2020 is the year Taylor Swift decided to take on William Wordsworth. She does so on the standout bonus track to folklore, "the lakes."1 In a documentary about the album, Swift answers co-writer Jack Antonoff's question, "what is the Lake District?" with a bit of literary history:

In the nineteenth-century, you had a lot of poets, like William Wordsworth and John Keats, [who] would spend a lot of time there . . . these eccentrics and these kind of odd artists who decided that they just wanted to live there . . . I thought, "Man, I could see this." You know, you live in a cottage and you've got wisteria growing up the outside of it. Of course they escaped like that! Of course they would do that, and they had their own community with other artists who had done the same thing.2

By this point, the film has already presented its own narrative of artistic community: those who collaborated on folklore, including Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. Swift's mini-lecture projects her community onto the Lake Poets. (Never mind that Keats was unimpressed by Wordsworth's cozy seclusion.) Shots of Dessner's cabin-like studio in its rural setting and the three writers chatting around an outdoor fire let us see Long Pond as a twenty-first-century Dove Cottage.

Unveiling evermore, Swift underlined both albums' desire for communal escape. "To put it plainly," her announcement began, "we just couldn't stop writing songs. To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music."3 Album covers and promotional images for folklore and evermore draw heavily on what Wordsworth calls the "humble and rustic life" in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, a book co-written with Samuel Taylor Coleridge during their own annus mirabilis.4

Any other year, this might look like mere cabin (or cottage) porn, tantalizing fans with a millionaire's fantasy of simple living. But a global pandemic makes such pleasures feel a bit less guilty. As Freud writes in "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" (1907), artists permit us "to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame."5 Swift recognizes this connection in her evermore announcement, addressed to her fans: "I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales," and "loved the ways you welcomed the dreamscapes and tragedies and epic tales of love lost and found."

Her "imaginary/not imaginary" escapes are more accessible and acceptable in a year when other celebrities were taken to task for privileged lockdown lifestyles or getaways to private islands, like her sometime-adversary Kim Kardashian. Both albums avoid reference to COVID, but she links quarantine to her half-dreamt Lake District in the folklore film: "I may not be able to go to the Lakes right now or go anywhere but I'm going there in my head." Videos for the two lead singles, "cardigan" and "willow," directed by Swift, are connected by the same fluid line between "homeland" and "dreamland," as she strays between a secluded cabin and "folklorian wood," climbing in and out of a piano "to travel further into the forest of music."

Like the storytellers in Boccacio's Decameron, fleeing plague-ridden Florence for a rural villa, Swift & Co. might be spinning ideological yarns for listeners desperate for distraction. Plenty of songs fit Freud's interpretation of daydreams as wish fulfilment or nostalgia for "the road not taken" a literary cliché recycled from "The Outside" (written by Swift at age 12) in lyrics on both folklore and evermore. Her trip "down the rabbit hole" (in "long story short") winks similarly at the 1989 bonus track, "Wonderland."6 But her reclaiming of "escapism" from its self-indulgent or childish connotations points to a more radical potential.

As Ernst Bloch sees it, popular culture's flights of fancy anticipate a "not-yet-conscious" drive toward genuine social change. Is it ridiculous to suggest this is what Swift's utopian praxis is grasping toward? Her speakers teeter forever on the cusp of real escape; and the material form of folklore/evermore spilling over two long albums with deluxe edition bonus tracks into endless media supplements, films, merchandise, reorganized EP "chapters," even the little Instagrammy loops accompanying the songs on Spotify teems with what Bloch calls "utopian surplus" or what Gilles Deleuze might call "lines of flight."7

In the refusal of "closure" and emphasis on becoming over being, folklore's historiography and evermore's utopianism turn pop escapism toward desire for a better life. The shift from the "cardigan" video's solitude to the "willow" video's togetherness is more than a change in COVID filming restrictions. Antonoff nods at Swift's "cottage backup plan": "Yeah, you've been writing about getting out forever." They frame this in the folklore film as romantic with a small R, but the search for "a person worth escaping with" exposes a transhistorical affinity: the song "the lakes," Swift insists, is "saying 'look, they did this hundreds of years ago. I'm not the first person who's felt this way. They did this!'" With these sympathies, Swift draws out "the ineradicable drive towards collectivity" that Frederic Jameson finds latent in all mass culture.8

At the heart of this sprawling project, "the lakes" is a song with a phantom chorus. Harmonically, the "take me to the lakes" section is undeniably a pre-chorus, "setting off" without ever reaching the C-major tonic. Into that absent center, we can project our own not-yet-conscious epiphany, recovering the political foundations beneath the wisteria or ivy that left Wordsworth and Coleridge so disillusioned by the collapse of their own communal projects.9 If we accept the "huge, sincere statement of hope" that Antonoff sees in these albums' shared escapes, then like the singer in Coleridge's famous excessive fragment Swift might help us "build that dome in air."10

Katherine Ebury (@Katherine_Ebury) is Senior Lecturer in Modern Literature at the University of Sheffield. Her reviews and articles have appeared in Modernism/modernityJournal of Modern Literature, and The Conversation.

J.T. Welsch (@jtwelsch) is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Industries at the University of York. The Selling and Self-Regulation of Contemporary Poetry was published in April 2020.


  1. The title of this essay refers to Swift's cover performances of Gwen Stefani's 2006 hit "The Sweet Escape" on her 2011 Speak Now World Tour.[]
  2. folklore: the long pond sessions. Directed by Taylor Swift, Disney+, November 25, 2020.[]
  3. Taylor Swift, Instagram, December 10, 2020.[]
  4. William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800 edition).[]
  5. Sigmund Freud, "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming (1908 [1907])", Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 9, translated by James Strachey (London: Vintage, 2001), 153.[]
  6. "The Road Not Taken" is a poem in Robert Frost's 1916 collection, Mountain Interval. In "The Outside" Swift sings, "I tried to take the road less traveled by / But nothing seems to work the first few times..." On folklore, "illicit affairs" includes "you take the road less traveled by." The chorus for evermore's "'tis the damn season" repeats "the road not taken looks real good now." The song also makes this Freudian corrective explicit in another childhood literary reference: "tried to change the ending / Peter losing Wendy."[]
  7. The first of these EPs, "the escapism chapter," was released digitally on August 20, 2020 and begins with "the lakes." Bloch's most expansive discussion of the utopian surplus is his own big messy study, The Principle of Hope, originally published in three volumes between 1938 and 194, translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight (MIT Press, 1986). Deleuze and Félix Guattari introduce the concept of a line of flight (or line of escape) in the first chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, translated by Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press, 1987).[]
  8. Frederic Jameson, "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," Social Text, no. 1 (1979), 148.[]
  9. Wordsworth's reflections in The Prelude, Book XI (1805) give a clear sense of this frustrated hope. Coleridge's dreams of the "pantisocracy" of common ownership, which he and Robert Southey planned to establish in rural America, are summed up in a sonnet of that name from 1794.[]
  10. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment" (written 1797, first published 1816).[]