Nature and Poetry: More Wordsworth

Made explicit a million times a million times, but so far in nothing so lovely as what follows:

from The Prelude: Book II
William Wordsworth

The garden lay
Upon a slope surmounted by a plain
Of a small bowling-green; beneath us stood
A grove, with gleams of water through the trees
And over the tree-tops; nor did we want
Refreshment, strawberries and mellow cream.
There, while through half an afternoon we played
On the smooth platform, whether skill prevailed
Or happy blunder triumphed, bursts of glee
Made all the mountains ring. But, ere night-fall,
When in our pinnace we returned at leisure
Over the shadowy lake, and to the beach
Of some small island steered our course with one,
The Minstrel of the Troop, and left him there,
And rowed off gently, while he blew his flute
Alone upon the rock—oh, then, the calm
And dead still water lay upon my mind
Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky,
Never before so beautiful, sank down
Into my heart, and held me like a dream!

What then--the idea of rowing across a lake to the scene of a tavern--playing the day away in skill and blunder, and then rowing back--more slowly, exhausted by the revels.   "oh, then, the calm// And dead still water lay upon my mind//Even with a weight of pleasure. . .  "  And this is where line-breaks become so important because while calm can be read as an additional modifier to "dead still" it is also a reference to the calm that descends as the journey nears its end and one can come to appreciate the dead still water, not moving, not a breath of breeze--no ripple and no change.  Still meaning here as well, eternal--not merely unmoving but still in the sense of remaining and enduring--still here, still in the mind, still present.

And the whole poem is peppered through with moments like these that beacon the reader out of himself and into the world of the poet and the poem, into the world that Wordsworth builds to tell you how a poem is made and what it means.


  1. "still water"

    It reminds me of a time when I went out to a small lake and rented a cabin. Early in the morning I went out in a rowboat to get some fishing in. I got to where I wanted and looked around.

    It was so quiet and a somewhat cool as the sun hadn't come up yet. The lake was like glass, and I just couldn't disturb the quiet by dropping my line in the water.

    I just sat there quietly until another boat came out, with several who were far more task oriented than I was at that moment.

  2. Dear Fred,

    And as I read Wordsworth, those are exactly the moments he brings forward for me. I can see and hear and touch them even if I have never experienced them. But I can also connect them to my correlatives.

    Thanks for the comment. In itself, it is lovely.



  3. Steven,

    Those moments are few but they stay with me a long time. That happened several decades ago. I went back there recently and only the small lake remains. All else is gone, except for my memories of that morning.

  4. Dear Fred,

    And a short visit with Wordsworth brought them forth. This is one of the great things that great literature can do for us.



  5. Something about recollection in tranquility?

  6. Dear Fred,

    Absolutely--from the preface to the Lyrical Ballads:

    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,



  7. Familiar words...Possibly some of the most familiar in commentary about poetry.


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