The Advantages of Age--Wordsworth

It seems too often that in our serious consideration of poetry, we forget the foundations of poetry.  It is not often that one hears a modern poet tell us that we should be reading Keats and Shelley and Byron, much less poets of more antique vintage.  And that is a shame, because there are pleasure in poetry--not merely that more recent.

And so, as a specific against the chauvinism of the new, I offer this excerpt from one of the great Romantics. (The "its" in the first line refers to youthful abandon.)

from "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"
William Wordsworth

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 recompense. For I have leanred
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 flet
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused.

I become convinced that there are certain writers that it is impossible to truly appreciate in first youth.  I recall how much I despised Wordsworth in particular, coining the extremely witty (to my callow self) phrase, "Don't care for him 'cause you just don't get your word's worth." Ha Ha.  And so I once again betray that former self by coming back again and again to this, the least-liked of the romantics and finding there substance that I once thought more prominent in Coleridge or Keats. 

One last point worthy of note.  In the head notes of the edition I was reading of the poems occurred this excerpt of autobiographical prose:

No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. I began it upon laving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of 4 or 5 days with my sister. No a line of it was altered, and not any pat of it written down till I reached Bristol.

A truly remarkable accomplishment, made more notable by some of the current debates on how many drafts a poem may go through.  I know for myself that sometimes there are as many as fifty different versions in my head before the thing ever reaches paper.  I say fifty, and honestly, I haven't the foggiest notion how many there might really have been--but let fifty stand as a number of "drafts" that one works on nearly unconsciously. 

I find myself astounded that a poem of the length and complexity of Tintern Abbey could have been completely composed internally and then written down.  Amazing what can happen when there is no television or internet to be interposed between the poet and the poetry.


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