body is perpetually possible. In contrast to the unmoving mountain's pureness are the Fair's "self-destroying, transitory things" (7.740) that complicate Wordsworth's objective to develop "the personal and emotional connection to a community" (LaRose 86). Because he cannot aim at a moving target—the reality of mutability disability brings into relief—he cannot encompass this disabled population within the community at the heart of his epic quest and therefore must dehumanize it into a collective monster to avoid the challenge of inclusion altogether. But most significantly, the performers' description as a swath of "blank confusion" (7.696) indicates that corporeal non-normativity becomes a cipher for ways that modernization "reshape[s]," and "relocate[s] the body" (Garland-Thomson 11). Industrialization manipulates it, from "separating workers from owners, the skilled from the unskilled, men from women and children" to disabling individuals from accidents to "mov[ing] people from farms into cities" and "into anonymous social and labor hierarchies" (11-12). As a result, "transient relationships" become the norm in a world rife with dislocations that "create[] anonymity, forcing people to rely upon bodily appearance rather than kinship" "as indices of identity" (12). Deformity thus assumes the metaphorical freight of a disabling modernity that exerts bodily control in previously-unfathomable ways.

Brian Wilkie (98) and Curran (184) contend that Wordsworth's disdain verges into an ironic register. But regardless of whether his amplified horror is completely serious or not, disability in the city is finally realized as the antagonist to his community-oriented quest, engraining further the dichotomy between ability and disability that permeates the entire Prelude and epic tradition. The disabled antihero must also be foregrounded for the sake of contrast, on the one hand; for delineating and even personifying the challenges of the hero's adventures on the other; and for embodying all against which the hero combats on yet a third monstrous protuberance. Despite Wordsworth's innovations, then, he fulfills the crucial expectations required to render his poem legible as an epic: the aberrance of certain bodies to confirm, and ominously challenge, not only the hero's super-normate status but also his quest.

III. Wordsworth's Epic Ability

Although I have focused on the medically non-normative thus far—one side of the poet's, and epic's, pervasive natural/unnatural dichotomy—I will now explain how Wordsworth counters with a concomitant emphasis on his poet-hero's vitality throughout The Prelude. In Nagy's words, heroes were "endowed with superhuman abilities and descended from the immortal gods" (9). Nature in The Prelude indeed becomes a kind of divinity, and Wordsworth proves an intellectual descendent of the outdoors. What's more, his natural education requires extensive, even supernatural, physical exertion, which is to say, glorified epic ability.

But as previously mentioned, many scholars have argued that Wordsworth's, and certain other romantic poets', renovation of the epic "concentrat[es] on the inner man" to an unprecedented degree (Wilkie 73). 35 Wilkie, for his part, contends that in The Prelude, "the older concept of a hero as a great warrior is nowhere in evidence" (73). Although he admits that "external contingencies and action in the world are important as specific proof of the part played by the experience of external things in shaping the imagination" (76), Wilkie does not identify the explicit parallels between this action and more traditional epic ability—which prevail despite that Wordsworth decries martial heroics—nor does this action seem, in the end, to weigh heavily on his understanding of Wordsworth's epic endeavor: "Wordsworth tries to render the heroic ideal more spiritual," Wilkie explains, and "rejects external epic array in favor of what is truly 'heroic argument' and 'genuine prowess,' the inner mind of man" (98). What this essay's penultimate section suggests in response is that Wordsworth's emphasis on heroic vigor cannot be overlooked in favor of neatly situating The Prelude into narratives of epic's progression.

On the face of it, however, a poem centered on the "[i]nvisible workmanship that reconciles / Discordant elements, and makes them move / In one society" needs not require physiological excellence (1.355-7). And yet the details of Wordsworth's formative experiences suggest otherwise. The poet "grew up" "wander[ing] half the night among the Cliffs" (308, 317), "where the woodcocks ran / Along the open turf" (318-9). "With springes hung," moreover, he "was a fell destroyer. On the heights / Scudding away from snare to snare" (320-22). Reveling in his ability to lay waste to the animals infelicitous enough to be caught, the "plunderer" Wordsworth deploys a now-obscure verb as the prominent first word of 322 (339), "scud," which highlights his ability "[t]o run or move briskly or hurriedly" (OED). Indeed, he focuses on navigating from "snare to snare" (322), always with the end-goal in mind—a conventionally teleological preoccupation absent from the Fair's freakish performers. The falling rhythm of the trochaic "scudding" likewise mirrors the ebullient energy with which Wordsworth proceeds, rambunctious from the very start, "hurrying on, / Still hurrying, hurrying onward," with the epizeuxis of "hurry" stressing the poet's forward movement (323-4). As Patrick Cook notes, this sense of propulsion is central to "the primary duty of the hero," "to keep himself and his forces moving in the right direction" (10). "It is in the Iliad," he argues, "that forward orientation and progress become the … heroic rule"; Odysseus, as we have already seen, extirpates the threat of Thersites when he calls for a retreat towards the ships.

