A Day Without Wordsworth is like . . .

well, a day without Wordsworth.  There simply isn't a comparison.  And some of you--I'm not pointing any fingers here, would probably heave an enormous sign of relief if I were to grant you one.  But alas for you, there is to be no reprieve, because what I enjoy, I share in the hopes that I may bring others into the fold to enjoy it as well.

It is germane to start today's journey with a piece of Wordsworth's preface from the Lyrical Ballads.

from the Preface to Lyrical Ballads
William Wordsworth

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins,

This is germane because otherwise the power of book three of The Prelude falls out of perspective. Within it, Wordsworth is able to create some of the sense of disorientation and displacement he felt as he moved from his beloved lake country into the college town of Cambridge.  The reader may feel some of this as well--a falling off in pace, a sense, perhaps, of lassitude or casting about.  Not, of course in the magnificently constructed poetry, but in the direction, in the images, in the sense of what is going on.

from The Prelude: Book III
William Wordsworth

Yet from the first crude days
Of settling time in this untried abode,
I was disturbed at times by prudent thoughts,
Wishing to hope without a hope, some fears
About my future worldly maintenance,
And, more than all, a strangeness in the mind,
A feeling that I was not for that hour,
Nor for that place.
 "A feeling that I was not for that hour,//Nor for that place."  Wordsworth, the mystic, the loner, the isolated, forlorn in having been wrenched from what he so truly loved and taken to a place of learning which he could not despise, but which he could not love as he loved the lake, feels the disorientation of transposition.  He is frightened, hopeless--but not in the sense of despair, one feels, but rather in the sense of being in a vacuum.  It isn't depression and absence, but disorientation because one does not know what exactly to hope for in a place where doesn't exactly understand or perhaps complete agree with the why of being there.

But Wordsworth is not maudlin, nor is he uncommitted.  Immediately following on the quoted passage is this.

But wherefore be cast down?
For (not to speak of Reason and her pure
Reflective acts to fix the moral law
Deep in the conscience, nor of Christian Hope,
Bowing her head before her sister Faith
As one far mightier), hither I had come,
Bear witness Truth, endowed with holy powers
And faculties, whether to work or feel.

We see Wordsworth girding up his loins--why be cast down.  For whatever reason, you are here, so get to whatever work you are here for.  But what is remarkable is the capture of exactly that sort of meditative casting about and arriving at a resolution so long after the fact--meditating on the emotion and coming back to the essence of it through the poetry.   As a natural result of this disposition and resolution we find Wordsworth longing for, but not distracted by thoughts of, the Lake country:

And as I paced alone the level fields
Far from those lovely sights and sounds sublime
With which I had been conversant, the mind
Drooped not; but there into herself returning,
With prompt rebound seemed fresh as heretofore.

One can hear him say--I'm here for whatever reason, might as well make the best of it.  I can't be home, I can't be among my accustomed landmarks and ventures, so let us make new ones where I am.

There is so much more that follows, it is hard to pick a place to drawn the line on commentary.  But let me share a few more lines that I think sums up this motif and begins to send us into the next.

At least I more distinctly recognised
Her native instincts: let me dare to speak
A higher language, say that now I felt
What independent solaces were mine,
To mitigate the injurious sway of place
Or circumstance, how far soever changed
In youth, or to be changed in manhood's prime;
Or for the few who shall be called to look
On the long shadows in our evening years,
Ordained precursors to the night of death.
 Where you look to be comforted, where you look to find solace, where you look beyond yourself and into what encompasses you and gives you meaning, there you will find your home and the "independent solaces" of a thoughtful person engaged with what surround you.

Again and again, Wordsworth strikes home with a truth that sometimes must be disentangled from the rich web of thought and rumination--but what joy it is to do so.  And the very best reason for any reading is joy, because joy puts us in touch.


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