Our Daily Sojourn with Wordsworth

I am not a Wordsworth partisan.  If truth be told, I've always found him to be the wimpiest of the romantics, with a couple of good lines in a sprinkling of OK poems.  And now I find myself touting him.  And there is a certain pleasure in having been wrong and being able to discover it at this late date.

from The Prelude--Book II
William Wordsworth

A rude mass
Of native rock, left midway in the square
Of our small market village, was the goal
Or centre of these sports; and when, returned
After long absence, thither I repaired,
Gone was the old grey stone, and in its place
A smart Assembly-room usurped the ground
That had been ours. There let the fiddle scream,
And be ye happy! Yet, my Friends! I know
That more than one of you will think with me
Of those soft starry nights, and that old Dame
From whom the stone was named, who there had sate,
And watched her table with its huckster's wares
Assiduous, through the length of sixty years.
I'm told, by the notes on the Gutenberg Edition, that the town referred to is Hawkshead, which tells me very little more than I might have known on my own. By googling I discover that it is in or near the Lake District and seemingly a million miles from anywhere at all.  Here's a picture garnered from freefoto (under a creative commons license)

And so, on to the real point.  What Wordsworth touches upon in the excerpt above must be one of the most common of human experiences.  And this is what distinguishes this personal, biographical, and intimate poems from the school of the confessional poets.  While we can wrench some things fromt he confessional poets that could be construed to be widespread, if not universal, the only universals translated from the confessionals are emotional configurations.  But note how Wordsworth delivers these lines in an almost imagist way--letting the experience stand for itself and allowing the language to suggest the emotional tenor (usurped is most particularly suggestive).  It is in taking these common experiences and making something of them, that Wordsworth takes the intimate and the particular and moves it to the realm of universal experience.  He summons the image, we bring the emotional baggage and so our reading of Wordsworth is a combined work:  the poet proposes and we dispose.

But it is in the sustained reading of all the particulars that we get to the core of what Wordsworth wants to tell us.  As he mythologizes his childhood and youth, he tells us something about the reflection of age upon those experiences.  He tells us further more about ourselves than he does about himself, because it is our encounter with him that is actually the reading.  We become transformed in the experience and our experience and understanding is broadened in the encounter.

So, in an idle moment, with a few minutes to spare, take up The Prelude and encounter one of the great poetic voices of the centuries peeling back the surface of reality and exposing how it works for him.  You may not have the same experiences, but it may surprise you how many you have in common.


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