Play is sometimes foreplay. The lewdness of the ludic is age old; “lechery” is etymologically related to leik (another word for play), and in many languages play words are often used in reference to the erotic. This chapter takes a close look at sexual play in Wordsworth, particularly in Peter Bell. The poem's many lives in manuscript and print see the poet stalking the meanings of play with particular fervor (the word and its cognates appear with more frequency than in any of his other writings). The man and writer who speaks most powerfully to Wordsworth about the needful, questionable relations among the sexual, the ludic, and the bardic--and about the force of a poetics that is willing to countenance a risky kind of humor or lightness--is Robert Burns. The chapter accordingly explores the presence of Burns in Peter Bell, and argues that the poem becomes one of Wordsworth's most perplexed meditations on fun.
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