Monday, March 07, 2005

Poem of the Week 3/7/2005: from The Prelude, Book Thirteenth

From The Prelude, Book Thirteenth
Thus might we wear perhaps an hour away,
Ascending at loose distance each from each,
And I, as chanced, the foremost of the band --
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten,
And with a step or two seemed brighter still;
Nor had I time to ask the cause of this,
For instantly a light upon the turf
Fell like a flash, I lookedd about, and lo,
The moon stood naked in the heavens at height
Immense above my head, and on the shore
I found myself of a huge sea of mist,
Which meek and silent rested at my feet.
A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved
All over this still ocean, and beyond,
Far, far beyond, the vapours shot themselves
In headlands, tongues, promontory shapes,
Into the sea, the real sea, that seemed
To dwindle and give up its majesty,
Usurped upon as far as sight could reach.
Meanwhile, the moon looked down upon this shew
In single glory, and we stood, the mist
Touching our very feet; and from the shore
At distance not the third part of a mile
Was a blue chasm, a fracture in the vapour,
A deep and gloomy breathing-place, through which
Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams
Innumerable, roaring with one voice.
The universal spectacle throughout
Was shaped for admiration and delight,
Grand in itself alone, but in that breach
Through which the homeless voice of waters rose,
That dark deep thoroughfare, had Nature lodged
The soul, the imagination of the whole.

A meditation rose in me that night
Upon the lonely mountain when the scene
Had passed away, and it appeared to me
The perfect image of a mighty mind,
Of one that feeds upon infinity,
That is exalted by an under-presence,
The sense of God, or whatsoe'er is dim
Or vast in its own being --

This is just a tiny excerpt from Wordsworth's wonderful poem The Prelude, but it is one of the most important "spots of time" in the book. For all of you honors kids, you have seen this before, but in-
class reading is never so good as looking at something of your own volition. Or having it forced on you in the form of the Poem of the Week. And anyway, my conversation with Tim the other night inspired me to send out Wordsworth. I have done a lot of extra work on the Prelude, so my reading of this poem will probably be longer than most of the Poem of the Week thoughts. Either skip them or bear with me - it doesn't matter either way. I just hope that you can feel the energy and the wonder of Wordsworth's words. I would sometimes have a hard time even reading his stuff because it is so beautifully and carefully constructed. But yeah.

This episode picks up as Wordsworth is ascending Mount Snowdon in his early twenties. Before he gets to the top, all is misty and blank and simply sort of quiet. Then he suddenly comes upon this vision as he emerges from the fog. Wordsworth presents this episode as evidence of his creative healing later in life - as if this experience in his 20s proves creative power much later. It is circular, but Wordsworth is all about paradox, and the Prelude is the journey of the poet to the creation of the poem. It is Ww's journey into realizing and trusting his own creative power. He sees nature as the creation of God. When we look at the immense infinity of nature, we take it in and it becomes part of us. So creation, and the potential to create, enters a human through nature, and poetry emerges. Nature is God's way of working through humans. Creative power is inspired by nature, which is actually inspired by God. External forces work internally. In this passage, the vastness of Mt. Snowdon parallels the vastness inside - "the perfect image of a mighty mind." And the final entanglement of God and interiority hints at the infinite nature of man which is technically finite (i.e. death). So what is infinite? Is it our relationship to God that makes us infinite? The lasting quality of anything you create? A thing created is, in actuality an Other, yes? But it comes from the self. But this self IS other-ly, through God/Nature. Very circular. My favorite phrase about this is that something like this self/other knot is both "containing and being contained." Is any of this making any sense? I don't know if I am being as clear as I would like to, or conveying my wonder at the complexity of this excerpt. It is very complicated and paradoxica. But the Romantic poets would argue that it is crucial to be able to hold paradox in your mind - two opposing ideas can and do exist at the same time: negative capability. Anyway. This is one of my favorite works of poetry, and I love the twisting of Romantic ideas. If you made it this far through my little (and by "little" I mean "big") discourse on self/other and paradox, thank you! And have a wonderful day!


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