The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Wordsworth

I return us now to the briefly abandoned (so it might seem to you) Wordsworth.  I gave you a respite, but my own progress through the book depends in part on my continued sharing of what I find there.  I find that telling you about its wonders keeps me plowing through them and relishing them.  I will admit that it is not easy to read through a book-length poem--no matter how fine the poetry--I remember my struggle with Paradise Lost, and with other, similar works.  And the less epic, the less mythic, the poem, the more difficult.  The Prelude is an intimate epic--not the expansive expression of a golden age of heroes, but the canny and careful observation of a poet coming into being.

But this next piece I share for the sheer delight of the scene.  It says much about Wordsworth, about poetic composition, and about poetry.  But it also says much about a dog.

from The Prelude Book IV
William Wordsworth

Among the favourites whom it pleased me well
To see again, was one by ancient right
Our inmate, a rough terrier of the hills;
By birth and call of nature pre-ordained
To hunt the badger and unearth the fox
Among the impervious crags, but having been
From youth our own adopted, he had passed
Into a gentler service. And when first
The boyish spirit flagged, and day by day
Along my veins I kindled with the stir,
The fermentation, and the vernal heat
Of poesy, affecting private shades
Like a sick Lover, then this dog was used
To watch me, an attendant and a friend,
Obsequious to my steps early and late,
Though often of such dilatory walk
Tired, and uneasy at the halts I made.
A hundred times when, roving high and low
I have been harassed with the toil of verse,
Much pains and little progress, and at once
Some lovely Image in the song rose up
Full-formed, like Venus rising from the sea;
Then have I darted forwards to let
My hand upon his back with stormy joy,
Caressing him again and yet again.
And when at evening on the public way
I sauntered, like a river murmuring
And talking to itself when all things
Are still, the creature trotted on before;
Such was his custom; but whene'er he met
A passenger approaching, he would turn
To give me timely notice, and straightway,
Grateful for that admonishment, I
My voice, composed my gait, and, with the air
And mien of one whose thoughts are free, advanced
To give and take a greeting that might save
My name from piteous rumours, such as wait
On men suspected to be crazed in brain.

The dog attends the poet.  "the fermentation, and the vernal heat//of poesy, affecting private shades//like a sick lover, then this dog was used//to watch me, an attendant and a friend."  So in the course of the poet's composition, he had with him this unlikely muse and audience--an attendant upon the poet at work as his fevered brain struggled with the words to pull them into shape, and shape them into verse.

The joy of composition is shared. We see the ecstatic reception of the new work on the part of the poet and his companion:

A hundred times when, roving high and low
I have been harassed with the toil of verse,
Much pains and little progress, and at once
Some lovely Image in the song rose up
Full-formed, like Venus rising from the sea;
Then have I darted forwards to let
My hand upon his back with stormy joy,
Caressing him again and yet again.


And finally, the dog as sentinel is just a wonderful image--the poet gadding about, paying no attention to what's going on around him, generally behaving as a madman, and the dog on the lookout to alert Wordsworth to the approach of company that might look upon these activities askance.

And so we continue.  More tomorrow--I love the work that I go through to read the poem--I love the labor of sharing it.  I hope that it encourages some of you to take it up--if even just a little, and enjoy some of the great poetry of any age.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Another Queen of Night

Lewis Carroll and James Joyce