Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Therefore am I still a lover of the meadows and the woods

I continue to have my ugly way with the Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition (Shorter), and have reached William Wordsworth. He's pretty swell, though his shorter rhymy efforts don't do much for me. You might know him from the old "I wandered lonely as a cloud" poem (which can be seen as light and fluffy and unsophisticated because it's about a field of daffodils, but if you read it without irony it's quite fine).

"Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" is fabulous. Wordsworth returns to the landscape of his youth, realizing that although he no longer sees it as a great playground for his adolescent energies and imagination, he now sees it as a thing of beauty that doesn't need his presence to be awe inspiring, that the place has imprinted itself upon his memory and his self and that the value of nature is not what we can do with it, but what--maybe--it can do to us if we let it. The whole thing's gorgeous and I'd quote all of it if anyone was reading this blog. As it is, I'll just snip and paste the section I liked best when I was reading last night. Here are the middle 50 or so lines:

And so I dare to hope
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led; more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite: a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

The still, sad music of humanity is good stuff. So's the whole more like a man flying from something that he dreads, than one who sought the thing he loved observation. I think I'm going to like the 19th-century poets. I'm already more comfortable with the language, even though Wordsworth, at least, seems to somehow skip backwards to Shakespeare. For the feel of the thing, anyway, for the sustained development of ideas like you can find in Shakespeare's longer soliloquies, rather than the repetitive accumulation of brief images (like stacks of boxes, maybe) those Baroque fellows were pushing. Yes, I know, I'm limited by my limits and when the only tool you have is a hammer, etc. Still. I'm working on it, amn't I? My hammer is the metaphor, so at least I've got that in common with poets, yes? Hard to say.


  1. "There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm."

    -Willa Cather

    Where's that Scablands book now?

  2. Thinking about you reading this kind of poetry makes me smile. I'm taken back to my college days. :)

  3. And, oh, look, Blogger finally added the option for me to get follow-comments to my email in this comment feature. Finally. About stinking time.

  4. My poetry reading has been hit and miss over the decades. I'm trying to make something of a real study, or at least a serious survey of Western poetry. I'll see about Eastern poetry next year or the year after, I hope.

    So few writers pay attention to actual language. It's a shame.