Wordsworth recounts many interactions with Nature, but almost always does she demand an unencumbered mobility antipathetic to Thersites's disabilities. In one of the most celebrated "spots of time" (11.258), the poet "went alone into a Shepherd's Boat" after "rambl[ing] from the Village-Inn alone" when he saw a "small Skiff" (1.376, 382, my emphasis). The verbs establish a kinetic pulse which accelerates as Wordsworth's description progresses. He soon enough "embark[s]," spotlighted twice-over, not only by the grammatically-unnecessary comma preceding it, but also by the fact that what follows is the close of an end-stopped line (385). More important, however, is the acatalectic and perfectly-metrical 388: "from the shore" (387), Wordsworth continues, "I pushed, and struck the oars, and struck again / In cadence" (388-9). This is how an epic hero moves: ahead, always, rarely aberrating from the fulfillment of a goal. 36 The uninterrupted rhythm of the poet's iambs jets us toward the line's conclusion as the reiteration of "struck" mimes the cadence to which a youthful Wordsworth aspires—and accomplishes, such that his "Boat move[s] on" (389), even like "a Man who walks with stately step / Though bent on speed" (390-1). Not quite an epic simile, the figurative language nonetheless illuminates how these moments in Nature involve an unburnished grace while also requiring unfettered "speed." The results of this trip—Wordsworth imagines a "huge Cliff" pursuing him (412)—are registered cerebrally, for the youth's mind is later populated by "huge and mighty Forms" (428), as Nature "intertwine[s] for [him] / The passions that build up our human Soul" "with high objects, with enduring things" (436-7, 439). But his psychological finale still necessitates physical excellence along the way.

Nor is this trend localized to any single "spot of time." The poet recalls that as a child, even when the "village clock tolled six" (1.461), he would "wheel about, / Proud and exalting, like an untired horse, / That cares not for its home" (461-3). If referencing the hero's predilection for unexplored space were not redolent of epic, surely the allusion to Achilles' description as a restive horse in Iliad 22, when he finally decides to reenter the fight, is (21-4). Wordsworth foregrounds the lingering influence of classical forbears further with an apostrophe to his teacher: "Ye Presences of Nature, in the sky / Or on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills! / And Souls of lonely places!"—albeit, caesura-heavy lines, but here suffused with the excitement of celebration rather than horror (493-5). He thereby lauds her "ministry" as she "[h]aunt[s] [him] thus among [his] boyish sports" (497), which complements one strophe later his explanation that he "pursue[d] this theme through every change / Of exercise and play, to which the year / Did summon [them] in its delightful round" (505-7). Always physical exertion accompanies the education of Nature, here with games that harken back to the competitions of heroes of bygone epics.

Three last examples of the inextricable connection between Wordsworth's epic ideal of community and his quest to effect this abstraction will suffice. First, Wordsworth celebrates the physical superiority of shepherds in book eight, one of whom after breakfast "springs up with a bound, and then away! / Ascending fast with his long Pole in hand" (381-3). Hugo insightfully observes that these bucolic pastores contrast with the disabled figures one book prior who oppose their "heroic independence" (13).

The final two exempla involve Robert Jordan, with whom Wordsworth travelled in the summer of 1790. Underscoring the adventurous yet purposeful verve of the hero, Wordsworth writes this of their journey: "We took our way direct through Hamlets, Towns" (6.361), an acatalectic line with pristine metrical regularity that features the all-important modifier "direct" at its center, preceded only several words later with the verb "took" from the Old English tacan which implies the use of force, such as "to capture" (OED). Again like "plundering" heroes, the two men continue "[o]n the public roads" (364), and "through paths / By which [their] toilsome journey was abridged" (365-6)—another metrically regular line that allows the reader to hie through—with emphasis on the difficulty of their trek as "[a]mong sequestered villages [they] walked" (367). Here, the hyerbatic rearrangement of the prepositional phrase before the subject or main verb allows both components of the sentence to be suspended till the end, where, given the end-stopped nature of the line, the reader pauses to reflect upon their continued physical activity. The team proceeds "on the stately roads" (372), "as [they] pace[] along" (374), most importantly, "in prime of youthful strength / To feed a Poet's tender melancholy" (376-7), which despite the feminine ending of the second line propels the reader through with an otherwise consistent sense of standardized rhythm. "A march it was of military speed," Wordsworth explains (428). Although they turn down the incorrect path at one point, with the help of a peasant they right their wrong, and, as Wordsworth experiences "an underthirst / Of vigour, never utterly asleep" (489-90)—as they climb "[a] length of hours" (497)—they continue to "advance" (498). "Descending by the beaten road that led / Right to a rivulet's edge" (502-3), then "climb[ing]" up "a lofty Mountain" "with eagerness"—as opposed to the sluggish torpor that can characterize the disabled—Jordan and Wordsworth realize that they have crossed the Alps (508, 506, 508). The result of this journey is a lyrical paean to Imagination: "Beneath such banners militant" (543), the mind "[t]hinks not of spoils, trophies, nor of aught / That may attest its prowess, blest in thoughts / That are their own perfection and reward" (544-6). This is the kind of detail that critics hitherto have homed in on, celebrating what could be considered anti-epic pacifism, without noticing the many markers of a more traditionally-epic ability that the poet imbricates into his verse.

Ascending Mount Snowdon requires comparable epic vigor: Jordan and Wordsworth travel "on foot" and "t[ake] [their] way to see the sun / Rise from the top of the mountain" (6.4)—again foregrounding the epic legacy of spoils in the main verb, doubly considering that they too must reach a summit, or natural citadel, as the Greeks do in Troy. "[O]n we went" (13), Wordsworth underscores, such that "[w]ith forehead bent / Earthward, as if in opposition set / Again an enemy, he pant[s] up" (29-31), all "[w]ith eager pace" (32). This is the kind of earnest intensity, in fact, that might have been required in years past to battle "an enemy," though now it leads to "no less eager thoughts" (32). Each step becomes a success, until at last they "look about and lo! / The Moon stood naked in the Heavens, at height / Immense above" (40-2), while below, Wordsworth finds himself ensconced in "a huge sea of mist" (43)—not unlike the disguises of ancient divinities and heroes, like Aeneas when he arrives in Carthage. Admittedly, Wordsworth's true experience of sublimity occurs only later, when "[a] meditation r[i]se[s] in [him] … / Upon the lonely mountain when the scene / Ha[s] passed away" (66-8), but still, without the vigor to climb in the first place, such effects on the Mind could not have been realized. The Prelude centers on mental cultivation, yes, and yet physical development is the unspoken, requisite precursor.

