Milton and Drinking--More College Life

I could sense that you've been longing for today's installment of Wordsworth and so I offer it.  Perhaps it is just my quirky reading, but I find something very wryly humorous in today's passages.  It is as though Wordsworth is paying homage to the King of the Puritans in his own late eighteenth century way--that is, entirely inappropriately.

After a brief litany of previous poets including Chaucer and Spenser, Wordsworth gives us Milton:

from The Prelude Book III
William Wordsworth

Yea, our blind Poet, who, in his later day,
Stood almost single; uttering odious truth—
Darkness before, and danger's voice behind,
Soul awful—if the earth has ever lodged
An awful soul—I seemed to see him here
Familiarly, and in his scholar's dress
Bounding before me, yet a stripling youth—
A boy, no better, with his rosy cheeks
Angelical, keen eye, courageous look,
And conscious step of purity and pride.

It is one of those impossible images, rather as a child we wondered whether our own parents were ever children.  Is it possible that Milton was a child?  much less a "bounding. . . stripling youth."  Somehow I can't see the poet of Paradise Lost matching this description.  Indeed, it argues that Wordsworth's imagination was in keen form throughout his time here if he were able to see such a spectre.  It happens that Wordsworth has a friend who has been blessed with staying in Milton's former lodgings.  And so, of course, Wordsworth goes there to party:

Among the band of my compeers was one
Whom chance had stationed in the very room
Honoured by Milton's name. O temperate Bard!
Be it confest that, for the first time, seated
Within thy innocent lodge and oratory,
One of a festive circle, I poured out
Libations, to thy memory drank, till pride
And gratitude grew dizzy in a brain
Never excited by the fumes of wine
Before that hour, or since. Then, forth I ran
From the assembly; through a length of streets,
Ran, ostrich-like, to reach our chapel door
In not a desperate or opprobrious time,
Albeit long after the importunate bell
Had stopped, with wearisome Cassandra voice
No longer haunting the dark winter night.
 And we get the image of Wordsworth running through the dark English nights, the streets of Cambridge, no less, "ostrich-like."  I must suppose that Wordsworth intended this exactly as it comes off, slightly humorous and a bit endearing.  It's nice to think of fine, stodgy, "Daffodils" Wordsworth off on a tear.

Let us finish with a Wordsworthian flourish that seems to sum up college life both then and now:

In this mixed sort
The months passed on, remissly, not given up
To wilful alienation from the right,
Or walks of open scandal, but in vague
And loose indifference, easy likings, aims
Of a low pitch—duty and zeal dismissed,
Yet Nature, or a happy course of things
Not doing in their stead the needful work.
The memory languidly revolved, the heart
Reposed in noontide rest, the inner pulse
Of contemplation almost failed to beat.
Such life might not inaptly be compared
To a floating island, an amphibious spot
Unsound, of spongy texture, yet withal
Not wanting a fair face of water weeds
And pleasant flowers. 

You can hear him say, "We didn't go out of our way to be dissolute, and yet, dissolution was the order of the day."  "Memory languidly revolved, the heart//reposed in noontide rest, in inner pulse//of contemplation almost failed to beat."  In other words--life in all of its color, pageantry and demanding tones intruded.  And so for a while Wordsworth--as most college students--spent a season in the floating world.  Again, it isn't anything you associate with the poet who could produce lyrics as tedious and mawkish as "We are Seven" and "The Idiot Boy" and so, for that, all the more delightful.

I don't know where Wordsworth will take us on the morrow--but I hope that you find him sufficiently congenial a host to join us in the  journey.


  1. Raptly I read this post....good stuff.

  2. Dear TS,

    Thank you. It's good to know that it is reaching someone. But even if not, when one writes, one writes what matters at the time, and so even if my small readership merely endures our sojourns with Wordsworth, nevertheless, I will continue to share because I'm loving it.

    But thank you--it's good to know that every once in a while it strikes a note with someone.




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