A Bit More Wordsworth
An excerpt from this morning's reading
from The Prelude: Book IWilliam Wordsworth
And now it would content me to yield up Those lofty hopes awhile, for present gifts Of humbler industry. But, oh, dear Friend! The Poet, gentle creature as he is, hath, like the Lover, his unruly times;His fits when he is neither sick nor well, Though no distress be near him but his own Unmanageable thoughts: his mind, best pleased While she as duteous as the mother dove Sits brooding, lives not always to that end, But like the innocent bird, hath goadings on That drive her as in trouble through the groves; With me is now such passion, to be blamed No otherwise than as it lasts too long. When, as becomes a man who would prepare For such an arduous work, I through myself Make rigorous inquisition, the report Is often cheering; for I neither seem To lack that first great gift, the vital soul, Nor general Truths, which are themselves a sort Of Elements and Agents, Under-powers, Subordinate helpers of the living mind: Nor am I naked of external things, Forms, images, nor numerous other aids Of less regard, though won perhaps with toil And needful to build up a Poet's praise. Time, place, and manners do I seek, and these are found in plenteous store, but nowhere such As may be singled out with steady choice; No little band of yet remembered names Whom I, in perfect confidence, might hope To summon back from lonesome banishment, And make them dwellers in the hearts of men Now living, or to live in future years. Sometimes the ambitious Power of choice, mistaking Proud spring-tide swellings for a regular sea, Will settle on some British theme, some old Romantic tale by Milton left unsung; More often turning to some gentle place Within the groves of Chivalry, I pipe To shepherd swains, or seated harp in hand, Amid reposing knights by a river side Or fountain, listen to the grave reports Of dire enchantments faced and overcome By the strong mind, and tales of warlike feats, Where spear encountered spear, and sword with sword Fought, as if conscious of the blazonry That the shield bore, so glorious was the strife; Whence inspiration for a song that winds Through ever changing scenes of votive quest Wrongs to redress, harmonious tribute paid To patient courage and unblemished truth, To firm devotion, zeal unquenchable, And Christian meekness hallowing faithful loves. Sometimes, more sternly moved, I would relate How vanquished Mithridates northward passed, And, hidden in the cloud of years, became Odin, the Father of a race by whom Perished the Roman Empire: how the friends And followers of Sertorius, out of Spain Flying, found shelter in the Fortunate Isles, And left their usages, their arts and laws, To disappear by a slow gradual death, To dwindle and to perish one by one, Starved in those narrow bounds: but not the soul Of Liberty, which fifteen hundred years Survived, and, when the European came With skill and power that might not be withstood, Did, like a pestilence, maintain its hold And wasted down by glorious death that race Of natural heroes: or I would record How, in tyrannic times, some high-souled man, Unnamed among the chronicles of kings, Suffered in silence for Truth's sake: or tell, How that one Frenchman, through continued force Of meditation on the inhuman deeds Of those who conquered first the Indian Isles, Went single in his ministry across The Ocean; not to comfort the oppressed, But, like a thirsty wind, to roam about Withering the Oppressor: how Gustavus sought Help at his need in Dalecarlia's mines: How Wallace fought for Scotland; left the name Of Wallace to be found, like a wild flower, All over his dear Country; left the deeds Of Wallace, like a family of Ghosts, To people the steep rocks and river banks, Her natural sanctuaries, with a local soul Of independence and stern liberty. Sometimes it suits me better to invent A tale from my own heart, more near akin To my own passions and habitual thoughts; Some variegated story, in the main Lofty, but the unsubstantial structure melts Before the very sun that brightens it, Mist into air dissolving! Then a wish, My best and favourite aspiration, mounts With yearning toward some philosophic song Of Truth that cherishes our daily life; With meditations passionate from deep Recesses in man's heart, immortal verse Thoughtfully fitted to the Orphean lyre; But from this awful burthen I full soon Take refuge and beguile myself with trust That mellower years will bring a riper mind And clearer insight. Thus my days are past In contradiction; with no skill to part Vague longing, haply bred by want of power, From paramount impulse not to be withstood, A timorous capacity from prudence, From circumspection, infinite delay. Humility and modest awe themselves Betray me, serving often for a cloak To a more subtle selfishness; that now Locks every function up in blank reserve, Now dupes me, trusting to an anxious eye That with intrusive restlessness beats off Simplicity and self-presented truth. Ah! better far than this, to stray about Voluptuously through fields and rural walks, And ask no record of the hours, resigned To vacant musing, unreproved neglect Of all things, and deliberate holiday.
I recall the long agony of early reading of this massive autobiographical poem--getting nothing from it but words and more words. And there is a delight, a comfort, and a joy at now being prepared to spend some time with friend Wordsworth and hear from him what he has to say.
The full poem is available: The Prelude.