If we consider Miller's general criteria for the quest of the physically-fit hero of yesteryear, then, we realize how paradoxically ordinary and iconoclastic Wordsworth's conception of heroism proves to be. First, "[t]he hero is unique and isolate," "but a particular quest may demand … cooperative venturing" (163). Second, "[t]he hero is devoted to combat and confrontation"; he must be "physically and morally prepared for such violence: a risk taker, superlatively courageous, honorable, single-minded in purpose," usually "without much imagination." Third, he must be "detached from cultural and social place." Finally, the hero is more "useful outside of society," "displaying his excellencies elsewhere" (164). 37 Certainly, The Prelude's poet-hero is "unique" in a world of increasing industrialization, and his interests differ from most of his coevals' in London and Cambridge. Perhaps Wordsworth lacks single-mindedness in his inability to complete The Recluse, but certainly "single-minded" he is in his commitment to poetry—save the occasional self-doubt characteristic of romantic poets—his belief in its salvific impact, and the poet's importance to community. 38 To cultivate a mind "more beautiful than the earth" (13.447), one must dwell with the earth, and take up adventures with "mobility" and "swift[ness]" (Miller 163).

Yet Wordsworth proves iconoclastic in his insistence that his hero be imaginative and in his ultimate disillusionment with the French Revolution. The poet is at first so optimistic for the "Republic" that he would "willingly have taken up" military service (10.31, 134), in part due to "[h]ow much the destiny of man had still / Hung upon single persons" like Aeneas (137-8). But he must instead return to England due to financial straits, which he later recognizes was a prudent choice given the conflict's death toll. Ambivalence thus characterizes his treatment of the conflict, and he remains interested in its goings-on. The Reign of Terror, for instance, proves so horrifying that when he learns of Robespierre's demise, "[g]reat" is Wordsworth's "glee of spirit, great [his] joy" (439). This was a leader who "brought / A river of blood" (546-7), but the poet-hero himself exhibits a troubling degree of excitement for the death of a man who, like those whose executions he ordered, was slaughtered via guillotine without trial, along with his followers, "all" of whom Wordsworth hopes "[a]re fallen" (538). Though quick to criticize violence, the writer never completely silences his romanticized adoration for classical glory. In fact, as we have already seen, it is the classical precedents that govern his emphasis on epic ability and the corporeal aberrance that stands in its way. The passages I closely-read in the last section indicated that disability's danger in The Prelude is mostly mental: the temptation of spectacular bodies—like the song of Homer's sirens—become Wordsworth's quintessential example of how the city can dull one's mind. But, given the physiological demands of a natural education, corporeal impairment might also render such imaginative training impossible. In any event, non-normative embodiment proves a direct threat to the epic ability required of Wordsworth's hero, in line with the generic conventions that for centuries have primed readerly expectations of heroic verse, so that The Prelude might be comprehensible as an epic poem.

IV. Counterpoint: Disability in Lyrical Ballads

Lyrical Ballads, in contrast, shows scant interest in taming the symbolic beast of disability lest it threaten the city walls of generic expectations. This should be no surprise: the "Advertisement" to the original 1798 edition cautioned readers that "[t]he majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments" (3), and the title suggests a conflict between the narrative-oriented mode of the ballad and the "deeply confused" genre of "personal expression" that was lyric in the nineteenth century—and to some extent, still today (Jackson 831, 829). Wordsworth himself, in the preface to the 1800 edition, ambiguously defines poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," which translates into the similarly forceful response of readers who knew not what to do with the surprising and disorienting depictions of corporeal aberrance (98). 39 As Fiona Stafford has noted of "Simon Lee"—which is centered on the eponymous and aged huntsman, whom the roving speaker encounters as he fails to fell a tree—"rather than joining in any jolly chorus about running with the hounds or hallooing down the hillside, we are left to make what we can of Simon's tale, by the subdued voice of a narrator prompted to mourning by the 'gratitude of men'" (xviii-ix). "By the end of the volume, readers had witnessed such a range of human passions, human characters, and human incidents," Stafford adds, "that they could no longer have any confident expectation about what the next poem might bring, nor what response it might elicit" (xx).

Let me suggest once again that this is because of Wordsworth's liberal, unfettered representation of disability in many of the lyrics he wrote. Stanback trenchantly notes that the poet often "provokes his reader to consider and reconsider non-normative bodies and minds" (229), and helpfully summarizes that "[i]n Lyrical Ballads he unsettles normative notions of pathologized human differences and models the kind of ethical inquiry and sympathetic growth that … he hoped his poetry might elicit" (230). This is certainly the case in "The Thorn," "Simon Lee," and "The Idiot Boy," named Johnny Foy. 40 But this final poem also illustrates how Wordsworth-the-lyricist, unlike his epoist counterpart, exacerbates the multifaceted emotional response to corporeal aberrance by refusing to sand over its rough significations. Entrusted by his mother Betty with fetching the doctor to treat their neighbor, Johnny is at once comedic: "For joy he cannot hold the bridle" of his pony (v. 84), "For joy his head and heels are idle" (85); at once, unsettling: "Burr, burr—now Johnny's lips they burr / as loud as any mill, or near it" (107-8), which his mother is strangely "glad to hear" (11); at once, potentially tragic, while he lingers in the woods: "And Betty's drooping at the heart, / That happy time all past and gone" (172-3)—but always, indecipherable, as he "burrs and laughs aloud, / Whether in cunning or in joy" (388), the speaker "cannot tell" (389).

