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Pathetic fallacy

The assignment of human feelings to inanimate objects, as coined by the Victorian literary critic John Ruskin. For him, a poet’s tendency to project his or her emotions outward onto the workings of the natural world was a kind of false vision. Today the term is used more neutrally, and the phenomenon is usually accepted as an integral part of the poet’s craft. It is related to personification and anthropomorphism, but emphasizes the relationship between the poet’s emotional state and what he or she sees in the object or objects. For instance, in William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” the speaker sees a field of daffodils “tossing their heads in a sprightly dance,” outdoing the nearby lake’s sparkling waves with their “glee.” The speaker, in times of solitude and introspection, is heartened by memories of the flowers’ joy.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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