Wordsworth…What a great name for a poet!

editor’s note: Please note that composer, producer and Edge contributor William Perry will discuss “Poetry: It’s the Only Thing that Matters” today, Sunday, March 27, 2022, at 4:00 pm This presentation is part of the Lenox Library’s Distinguished Lecture Series, now in its 15th season. This event will take place via Zoom; please click HERE to access the meeting.

And how worthy the accolades Wordsworth’s words have inspired. Here are two of his best-loved and instantly recognizable verses from him.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Portrait of William Wordsworth

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William Wordsworth (1770-1850), who came to be called a Lake Poet, was born and raised in the scenic countryside of northern England and educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge. During summer vacations, he took walking tours in Germany and France and was a celebrator of the French Revolution.

On returning to England after one such trip in 1791, Wordsworth and his friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, were suspected of being French spies, but upon investigation they were dismissed as being merely “a mischievous gang of disaffected Englishmen.”

However, Wordsworth and Coleridge were actively writing poetry, and in 1798 they jointly and anonymously brought out a volume called “Lyrical Ballads.” At that moment poetic Romanticism in England was born and the stage set for Byron, Shelley and Keats. The classical approach of the 18th century was giving way to a new embrace of emotion and imagination.

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I think it’s fair to say that Wordsworth liked to write sonnets. He wrote 524 of these fourteen line verses, and his best rank him with the best of Shakespeare or Milton. Here he sees the rise of an industrial society threatening the essential connection of mankind and nature.

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 bars 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 everything, 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 read,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

And here is a beautifully-wrought view of London in the early morning.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty;
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theaters, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

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Even with the competition of John Keats and Robert Frost, Wordsworth is considered to be the most prominent nature poet. In his “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” he expressed these thoughts linking the natural and the spiritual:

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; to feel sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what I perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

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Wordsworth's Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage, the home in Grasmere where Wordsworth enjoyed “plain living but high thinking.”

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As a side-note, one can’t overestimate the influence Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy had on her brother’s work. She was a poet and diarist and inseparable companion who continued to live with him even after his marriage to him. On their long daily walks they would respond to their shared experiences. Of seeing daffodils she said “they tossed and reeled and danced.” Her brother of her described them as “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

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Most of Wordsworth’s poetry and his philosophy in general is quite understandable. But when he was in Germany, he wrote five poems called The Lucy Poems. They are about a young lady who has died, and there is no certainty about whether the poems referred to a real person, an idealized product of his imagination of him, or perhaps a personification of his muse of her going through uncertain times. At any rate, one of the Lucy poems is a classic and written in a language that avoids poetic diction, and is, as Wordsworth said, “really used by men.”

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
It is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Literary Map of the Lake District
Literary Map of the Lake District

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VIDEO. The Lake District of Northwest England is a land of mountains and meadows, of stone cottages and grazing sheep, where man is ever close to Nature and the beauty of existence can inspire the highest reaches of the imagination. Here in the 19th century lived and worked some of England’s finest writers: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Thomas de Quincy and John Ruskin.

And here from Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, his wife Mary, and his friend Coleridge often set out on walks through the countryside. The First Poetry Quartet traveled to Grasmere and traced their steps: with George Backman as Wordsworth, Jill Tanner as Dorothy, Cynthia Herman as Mary, and Norman Snow as Coleridge. The featured poem is excerpts from “Intimations of Immortality.” The narration is from Dorothy’s notes of her.

CLICK ON THIS LINK FOR VIDEO: WORDSWORTH

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