Johnny ultimately fails in his quest; the doctor never arrives at Susan's bedside, and though she miraculously recovers, there is little teleological about this poem. "The Idiot Boy" ends largely where it began, save that the speaker marvels at Johnny's nearly sublime recollections of his journey, that "[t]he cocks did crow to-whoo, to-whoo, / And the sun did shine so cold" (v. 460-1). 41 It is surely not an epic, or even a ballad with its usual task of relating a sort of linear narrative; it is the peculiarly nebulous, open-ended lyrical ballad, a story warped by the intense emotional effusions characteristic of the modifier as it was beginning to be theorized more seriously in the nineteenth century. 42 Once Betty begins to fear for Johnny's safety, for instance, she sets out to find him, thinking all the while that "[p]erhaps he's climbed into an oak" (234) or "joined the wandering gypsey-folk, // Or him that wicked pony's carried / To the dark cave, the goblin's hall" (236-8); he might even be "in the castle he's pursuing, / Among the ghosts, his own undoing" (239-40) or merely "playing with the waterfall" (241). Which is to say that the "idiot boy" nearly co-opts the narrative as it seems to metastasize towards different resolutions following from the many possible significations of Johnny himself, tirelessly represented "in his glory" (462).

Wordsworth's unmitigated representation of the "idiot boy" evoked the disdain of critics such as John Wilson and even Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The former decries the "plan" of the poem, by invoking the "established feelings of human nature" of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, which, as Stanback explains, "claims socialized humans have an aversion to immoderate emotion, and deems the 'madman' an unequivocally impossible object of sympathy because of his unreason, a quality he was thought to share with the 'idiot'" (228). But the poet sees Wilson's complaints about the "idiot boy's" emotions for what they are, an indication of the "immoderate emotion" disabled individuals prompt in the able-bodied, or to Wordsworth, "the loathing and disgust which many people have at the sight of an Idiot," and which—to draw from Quayson—translates into a need to make sense of what the disabled body means and then to mollify such anxiety (qtd. in Stanback 228). Wilson, we might say, is demanding that his correspondent simplify, even flatten, the almost unnavigable topography of Johnny's significations; he must either focus on characters that can in fact elicit one's natural sympathies or curb the immoderate, confounding presence of corporeal aberrance. Wordsworth, in contrast, invites Wilson's confusion so that the muddled nexus of often-pejorative feelings which the disabled body conjures up may be exposed, interrogated, and retired. Lyrical Ballads was meant to be iconoclastic, and its treatment of disability generates the provocative chaos, both formally and thematically, that has become its hallmark.

From a more general, bird's-eye view of the collection, we can make three overarching points about the lyrics that many critics often cite in defense of Wordsworth's treatment of disability: (1) their impaired individuals all possess some special connection to the natural world, as opposed to the urbanites of Wordsworth's epic. Stanback, for instance, points out that Johnny's "burr is framed so as to demonstrate [his] immersive relationship with nature, as when it is aurally and poetically subsumed in the sounds of the owls" and goes so far as to speak of Wordsworth's "alignment of idiocy with Nature" (260, 261). Those disabled individuals who are not clearly linked to the city in The Prelude—the soldier and two disabled men of the Grasmere fair—either previously proved their ability or are tamed by that culture, in miniscule, manageable numbers, by making music for able-bodied listeners or relying on them for support (8.26-7); (2) the disabled figures of these short poems are named in contrast to The Prelude's impaired beings whom Wordsworth reduces to their dangerously-spectacular sluggishness; and (3) the poet's speakers actually engage with the medically non-normative figures in the aforementioned poems and/or recount what they have to say. By the end of The Prelude, Wordsworth admits that he has been "[a]wed" by the like of "Bedlamites," but they are "strolling" (12.158). Granted, the poet, himself living with anosmia, seems willing to interact with those whom "vulgar eyes" would overlook (168), but only in the context of the "public road" (145), which becomes a "school" with lessons on the "the passions of mankind," never mind that those who tread these passages are mobile, unencumbered and travelling somewhere; their path is, in other words, teleological (164-5). Wordsworth persists, then, in excluding the disabled others who cannot maneuver freely and are in starkest contrast to the poet's epic ability.

Conclusion

To do otherwise would be to leave The Prelude virtually unrecognizable as an epic. This is not to say that Wordsworth's poem eschews aspects of other genres—such as lyric—for this formal capaciousness has been recognized as an important feature of epic since Homer's Iliad. 43 But Wordsworth's lyric episodes, moments of special emotional intensity, are embedded within a larger, narrative—that is, epic—frame. As Monique R. Morgan explains, the poet "encourages his audience to read prospectively, constantly looking forward to a conclusion the reader knows from the very beginning of the poem" (299). Wordsworth himself invokes the image of a river to describe his unique—both unconventional and historically-informed—epic narrative, for the many experiences that developed his imaginative capacities are akin to tributaries, not dependent upon one another in a causal relationship but feeding into the storyline, and travelling inexorably towards its predetermined end, all the same. "In a text with a plot structured like a river, there is no guesswork involved about which path the plot might follow," Morgan explains, "because there is always only one point toward which all the plot elements could and will converge" (308). This is epic teleology—theorized since at least Aristotle's Poetics (1451a.16-35) 44—all aspects of the story necessarily contributing to the hero at last realizing his destiny. 45 In such an objective-oriented form, there is little room for, to quote Quayson, "[t]he dissonance and anxiety that cannot be properly articulated via available social protocols," which "define[s] the affective and emotional economy of the recognition of contingency" embodied (17). It must be snuffed out for the hero to continue, untrammeled and free.

