Monday, July 12, 2010


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
The City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning. Silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open to the fields and to the sky
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, 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

[checking online, I first come across a couple of sites that give the line as given as 'never did the sun more beautifully steep' - I think: can that possibly be right? the prosody is all wrong... find other sites which offer the line as remembered, but also have the line 'This City now doth like a garment wear' - which feels completely wrong because I have been misquoting the poem for 30 years but is probably right.]

[I once talked to a woman at Oxford who said Wordsworth was her favourite poet. I made some sort of appalled noise, thinking of the acres of dreary verbiage Ww had written, and she said, Yes, but you don't judge a poet by his worst work, you judge by the best. ]

The reason I did not know what to do when I went to college was that I had been an avid reader and majoring in English looked the obvious thing to do but I thought picking apart texts would destroy the thing I loved. It's not that I don't like picking things apart - this is what I like about philosophy - but I did not like - the thought of deploying a discourse on this poem is pretty horrible. If I am in a big city and cross a bridge at dawn the poem comes to mind. It seems to me that it could be embedded in a different social practice, something like the Japanese tea ceremony. The purpose of the Japanese tea ceremony was to have a social occasion where rank, wealth were set aside: when first introduced, at any rate, it was very simple. So one could have a social occasion where people turned up and each person recited a poem. (Any kind of literary discourse, these days, is obviously embedded in a system of social signifiers: the economy of academia means every discourse arrives with its obsolescence on the horizon.)

I talk too much.

He said I hunt for haddock's eyes
Among the heather bright
I make them into waistcoat buttons
In the silent night
And these I do not sell for gold
Or coin of silvery shine
But for a copper halfpenny
And that will purchase nine

I sometimes dig for buttered rolls
Or set limed twigs for crabs
I sometimes search the grassy knolls
For wheels of hansom cabs
And that's the way-- he gave a wink--
By which I get my wealth,
And very gladly will I drink
Your honour's noble health

I heard him then, for I had just
Completed a design
To keep the Menai Bridge from rust
By boiling it in wine
I thanked him much for telling me
The way he got his wealth
But chiefly for his wish that he
Might drink my noble health

And now if e'er by chance I put
My fingers into glue
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe
Or if I drop upon my toe
A very heavy weight
I weep, for it reminds me so
Of that old man I used to know...

The hapless WWw here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wordsworth gets a lot of flack in english literature courses, some of which flack i've dished out. the thing that so irritates me is wordsworth's "ah, it's as if this beggar was put here just to give me an epiphany as a Great Poet who is more sensitive and perceptive than Mere Men" stuff. i think some other people dislike wordsworth for the same reason. once, though, i saw a grad student give a lovely talk on the linkage of pathos and bathos in wordsworth's "peter bell" and it was extremely interesting. weirdly, the dissection enhanced poet and poem for me.

i do think that some of the shorter poems (possibly unpublished--i saw them as part of another talk) are fantastic--wild and strange and intense and lyrical. but i still agree with byron's statement that ww had (just) a few good ideas (i forget his exact words).