William Wordsworth and the reading of poetry

map Claudius_Ptolemy-_The_World The concept of reading poetry for some is like translating text from an ancient language. Often it is equated as a chore rather than its intended purpose of enjoyment. On a page poetry can appear rather distant and unfamiliar, like an antique map one intends to chart. The words are disjointed and phrases short of meaning, arranged before the reader like crudely drawn ports-of-call; and our eyes, though wanting to decipher the text are drawn to the unstructured form, its lack of punctuation and deficiency of capital letters.

Poetry conjures up those dreaded days of English classes, red-inked marked papers, and scowls of disapproval. How something so lovely can bring memories of scorn is much like a spring flower settled upon a stem of thorns.

And though it has been brushed aside with the same aversion as a child pushes away a plate of calf’s liver, it continues to be relished by some. Poetry has endured the scrutiny of time, manipulation, reconstruction, interpretation, and criticism. And while it may not be the favored literary genres by many, for those who have allowed its presence to fade away, it is well worth giving it another go. Think of reading poetry as taking a leisurely walk over a path that is laden with gold… only to be discovered if you observe with all your senses the journey set before you.

William Wordsworth 2 Today’s post invites back our esteemed thinker: William Wordsworth (1770-1850), one of England’s most respected writers of both prose and poetry. Much of his greatness is expressed through his belief that the ideal could be experienced in everyday life. He was at home with nature, which is effortlessly revealed through the intensity of these feelings expressed in his works.

For your reading pleasure I have extracted from The Prose Work of William Wordsworth a snippet regarding his principals of poetry (1798). I now give to you the illustrious, Mr. Wordsworth….

“… I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of re-action, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment. If Nature be thus cautious to preserve in a state of enjoyment a being so employed, the Poet ought to profit by the lesson held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that, whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions, if his Reader’s mind be sound and vigorous, should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. Now the music of harmonious metrical language, the sense of difficulty overcome, and the blind association of pleasure which has been previously received from works of rhyme or metre of the same or similar construction, an indistinct perception perpetually renewed of language closely resembling that of real life, and yet, in the circumstance of metre, differing from it so widely—all these imperceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight, which is of the most important use in tempering the painful feeling always found intermingled with powerful descriptions of the deeper passions. This effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned poetry; while, in lighter compositions, the ease and gracefulness with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a principal source of the gratification of the Reader. All that it is necessary to say, however, upon this subject, may be effected by affirming, what few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions, either of passions, manners, or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once…”

First image: (1482 ) Claudius Ptolemy, cartographer, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver

Esteemed thinker: William Wordsworth

landscape Landscapes are nature’s way of telling us who is really in charge; for no matter how hard one tries to encapsulate a vista the end product does not quite imitate reality. Transport yourself to any corner of the earth and you may find a vision so beautiful that it seems to take your breath away. The range of colors, shapes, and feelings wound up in such a view has been replicated by humans throughout the ages yet to really experience that “ah ha” moment, it needs what we call today, “real time”.

We live in a world where technology permits us to transport virtual images, allows us to share and receive, allows us to observe our universe in a speed that was once deemed only possible in fiction. When man first stepped on the moon and when the Mars rover frolicked upon the forbidden planet, the photos sent back to us on Earth gave us reason to be humble; it gave us a view to extend our imaginations and expand our dreams, entitling us to wonder what it would be like to see such sights for ourselves.

Landscapes, a word that once meant paintings in a museum have become part of our vernacular to mean more. We capture them, place them in our computers or on our phones and keep them as souvenirs; yet Mother Nature knows that it is through her eyes that we really see it.

NPG 104; William Wordsworth by and after Henry William Pickersgill I present to you today the esteemed thinker: William Wordsworth (1770-1850), a most gifted English poet who helped establish, with his friend and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, what we presently refer to as the Romantic period in literature. Having taken a walking tour of Europe early in his career, Wordsworth is believed to have been influenced by this experience for much of his writing explores the relationship between humans and nature. While touring Europe, Wordsworth also came into contact with the political upheaval of the French Revolution, which subsequently brought about his interest and sympathy for the life, troubles and speech of the “common man”. In 1843 Wordsworth was named poet laureate of England, though by this time he had for the most part quit composing verse. He is fondly remembered by poetry lovers for poems such as “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud”.

From the book of his collected titles, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, (1876) I have retraced the words of our famous and illustrious Mr. Wordsworth; a man who has brought to us literary greats that continue to be read, studied, and interpreted more than a century later. Take just a few moments and permit him to take you on an exploration; without a camera or an easel he will define a lovely view for your enjoyment…

“… At Lucerne, in Switzerland, is shewn a Model of the Alpine country which encompasses the Lake of the four Cantons. The Spectator ascends a little platform, and sees mountains, lakes, glaciers, rivers, woods, waterfalls, and vallies, with their cottages, and every other object contained in them, lying at his feet; all things being represented in their appropriate colours. It may be easily conceived that this exhibition affords an exquisite delight to the imagination, tempting it to wander at will from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain, through the deepest recesses of the Alps. But it supplies also a more substantial pleasure: for the sublime and beautiful region, with all its hidden treasures, and their bearings and relations to each other, is thereby comprehended and understood at once…

To begin, then, with the main outlines of the country;—- I know not how to give the reader a distinct image of these more readily, than by requesting him to place himself with me, in imagination, upon some given point; let it be the top of either of the mountains, Great Gavel, or Scawfell; or, rather, let us suppose our station to be a cloud hanging midway between those two mountains, at not more than half a mile’s distance from the summit of each, and not many yards above their highest elevation; we shall then see stretched at our feet a number of vallies, not fewer than eight, diverging from the point, on which we are supposed to stand, like spokes from the nave of a wheel… In the vale of Keswick, at the same period, the sun sets over the humbler regions of the landscape, and showers down upon them the radiance which at once veils and glorifies,—- sending forth, meanwhile, broad streams of rosy, crimson, purple, or golden light, towards the grand mountains in the south and south-east, which, thus illuminated, with all their projections and cavities, and with an intermixture of solemn shadows, are seen distinctly through a cool and clear atmosphere…”

Second image: Portrait, oil on canvas, by Henry William Pickersgill circa 1850; National Portrait Gallery, London