A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Poem of the Day: William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon, 
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: 
Little we see in Nature that is ours; 
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; 
The winds that will be howling at all hours, 
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -- Great God! I'd rather be 
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; 
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. 
--William Wordsworth

I made a discovery last night. I wanted to use a Wordsworth poem because, back when I was a young and foolish graduate student, I rather liked his poetry. But then I started combing through the anthology for something appropriate and found myself nodding off. I think if I ever suffer from insomnia (these days I suffer gladly from the opposite), I'll sit down with a copy of The Prelude. It won't take five minutes before a slumber does my spirit seal. 

Of course, The Prelude's many thousands of lines disqualify it from anything but excerpting here. But I remembered some passages -- the boy rowing out onto the lake at night, the crossing of the Alps, the "spots of time" section that links Wordsworth with Joyce's epiphanies and Proust's moments of involuntary memory -- that stood out for me. But I found even those buried so deep in the blankest of blank verse that I couldn't pluck them forth. And even some of the shorter poems, like "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" and "Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood" seem to smother their best parts under lines that thud and blunder. 

But then I rediscovered this sonnet, which binds up an emotional state as concisely as any of Shakespeare's, and I remembered why Wordsworth is, after all, a great poet.  

2 comments:

Lisa Sajna said...

Tintern is one of my favorite poems. He doesn't bore me - I wonder if it's a male/female thing? Now, if you take it upon yourself to flaggelate Whitman or Longfellow, I am going to have to take a stand. My father, born in 1910, was required to memorize entire Longfellow poems, and 40 years later, he enthralled his little daughter with them. Whitman speaks to me more than any other poet. I read him often and usually find something new to appreciate each time I do. I don't apologize for liking uncomplicated poetry!

Charles Matthews said...

Whitman uncomplicated? No way. "When Lilacs Last..." is one of the great poems, and a truly rich and subtle one. And I don't think Wordsworth is either. It's just that he seems to me to go from the sublime to the banal a little too easily. As for Longfellow, I have to admit that I can't take him seriously, probably the result of a bad encounter with "Evangeline" in the ninth grade.