This is how epic controls the "unruly textual body" (Mitchell and Snyder 48), but, as I have mentioned before, the epoist's strategy of establishing sharp, tense dichotomies between epic ability and disability that must then be quickly resolved by the extirpation of the latter is only one way of handling the representation of corporeal aberrance; other genres follow their own conventions for effecting this task. Which is also to say that different genres demand different things of the metaphorical valence of somatic difference and exhibit varying levels of tolerance for the confounding signifier of literary disability before collapsing into "incomprehensibility."

The introduction of physiological otherness into a text thus triggers what I call generic indecision: to acknowledge its inevitable presence is necessarily to reckon with its interpretive complications. Authors must decide whether to sand over the prickly edges of corporeal aberrance or let them splinter the reader's generic expectations and perhaps the narrative itself, in potentially destructive, but also possibly productive and provocative, ways. Wordsworth's lyrical ballads, given their undefined novelty, can afford to engage with the gambit of corporeal aberrance's meanings; his epic cannot if it is to be read as participating in this venerable genre of physiological excellence.

In an account of why somatic atypicality keeps reappearing in the novel, Lennard Davis argues that "the patient never stays cured and the disabled, cured individually"—or killed—"refuse to stop appearing as a group" (17). But this is far more troubling in a literary tradition which depends upon the strength and vitality of its protagonist, whose greatness in at least one sense can be measured in contrast to the disability of his foes, especially as the genre eschews traditional warfare. Only once these specters of potential failure, and the uneasiness about the body's inherent fragility they evoke, are eradicated can the hero go about his actual business. Even in the Christian era, when epic action transfers to a psycho-spiritual plane, disability poses a threat to able-bodied, often allegorical heroes because of the morally-pernicious connotations it assumes. Admittedly, the depth of engagement with physiological otherness in certain epics—especially as the genre evolves—calls for a more complex theory of generic indecision than what I have developed here. What do we make, for instance, of the blind Demodocus singing of the disabled Hephaestus in the Odyssey (8.266-366) or a dwarfed Odysseus in Hellenistic poetry? But this essay at least lays out a theoretical framework within which the quashed antagonism between somatic other and exemplar—which not only unifies the epic from its ancient to neoclassical iterations but also preserves the logic that motivates epic heroism—can be processed.

Throughout this essay, then, I have argued for three interconnected theses: (1) to preserve at least a semblance of generic coherence in their work, authors must simplify and streamline the significance of the aberrant body; (2) The Prelude's epic status—despite the poem's generic fluidity—thus comes into sharper relief upon considering Wordsworth's dichotomization of epic ability and disability, or the physiologically natural and unnatural; and (3) the juxtaposition of individuals in both categories complicates the general consensus that post-Miltonic, romantic epic involves a turn inward so that the life of the mind is prioritized over the life of the body. Such an interpretation obfuscates how the latter is required for the former, at least in Wordsworth's conception of the epic quest, which underscores a key tenet of ableist ideology: "Ability is the supreme indicator of value when judging human actions, conditions, thoughts, goals, intentions, and desires" (Siebers 10). This becomes especially true in a poem that venerates Nature and her majestic displays, one of which is the physique of an able-bodied individual in contrast to the unnatural visage of the disabled. To exert oneself—or to revel in one's natural ability to move, run, climb—is to laud not only the "seemingly natural order," free from unwanted "disruptions" that result in deformity (Garland-Thomson, "Intro," 1), but also one of Nature's formative instructors, the functional body, in league with Snowdon and the poet's childhood cliffs. With such entities spurring on the mind's development there can be no countenancing of the unnatural counterpart to these natural wonders: disability. Perhaps Wordsworth's heroic version of himself seems to differ drastically from Aeneas or Orlando. But his epic quest depends upon their ability, however less dramatically displayed.

It is in this capacity that Wordsworth betrays the epic advancements of Milton, whose own "parliament of monsters" features bellicose warriors rather than London's disabled ne'er-do-wells; Adam and Eve learn to celebrate humans' unavoidable weakness; and the most physically-excellent character of Paradise Lost, the Son, is not actually a corporeal being. Much more could be said on this topic—and indeed, Milton's epics are long overdue for reevaluation through the lens of disability theory. But for the present I am content with illustrating only that Wordsworth's tendrils of influence snake further back than his blind forbear—and most current scholars admit. That they may not even realize how consistently the poet emphasizes physicality speaks volumes on the latent celebration of ability in society today.

More specifically, the unwillingness to realize Wordsworth's emphasis on corporeal integrity evinces the continued, inextricable association between physiological distinction and heroism. This is why it matters to read The Prelude as an epic, and to complicate narratives of how modern epic has evolved beyond models of heroism privileging the simple fact of physical ability: even in the twenty-first century, we reserve the highest pedestals of honor for "heroes" who have achieved the ostensibly greatest, almost super-human, physiological, and thus "epic," feats whether on the battle- or sports-field, or any one of a number of venues in between. Often, these individuals are indeed worthy of our respect and perhaps even profound gratitude. But we must also realize that the epic tradition has handed down to us a lasting vocabulary for hierarchizing human achievements which has, in almost all of its iterations, accepted somatic excellence as integral to the best of them—so much so that the sociocultural cache consistently conferred upon epic ability can become occluded. As disability theorists—scholars committed to showing the value of disabled individuals' presence and perspectives—we must be most vigilant when confronting a text whose fortification of a dichotomy between the disabled and able-bodied, the natural and unnatural, is so transformed from predecessors' that it appears to eschew their interest in corporeal superiority altogether. This mandate leads us directly to The Prelude. Exposing its somewhat limiting definition of heroism is an important step towards uncovering the corresponding ableist assumptions that govern who matters most to society still today.

