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BIOGRAPHIES, NOTES, AND
PART ONE: THE EARLIER NINETEENTH CENTURY
ROGERS: A WISH
This poem is one of the best examples of that eighteenth century pastoralism (the more or less conventional yearning of city poets for the country) which the spirit of young Wordsworth was just then contemning. Unlike Wordsworth, Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) cared little for rural retirement. When he was a youth confined to London by his father's banking business, his poetic mood could well find relief in the idyllic scene of “A Wish.” But when he retired from active business some twenty years later — a wealthy, witty, and sociable personage — he domiciled himself, not near a “willowy brook,” but close to the heart of London. His house became a sort of headquarters of literary society in the earlier nineteenth century. He was friend, and sometimes helper, of the greater poets. Before any of them had risen into prominence his reputation had been established in 1792 by “The Pleasures of Memory,” a poem in the still regnant mode of the school of Pope. It has the careful grace of rhythm and diction, and also the quiet sweetness of spirit, which appear also in “A Wish.” (1.) 1. cot: cottage. — The two lofty objects in the neighborhood of the cottage are placed, one in the first and one in the last line of the poem, like protecting termini. How are the other objects grouped, in each stanza?
tainous country in the north of England. Born at Cockermouth, educated at Hawkshead Grammar School, he lived close to nature and to rustic folk through boyhood and youth. At Cambridge, where he matriculated in St. John's College, he doubtless acquired a richer culture than he himself supposed, though, all his life, he derived less from books than have most poets of his rank. During the summer vacation of 1790 he made a walking tour through France and Switzerland, witnessing the early enthusiasm of the French Revolution; and in the following year, after graduation, he was again in France, where he became an ardent disciple of the Revolutionary faith, and where, as has recently been discovered, he had a liaison with a young French lady, named Annette Vallon, that resulted in the birth of a daughter. He accepted responsibility for his child, and in after years remained in communication with both mother and daughter. Near the close of 1792, on the verge of risking his life as a leader of the Girondins, Wordsworth was recalled to England. As the Revolution developed, he retained his faith in it long after its sinister events had brought disillusionment to many enthusiasts, including Coleridge. In 1793 he published his first poems, “An Evening Walk” (page 1; written probably in his college days) and “Descriptive Sketches of a Pedestrian Tour in the Alps.” Without definite occupation and virtually homeless, for several years he visited friends and wandered through various parts of England and Wales, until, in 1795, a legacy rendered possible his dedication to poetry. With his sister Dorothy, whose affection and understanding made her one of the leading influences on his life, he settled at Racedown, in the south of England, where he saw much of the young poet Coleridge, whose flexibility of heart and fancy helped much to set Wordsworth's stiffer genius flowing. In 1797, the Wordsworths, desiring to live close to Coleridge at Nether Stowey in Somerset, removed to Alfoxden. Here they became, as Coleridge says, “three persons and one soul,” and here, through mutual stimulation, both Coleridge and Wordsworth found themselves and produced some of their greatest poetry. The direct result was a collaborative and anonymous volume entitled Lyrical Ballads, one of the epoch-making books in English literature, in which the artificial diction, the versification, and the frigid feeling of eighteenth-century poetry were decisively rejected and the new Romantic art was represented at its best in such poems as “The Ancient Mariner” (page 56) and “Lines Composed near Tintern Abbey” (page 6). According to the “Advertisement” that follows the titlepage, most of the poems (“Simon Lee,” for example; page 4) “were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” Shortly before Lyrical Ballads appeared in 1798, the Wordsworths and Coleridge sailed for Germany, where Wordsworth, retracing the growth of his mind, began the composition of his long poem “The Prelude” (page 9). Returning to England in 1799, he settled in the Lake District in which he had been born; and there he remained, with his sister and his wife Mary Hutchinson (he married in 1802), until his death half a century later, taking long tramps with Dorothy, working hard at his poems, seeing much of certain friends, and growing more and more conservative in his political and religious outlook on life. In “The Prelude,” completed at Grasmere in the Lake country when he was thirty-five years old, Wordsworth recounts the whole story of his early life — the unthinking activity of boyhood; the ecstasy of his youth in the presence of nature; his association with the plain and sturdy folk of the Cumberland mountains, and the
