Analysis of Mary's MS D Revisions in MS B

MS B, 18v

MS B, 19r

In the original entry of the fair copy text on 19r a change of hands occurs 8 lines down, where the line beginning "Made Visible" is in Dorothy Wordsworth's hand and the next, beginning "And bleatings" is in Mary Wordsworth's hand. The page is heavily corrected, however, all in Mary Wordsworth's hand, for MS D. What is interesting about this correction is the extent to which it shows active and creative alterations.

Some of the alterations are relatively minor and concern the addition and deletion of words in order to maintain the metricality of the line, as in these two examples:


And bleatings manifold of sheep that know


That Shepherd's voice it may ^ have reachd mine


By looking at the top of the page, we can explore and even reconstruct the stages of MS D revision here, involving up to four returns to the manuscript page. (DW base hand; MW corrections).

Here is the passage:

His yell repeating yet solemn was it in truth

{ solemn mid}

A human voice how { awful in }the gloom

Of spirit & power how solemn to the {ear


{To & } earth

{Of coming night when sky is dark – }

(MS B, 19r)

The original MS B line, "A human voice how awful in the gloom" (in Dorothy's hand) is initially corrected to "A human voice how solemn mid the gloom" by overwriting the words on the base line, probably in Dorothy's hand (the final "d" of mid curls inward).

When this line is later revisited, Mary adds (above the line, in lighter ink) the half line, "His yell repeating yet", either to stand alone or so that the whole line would read, "His yell repeating yet how solemn mid the gloom". The problem is that this line has 12 syllables rather than the 10 syllables required of blank verse.

Again in a different ink, and so probably at a different time, a new half line was added to make the lines metrically regular: "His yell repeating yet was it in truth / A human voice how solemn mid the gloom". Finally a new line below the base line was added, allowing for removal of the second half of the base line, since "how solemn" is re-incorporated into it.

Either at this point, or later again, Mary re-wrote the lines out clearly on the facing verso in a neat hand:

His yell repeating yet was it in truth

A human voice -- a Spirit of coming


How solemn when the sky is dark &


(MS B, 18v)

Finally, the lines are reworked, with "how solemn" and "of coming night" being swapped around.

What do we learn from this analysis? Firstly that there are a number of returns to the page for the redrafting, at least 3 and possibly 4. Secondly, that the re-drafting works by a series of half-line rewritings involving the following phrases:

His yell repeating yet

Was it in truth

A human voice

How solemn mid the gloom

of coming night

when sky is dark and earth

This is characteristically Wordsworthian, yet it is all entered in Mary Wordsworth's hand. What is going on?

Since Mary is not the creative agent, and this is only "her text" in terms of her status as copyist she does not have the authority to make the heavy crossings out or detailed changes of meaning on the page that occur here. Moreover, as we have seen, they are characteristic of the author. It therefore must be the case that Wordsworth is dictating such changes to Mary. This is true even for the facing verso addition, which we might have thought to be Mary's own initiative (in order to clarify the copying of the text). It also contains changes which require authorial input. All of these alterations, then, must be being entered orally, with William dictating them aloud to Mary. This is surprising in view of the detailed nature of the changes but it is the only possible explanation. It also strongly suggests that the sequence of returns to the page took place over a relatively short space of time. It suggests a remarkably shared and communal mode of creative composition here.

There is still much that we cannot reconstruct. Did Mary read the page aloud? Did she then read problematic sections aloud? Was Wordsworth only responding by listening to the lines or was he in fact sitting beside her, looking over her shoulder at the page? Why does the author choose to dictate the lines rather than simply enter them in his own hand? The page raises as many questions as it answers.