Wild Unsayable: Wonder in Romantic and Contemporary Poetry

Popa, Maya C. 2023. Wild Unsayable: Wonder in Romantic and Contemporary Poetry. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Wonder is an essential human emotion and a chief effect of poetry. In this thesis, I have set out to explore its role in my own poetic practice and in my critical readings of Romantic and contemporary poets.

My poems are driven into being by moments and observations that lie just outside language. This is an essential starting place for writing that hopes to evoke and enact wonder; the writer must balance the competing impulse to guide the reader intelligibly towards the narrative conditions for wonder (the circumstances that make the feeling possible), while allowing for wonder’s inherent disorientation and inconclusiveness. A poem that too neatly and tidily squares away the confusions of wonder forfeits the power of the feeling. Wonder is an end in itself.

In my close reading, I have chosen literary examples that do succeed at suggesting in language something just beyond articulation, poems whose gestures intimate a pleasing breach to understanding while revealing a widened sense of what is possible. The first part of my critical study focuses on Romantic examples while the second part examines contemporary writings, including my own forthcoming collection, ‘Wound’ is the Origin of Wonder (W.W. Norton 2022; Picador 2023), to consider how poets today draw from their Romantics predecessors to respond to the needs of the moment, and to offer their own unique engagement with the world’s wonders.

I hope to draw the reader’s attention to the epistemological, ontological, and aesthetic nature of the questions raised by the subject of wonder in poetry, and to prove that the lens of wonder is not only deeply rich and fascinating but also inherently valuable. As Thomas Ewens writes on education in the arts, “one should be attentive to situate one’s concerns in the experience of wonder which reveals itself as the heart of our living.”1 It may seem rather dramatic to suggest that our future survival depends on our ability to wonder, but I suspect it is more right than not. Wonder deepens our cognitive compassion and our empathy for each other through the recognition of the unlikeliness and preciousness of existence. It is time we recognize poetry as the chief vehicle for its edifying purpose.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Poetry, Romanticism, Wonder

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


31 March 2023

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

15 Jun 2023 14:44

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2023 14:49



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