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