republican society of college men at Cambridge; his “bliss” at the dawn of the great Revolution and his experience later when he became part and parcel of that movement; his profound moral crisis when Britain made war upon the Revolution, and France invaded Switzerland, and Napoleon rose as dictator; the abandonment of his enthusiasm for a radical reordering of society in accordance with abstract reason; the healing influence of his sister and of the spirit of nature; and the deepening of his love for nature into a religion based on the conviction that joy is fundamental in the universe, and that man may win it, together with moral guidance, by responding to the influence of the world of nature. His old mainstay, the intellect, or logical faculty, is now discarded as intruding between the human soul and reality. It is not reason, but nature that leads us on, through our senses and feelings, to “see into the life of things.” The period covered by “The Prelude” has been finely studied by Émile Legouis in La jeunesse de J/illiam Wordsworth, translated, in 1897, as The Early Life of JP'illiam JP'ordsworth. From this faith in nature, Wordsworth does not depart during the period of his greatest achievement, the decade from 1798 to 1808, although already in 1805, in the “Ode to Duty” (page 38), he strikes a new note. As he advances in years, he draws closer to the traditional view of man's moral constitution. By 1822 he publishes a long series of Ecclesiastical Sonnets, of slight importance as poetry, though comprising such sonorous pieces as “Mutability” (page 53) and “Inside of King's College Chapel” (page 53). And in his old age he turns more and more to the Church of England for the happy faith that he had previously found in human reason and in outward nature. A right attitude toward nature can come to men only through self-control and “grace divine,” he now says in the lines “Not in the Lucid Intervals of Life” (page 54). Yet his quietly penetrating delight in natural beauty is still alive, – “a little unpretending rill of limpid water” (page 52): “The immortal spirit of one happy day Lingers beside that rill, in vision clear.”
AN EVENING WALK
In his note on this poem, Wordsworth says that when not more than fourteen years old he had a “consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them;” and that he “made a resolution to supply, in some degree, this deficiency.” Actual and original observation of nature was rarely a chief aim in the pastoral poetry of the eighteenth century; see note on Rogers, above. (1.) IoI. bright obscurity: Compare the sense of Milton's phrase “dark with excessive bright” (Paradise Lost, III, 38o). — The whole selection is concerned with the effect of the evening light, first upon the general landscape around the lake, and then upon the lake itself.
LINES LEFT UPON A SEAT
Instead of being sheer description like the preceding verses, this poem develops a twofold thought, which is suggested in the subtitle by the phrases, “desolate part of the shore” and “beautiful prospect.” What does each of these phrases symbolize? See lines 8-32, and 33-46.
With this poem may be read Wordsworth's tale of “Peter Bell,” written in the same year, and likewise devoted to extreme simplicity and sympathy. Peter is a “ruffian wild” who is converted, through sympathy for certain sufferers, into “a good and honest man.” The chief and most interesting actor in the plot is a devoted Ass. (4.) 66. Such stores etc.: stores of what, particularly? Does this stanza help or injure the poem, in your opinion?
LINES WRITTEN IN EARLY SPRING
(5.) I. a thousand blended notes: Why does the poet begin with this particular "image, rather than with one of those given in lines 9-20?
EXPOSTULATION AND REPLY
Wordsworth states that this poem and the next “arose out of conversation with a friend who was somewhat unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philosophy.” On Wordsworth's own use of books, see the third sentence of the biography, page 655. 30. Conversing as I may: Interpret this in the light of three preceding stanzas; “conversing” does not here mean talking.
THE TABLES TURNED
(6.) 12. more of wisdom: What idea of wisdom is developed in the remaining stanzas, and where was it introduced in the preceding poem?
LINES COMPOSED NEAR TINTERN ABBEY
The trend of this great poem will become clearer if you can have in mind, by way of comparison, your experience of some familiar scene which you revisited after a considerable absence. Recall: (1) the main physical features of your scene, (2) what feelings you had for it in absence, (3) how it affected you in younger days when you first became familiar with it, and (4) your maturer attitude upon revisiting it. Such is the plan followed in the poem. But in the fourth part, the poet passes to nature in general (line 88), and to the sister who shared his experiences of nature (line I 14), — returning to the present scene only near the close (line 150).
In substance, the poem is Wordsworth's whole experience of joy in nature condensed upon a particular scene and occasion, and poured out in an intense, ode-like: chant. Mark the sentences in which the word “joy” occurs, and study them comparatively, observing that they form a series of wave-crests in the current of poetic thought. What is the special quality of Wordsworth's joy, as distinguished from other kinds? How is his joy related to his faith and conduct? Compare with the thought of the two preceding poems. (8.) 88-102. For I have learned — — — rolls through all things: Compare “Lines