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Endnotes

*I would like to thank Elizabeth Brewer Olson and my anonymous reviewers, whose suggestions improved this article tremendously. Sincere thanks as well to Nicholas Halmi, Ben Card, Rachel Kolb, Fiona Macintosh, and Diana Little for their advice throughout the writing process. All mistakes are, of course, my own.

  1. For an account of The Prelude as just that, a prelude to Wordsworth's epic capacity, see Vogler, especially his third chapter on Wordsworth. It should be noted that Wordsworth revised the poem throughout his lifetime, and I am addressing here only the thirteen-book 1805 version. For the implications of these changes for formalist criticism, see Wolfson's chapter, "Revision as Form."
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  2. Similarly, Paul Cantor suggests that the Romantics' disillusionment with politics impels them to "reshape the epic into a form of self-expression and spiritual autobiography" such that "the poet bec[omes] his own hero" (392, 376), while Michael O'Neill contends "that the "exploration of the self is a matter equal in epic significance to Milton's attempt to 'justify the ways of God to men'" (203).
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  3. Without engaging thoroughly in debates about dualities between mind and body, I define the so-called external sphere as encompassing the body's physiology—including its brain chemistry, neurodevelopment, and what Stanback calls embodied "cognitive difference" (Wordsworth-Coleridge 259)—and how it functions in the world. The internal sphere, in contrast, is a psychospiritual one, involving one's ability to, say, resist sin or temptation, as in Paradise Lost, or cultivate the imagination, as in The Prelude.

    Moreover, as Michael O'Neill invaluably summarizes, "[t]he main 'action'" of Shelley's generically-fluid Prometheus Unbound is "the hero's expression of pity for his cruel, tormenting alter ego, Jupiter, and revocation of his former curse" (200), and Laon and Cythna "locates heroism in the act of poetry, in the attempt, as Shelley puts it in his Dedication, to 'charm the minds of men to Truth's own sway' (10.87)" (197). Keats, whose epic experimentation in the two Hyperions epitomizes Romantic intervention in the genre, "bring[s] to his theme the suffering caused by the very attempt to be an epic poet" (O'Neill 208). Similarly, the "poet-prophet" Los, of Blake's Jerusalem, "engages in a mental fight as he seeks to keep 'the Divine Vision in time of trouble' (30[44]: 15) and warns against the destruction of a mechanistic society caught up in the toils of the Industrial Revolution, militarism, political reaction, and scorn for art" (205).

    As Vogler has put it, the romantic, heroic poet often commits to "search[ing] for an adequate and comprehensive view of life and art" (11). "The epic problem," he explains, "is no longer that of recreating the outward history of man or a nation, but of creating the inward history of man, by moving to levels of generality through the concept of the individual as psyche rather than the individual as action" (13).
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  4. I am focusing on an epic tradition—though the idea of a "tradition" itself has and should be problematized—stemming from Greco-Roman texts, even as I realize that such a tradition can never be completely extricated from epic praxes elsewhere in the world.

    One important exception regarding the dearth of disability-studies scholarship on the longer, narrative poem is Bragg's work on corporeal aberrance in the Icelandic Sagas, but her treatment of classical literature centers on Oedipus Rex, and elsewhere, the monograph focuses mostly on cataloguing instance of physiological impairment. Disability scholars' lack of engagement with epic poetry can, at least to some extent, be attributed to Lennard Davis, who linked literary representations of corporeal aberrance with the rise of the novel, going so far as to argue that disability is a "foundational model" underpinning the novel's development (332). Guiding the nascent genre, he notes, is a plot template that "disable[s] the fantasy" of class, gender, and nation, which are often constructed as corporeal norms (330). Protagonists become healthy; antagonists, impaired; and the novel, a form "whose central binary is normal/abnormal" for the first time in literary history (329). Michael Bérubé similarly points out that "[r]epresentations of disability"—specifically, intellectual disability—"are ubiquitous, far more prevalent and pervasive than (almost) anybody realizes [because] disability has a funny way of popping up everywhere without announcing itself"—but again his focus is on novels, albeit a wider range than is represented in almost any other piece of disability-related scholarship to date (1).

