The Tables Turned
An Evening Scene on the Same Subject
Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
HIs first sweet evening yellow.
Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the trostle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulbess,
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
William Wordsworth 1798
There's probably little I need to tell you about this poem, because Wordsworth is clear in his message. Come outside! Turn to the world again, for all that thinking will do is twist you in a bind.
I guess that what I can provide here is some historical background, because otherwise some of his frustrations with intellect and books will perhaps be taken a little too strongly. Wordsworth is talking against a society that was first championing rationality--in some way, he is writing at the birth of systematic approaches to knowledge and even art (the academies at that time stressed reproduction of the masters, and systems of drawing). Machines, calculation, and, over and over, rationality were the approaches to knowledge. Furthermore, these were supposedly higher forms of knowing; science and examination and consensus became the champion over experience. Perhaps things aren't so different today, and so Wordsworth's call holds true. Stop reading (yes, even this blog), and go look at the sky tonight, or a flowered tree---- Wordsworth would want us to go outside now, to leave our calculating minds behind, and open us to experience. We might even learn something, who knows?
In the end, I choose this poem because it explicitly asks us to do something that poetry often does to me--it asks us to turn back to the world. Poetry is not an end in itself, but it can point us back toward something more real, and encourages states of openness, reception, unknowing. Keats famously called this "negative capability:" "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason... with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."
Perhaps this is the state that both great poetry and nature can put us in--a kind of openness that allows reality to enter just a little bit, a crack in habitual perspective that can change a moment or an afternoon. Small things, maybe, but how many have we missed after all?