Summer Vacation--Wordsworth Style

We've followed Wordsworth through a year (about nine months) of residence at Cambridge and watched him as he watched the spectres of the famous men who attended.  What better, then, to return home with him on summer vacation?

from The Prelude Book IV
William Wordsworth

Bright was the summer's noon when quickening steps
Followed each other till a dreary moor
Was crossed, a bare ridge clomb, upon whose top [A]
Standing alone, as from a rampart's edge,
I overlooked the bed of Windermere,
Like a vast river, stretching in the sun.
With exultation, at my feet I saw
Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays,
A universe of Nature's fairest forms
Proudly revealed with instantaneous burst,
Magnificent, and beautiful, and gay.
I bounded down the hill shouting amain
For the old Ferryman

The quickening pace, the cadence of the poetry marks those steps.  One can almost see Wordsworth walking from the train station or stage down the dusty road that leads to the dock, pier, or landing place of the ferry that will shuttle him across the water to Hawkshead.  The lake Windermere appears to be much like the finger lakes and so from a up high would look like the broad expanse of a river--perhaps something like the Platte at flood, but still and mirror-like. Dotted through this mirror plane are all of the islands and places that Wordsworth had left some months ago and no doubt had spent much time bringing to mind again and again.

Last night, I performed a little experiment with my Wordsworth book and decided to look again at some of the poems that I had never cared for when I had passed over them in college.  It came as no surprise that I still did not care for them.  They range from the trivial to the insipid (with some mighty expections--"Tintern Abbey" "Ode. ., " "Resolution and Independence." But the sonnets, short lyrics and dramatic poems still try one's patience.  For example, this little attempt at doing what Blake does so much better:

A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal
William Wordsworth

A slumber did my spirit seal;
         I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
         The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
         She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
         With rocks, and stones, and trees

Nearly painful in its attempt to reach the sublime.

But then I thought--perhaps these shorter works are really fine and only suffer in comparison to the longer lyrics and more powerful poems.  So I read the poem again, and while I still do not care for it the way I am enjoying The Prelude or the way I relish "Tintern Abbey," it really is a fine poem in itself--not majestic, but not maudlin, and reaching for a point that cannot be attained in a mere eight lines.  Perhaps that is its greatest failing--not the poem itself but the ambition that cannot be fulfilled in such a lyric.  It is a breath, the smallest exhale of an idea, in comparison to the vast depth and length of The Prelude, or the magisterial and deep thought of both "Ode" and "Tintern Abbey."

So perhaps I need to return once again to these shorter lyrics and read them not in the light of the sun that is Wordsworth's longer and more accomplished work, but in the light of the moon--those lesser poets who surrounded the great Romantics and see how they stand it.  Look upon them as studies for the larger work--as short attempts to introduce and work the themes that would become his life's contribution to all.

So, while I continue through The Prelude, it would seem good also to return to the lesser poems--the shorter works and see what treasures I may have missed in my early dismissal and in my present disdain of really accomplished poetry.


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