    Other critics, such as Snyder and Mitchell and Ato Quayson, to whom I return later and with whom Bérubé engages, have observed that "the plot of physical and/or social deformation is actually one of the commonest starting points of most" stories (Quayson 20). Davidson has also shown the natural synergy between disability studies and poetics, "describ[ing] the degree to which poetry is constituted by and within ideas of embodiment" (592).
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  5. The subject of Homer's concept of the body, or lack thereof, is notoriously complicated and cannot be fully engaged here. For further information, see Renehan, "The Meaning of ΣΩΜΑ in Homer: A Study in Methodology," as well as Holmes's chapter "Before the Body" in The Symptom and the Subject. For previous work on the intersection of disability and classical studies, see Disability in Antiquity, edited by Laes.
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  6. Iliad 2.216-9. "No other character in the Iliad," Thalman stresses, "is given so detailed a physical description," a reminder that "although certain heroic figures may be called handsome," "it is departures from the heroic norm that elicit physical details" like these (15).
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  7. Scholars have already written on the monstrosity of Polyphemus (see, for instance, Felton's introduction to the topic or Clare's treatment), but his importance to a reading of Homer and the epic tradition that is inflected by disability theory has gone overlooked, as has significant points of intersection between monster and disability studies in engaging with Greco-Roman mythology. The cyclops has not, moreover, been considered alongside other corporeally aberrant characters in epic to consider whether we might be able to theorize the formal and thematic roles they play.
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  8. The trend continues with the Aeneid's Harpies (3.294-9)—in addition to Dido's and Turnus's madness—Lucan's deformed, snake-bitten soldiers (9.734-338), residents of Dante's Hell whom we might now consider to have lived with mental illness—e.g., the sullen (7), wrathful (7-8), and suicidal (13)—Vida's Judas, "that pox, that pestilence" (2.74-5), as well as the many corporeally aberrant beings of Ariosto's and Spenser's romances. Of course, Milton's Sin is forged in the fires of this crucible, but I will briefly argue later that he divorces physical excellence from heroism in Adam and Eve.
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  9. For a well-known reading of "The Thorn," see Averill (170-80), who argues that the poem offers only a "barbaric yawp" and nothing in the way of "dignified pathos" (172).
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  10. "Romantic disease discourse."
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  11. Curran's work on how The Prelude's "epic signals" are extensive enough to foreclose debate on its generic status begins to account for medically non-normative individuals by considering Wordsworth's time in London a katabasis (183). There, the poet "recapture[s] the traditional sense of wonder inherent in the epic catalog," which "include[s] the monstrous" (183-4).
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  12. Newlyn, for instance, argues that The Prelude proves a "confessional autobiography" as Wordsworth cultivates a kind adult by "moving the child out of his innocent safety" and into a community of like-minded people (55, 61), though the poet's reluctance to include the disabled in this community goes overlooked. Other, often venerated critics, including Georg Lukács, Mikhail Bakhtin, and E.M.W. Tillyard, have gainsaid the possibility of modern epics altogether, citing the lack of social cohesion which they contend gives rise to the novel. For an overview of this perspective, see Gregory, Newman, and Meyers, "Epic," 447. But even those in the majority who foreground the flourishing tradition of epic composition in the nineteenth century—perhaps most notably and recently, Herbert F. Tucker—refrain from commenting upon the epic ability central to Wordsworth's quest to foster the development of the poet's mind by way of a "love of nature leading to love of mankind" (the prospectus to book eight).
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  13. See, for instance, Disability in the Middle Ages (Eyler), Recovering Disability in Early Modern England (Hobgood and Wood), and The Idea of Disability in the Eighteenth Century (Mounsey).
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  14. "The Historicist Turn."
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  15. See for instance, Hafferty and Foster, "Decontextualizing disability in the crime mystery genre," or Mitchell and Snyder's account of the one-time "social realism" push among disability theorists (Narrative Prosthesis 21-5).
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  16. For an account of genre specifically geared towards epic, Johns-Putra's in the "Introduction" to History of the Epic is a good place to start (particularly ff. 2-7), where she discusses perspectives on both the "evolutionary" and "revolutionary" nature of genres, which of course prove far more fluid and flexible than critics would sometimes like.
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  17. See, for instance, Cohen's Monster Theory or, more recently, Mittman and Dendle's Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous. Even more relevant to this study, other scholars have addressed the role of monsters in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf: see, for instance, Orchard's Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript. See also note seven above.
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  18. For instance, the fool regularly relates characters to defective body parts, wishing to render the "sodden-witted" Ajax "the loathsomest scab in Greece" (2.1.38, 23) or telling Patroclus of the infirmities caused by homosexual intercourse (5.1.17-22), finding "at the center of their beings little more than disease," concludes Hillman (298). The "diseased or execrescent body is Thersites' ground zero" (Dawson 17), especially in his project to demean epic kleos: "The Neapolitan bone-ache" rather than glory, Thersites quips, is "the curse depending on those that war for a placket" (2.3.15-6).

