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And Time the Shadow ;-there to celebrate,
Had Wordsworth always written thus, he would have escaped all blame. Here is “a certain colouring of the imagination " thrown over ordinary things, whereby they are “presented to the mind in an unusual aspect,” and no question of poetic diction is raised. Yet he was bound to raise the question and to make attempts in a style unlike this oecumenical style of poetry; for his views concerning poetic diction followed inevitably from his beliefs concerning the highest functions of
He is a man, speaking to men ; but he sees more truly, and consequently feels more deeply, than they; and his business is to teach them to see and feel. He can easily engage their attention by presenting them with abnormal, rare, or strange objects. So poetry becomes a pastime, a delight apart from the interests of common life. Or, by the language, he can call forth in full flood those feelings that blur vision, those merciful and tender suffusions that soften the hard outlines of fact and bring relief to the weaker sense.
neither is this, according to Wordsworth, the right work of poetry. To feel deeply and sanely and wisely in the presence of things seen is what he teaches ; but first, to see them. He had found deliverance for himself by opening his eyes on the world after a nightmare of dark, confused mental agitation, and he believed in truth as few men believe in it. His determination to look steadily on life made him intolerant of the myriad delusions, “as thick as motes that people the sunbeam,” which intercept the eye and focus it on some nearer object than the face of truth. He does injustice to himself by describing the poet as one who throws “a certain colouring of the imagination " over common incidents and situations. The working of his own imagination, so long as it remained pure and strong, is ill compared to painting or to any light but the whitest. In his Elegiac Stanzas on the death of his brother, who was drowned at sea, he expounds his creed more justly. He is looking at a picture of Peele Castle in a storm, and remembering how, many years before, he had lived in its neighbourhood for a whole summer month and had never seen the glassy calm of the sea broken :
Ah ! THEN,
if mine had been the Painter's hand,
I would have planted thee, thou hoary Pile,
These lines, or some of them, have been so frequently quoted apart from their context, that it has become almost a hopeless task to get them understood. The misunderstanding must have come to Wordsworth's notice, for in the edition of 1820 he altered the first stanza thus :
Ah! Then, if mine had been the Painter's hand,
express what then I saw, and add a gleam
This later version removes all misunderstanding. But the poet's readers, intelligibly enough, preferred the earlier version; preferred, indeed, to keep their two lines in an inverted sense, and to misread or neglect the rest of the poem. It is the word “consecration,” used, as it would seem, for a dream-like glory, a peace attained by shunning reality, which is chiefly responsible for the misreading. Yet the original version, which is also the final version, may be kept without danger of mistake, if only the poem be read as a whole. The following verses make all clear :
Such, in the fond illusion of my heart,
And seen the soul of truth in every part,
So once it would have been,-'tis so no more ;
Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone,
But welcome fortitude, and patient cheer,
The happiness that is to be pitied is blind happiness, which nourishes itself on its own false fancies. The happiness that is to be coveted is the happiness of fearless vision, “and frequent sights of what is to be borne.” And it is by the daylight of truth, not by “the light that never was, on sea or land,” that the poet desires to look upon the things of earth. He is strong enough to bear it, and can face a life-long grief without flinching :
This, which I know, I speak with mind serene. - The greatness of Wordsworth's best work derives from this calm and almost terrible strength.
It asks strength to be a seer.
To accept all truth of experience, yet to cherish rather than try to deaden the human feelings that attend on the knowledge of such truth — to believe in them, too—is a feat not to be compassed save by the highest courage and the profoundest humility. It was a new courage and a new humility that Wordsworth introduced into the poetic treatment of Nature and of Man. And it was also a new joy; for just because he has dared to the uttermost, and in his heart asks for nothing but what he is to have, his joy in the pleasures that come his way
pure and gay and whole-hearted, without a drop of bitterness in it. He has put some of his own experience into the story of Ruth :
The engines of her pain, the tools
Wordsworth attained to the simple pleasures and the calm resignation of the poor mad girl with his eyes open and his reason unclouded.
These qualities manifest themselves in his greatest poems, and—to return to the immediate subject-- they give its inspired simplicity to his style. His strength makes no demonstration ; his reserve is so complete as to be almost inex