Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jim Springer Borck

Second Advisor

Michelle A. Masse


This psychoanalytic study complicates prevailing notions about William Wordsworth's representations of mothers. Wordsworth does not invariably conflate mothers with Nature or consistently construct women as silent objects of male quest. Rather, he explores a variety of mothers' voices, often associating them with language acquisition and poetic composition. In early work he acknowledges mothers' significance directly and creates more vocal mothers, while in later work and revisions he often conceals mothers' significance and depicts more object-like mothers. In the 1805 version of book two of The Prelude, Wordsworth recalls himself as a "blessed babe" who recognizes his mother as a separate subject. From this relationship, the babe derives the "creative" and "receptive" powers of "the poetic spirit" and expands the development of poetic powers to the relationship between child and a Nature personified as a mother. In the 1850 version of book two, however, he objectifies the mother and Nature and reduces their explicit significance on the poetic spirit. The dynamic of "similitude in dissimilitude," which Wordsworth discusses in "The Preface to Lyrical Ballads" and which structures much of his poetic theory, is rooted in the mother-child experience of recognition described in The Prelude. Wordsworth splits off mother associations in later revisions, but an ungendered "maternal" dynamic remains as the matrix for his definition of the Poet. In "Her Eyes Are Wild," Wordsworth experiments with a mother's voice to depict a filial relationship. He demonstrates the consequences of a mother's over-identification with her child and implies what might happen when poets over-identify with their subjects. In later editions the balladeer finds a more stable voice by identifying with the mother and maintaining self-awareness; however, the mother never achieves such balance. In "The Sailor's Mother," "The Emigrant Mother," "The Affliction of Margaret," "The Force of Prayer," and "The Widow on Windermere," Wordsworth represents mothers physically separated from their children by distance or death and explores how they resist separation through mourning. The way these mothers articulate their desires often resembles the way poets construct poems: both strive to recollect persons or re-order experiences to accept separation and maintain a sense of connection.