    More generally, the idea for this preliminary list draws its inspiration from Quayson's typology of disability representations (36).
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  19. It should be noted that The Prelude was not originally envisioned as an epic poem—and certainly not in its 1805 iteration—but as the preface to a much larger work, The Recluse (on which see Johnston). In treating it as an epic, however, I follow a number of other scholars, including Wilkie and Tucker (especially 104-115).
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  20. Throughout this essay, I generally adhere to the "cultural model" of disability, pioneered in part by Snyder and Mitchell in their 2006 book Cultural Locations of Disability. Eliding the difference between impairment and disability—and thus applying the label "disabled" to those who exhibit indicators of corporeal difference as well as to those who experience marginalization as a result—this model "attends to the ways lived particularity interacts with environment, and it especially understands the meanings and consequences of disability as determined by embodiment's interface with cultural narratives, language, and representations" (Hobgood and Wood, "Introduction," Recovering, 5).
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  21. In an important argument for disability studies, Lennard Davis contends that the concept of the "norm" does not take shape until the nineteenth century (Enforcing Normalcy 24).
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  22. Iliad 16.514-25
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  23. Tamara Neal forwards a similar, if further theorized, assessment: "That the hero sustains a wound and survives is the point because this demonstrates his significance in the narrative and the epic tradition" (18). But, crucially, "[r]ecovery is essentially guaranteed from the moment that a hero does not die since deaths in the Iliad are regularly instantaneous" (33).
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  24. It is worth noting, however, that Odysseus's representation vis-à-vis physiological excellence transmutes over time; he is even portrayed as a dwarf in Lycophron's Alexandra (McNelis and Sens 205). I thank Barbara Graziosi for bringing this to my attention. See note 33 below, which further addresses shifts in epic conceptions of heroism.
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  25. I do not mean, however, to simply Wordsworth's complex relationship to Nature, for as a number of scholars have shown, he always bemoans his loss of child-like innocence and prelapsarian connection to it. See, for example, Quinney's treatment of the poet's disappointment, especially 59-60.
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  26. See, for instance, Brammall on Ponet and Knox.
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  27. Sarpedon confirms this reading when he explains to Glaucus the logic that motivates their bellicosity: if fleeing from this battle meant that "we were for ever to be ageless and immortal, neither should I myself fight among the foremost, nor should I send you into battle where men win glory," he laments (Murray 581). But, the "fates of death threaten us, fates past counting, which no mortal may escape or avoid," so, "let us go forward, whether we shall give glory to another, or another to us," he commands. (Iliad 12.322-8).
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  28. See, for instance, Neal's treatment of spilt blood and non-fatal injuries, as well as their symbolic importance. It is worth noting too that while shambling about with a teetering tray of nectar, Homer's Hephaestus earns hearty laughter—without any of the awkward nervousness, resentment, or violence directed at Thersites—because he is immortal in the presence of other immortals unconcerned with attaining eternal glory (Iliad 1.570-611). Dolon, in the controversial tenth book of the Iliad, is likewise "ugly" (10.316), but without the physical deformities of Thersites (Hainsworth 186).
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  29. Homer's Odyssey begins with "the man of twists and turns" (1.1); Virgil declares, arma virumque cano ("I sing of arms and of a man," 1.1); and Milton writes of "Man's first disobedience" and "one greater Man" (1.1, 4).
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  30. In the Underworld, Aeneas and the Sibyl witness "many monstrous shapes of savage beasts" (6.377).
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  31. As Madkisi puts it in a particularly famous (postcolonial) reading of this moment, "the spatial and observational categories that would enable Wordsworth to comprehend and emplot Nature do not work in London. Wordsworth's London resists being channeled into the same 'knowable' spatio-temporal framework as Nature. … How could its greatly diversified and constantly expanding and developing space be mapped, given the extent to which the city is locked into, and partly constituted by, a complex network of relationships, exchanges, and flows taking place on what was already a virtually global scale?" (24).
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  32. See Paradise Lost 2.947-50.
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  33. For a genealogy of terms for medical non-normativity, see Garland-Thomson's introduction to Freakery.
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  34. For Bacon, disabled individuals are "even with nature" and "void of natural affection" (99); Robert Burton reiterates Jean Fernel's description of disease as "affection of the body contrary to nature" (137); and Ambroise Pare's grouping of "[m]aimed persons" encompasses "those having … any other thing that is against Nature" (3). The list of writers who address disability is extensive: as Garland-Thomson notes, "Aristotle, Cicero, Pliny, Augustine, Bacon, and Montaigne account for such disruptions of the seemingly natural order" ("Intro," 1).
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  35. For "certain other" romantic epics, see note 3. Tucker's panoptic view of the nineteenth-century's "epomania" also cautions us against making sweeping generalizations about romantic epic.
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  36. Langan astutely explicates other moments when vagrant movement proves important to Wordsworth but focuses mostly on The Prelude's opening scene and the episode of the discharged soldier. Even so, her treatment of the poet-hero's unique kind of journeying shows the complexity of Wordsworth's relationship to his source materials, which I address at the ends of sections III and IV.
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  37. This is not to say, of course, that the epic hero—or his particular kind of physiological excellence—does not metamorphose over time: Odysseus is unlike Achilles, especially when he becomes a dwarf in Hellenistic literature; Aeneas, quite altered from both; and in the context of Apollonius' Argonautica, James Clauss discusses the differences between Jason's heroism and Hercules' (65-6). So too, in the Renaissance, Tasso's Crusaders, and especially Godfrey, contrast with their pagan forbears, Camoes' explorers, and Spenser's and Ariosto's knights-errant. Even so, continuities abound, especially regarding the physical excellence characteristic of heroes, such that a codifying endeavor like Miller's proves helpful. There is, of course, a need in the future to delineate the contours of "epic ability" in older heroic poems as well—a project that cannot be fully undertaken here.
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  38. I am not, however, supporting the outmoded view of an egoistic Wordsworth, for as Quinney notes, "[i]t will not seem novel to argue that Wordsworth made a considerable advance in the representation of psychology, or that he did this by means of expanding the themes of loss, confusion, and temptation to despair" (62). But she goes further than most scholars when she argues that he is never able to shake his, especially political but also poetic, disillusionment.
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  39. Of course, he counters with the qualification that "though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man, who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply" (98).
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  40. All quotations from "The Idiot Boy" are from the 1798 text.
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  41. A number of scholars have pointed out Johnny's potential status as a poet, but Stanback goes furthest when she argues for "the possibility that Johnny Foy is not only a poet, but in many ways is more of an exemplary Wordsworthian poet than the other characters that appear in his verse" (266).
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  42. See, for example, Jackson 831.
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  43. The Iliad has always been closely associated with tragedy. See, for instance, Rutherford's "Tragic Form and Feeling," a dated but important article on the topic. Lewalski's essay on "The genres of Paradise Lost" also fleshes out the generic capaciousness of epic as it was being theorized in the Renaissance by writers such as Tasso, Spenser, and, most importantly, Milton.
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  44. Quint's formulation has proven particularly influential: "With this goal [of imperial power], epic linearity—the sequential linking of events—becomes a teleology: all events are led, or dictated, by an end that is their cause" (33).
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  45. Other scholars would disagree: Langan, for instance, argues that Wordsworth's narrative circuitry "tends to produce the effect of the undecidable, and to recreate this effect as (the simulation of) freedom" (143).
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