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Poetry like this is not to be produced voluminously in a single lifetime, and although he clung stubbornly to his old doctrine, in his later work he fell back more and more on the poetic and rhetorical devices that had charmed his boyhood.
The vastly more important education of his feelings, passions, and receptive powers was (he lived to teach it) the work of Nature. Behind and around the activities of his boyhood there was spread the solemn theatre of Nature—“a temperate show of objects that endure.” The work of Wordsworth in poetry might be compared, not unjustly, with the kindred art of Corot and Millet and the modern school of French painters. He brought the background of human life into true and vital relation with the smaller interests and incidents that monopolise most men's attention. He emancipated the eye from the utilitarian preferences that have been imposed on it by the necessities of the struggle for life, whereby things in motion, things near, things dangerous, things whose behaviour cannot be certainly predicted, are allowed to annul all consideration of the great visions and presences which stand around, and watch, and judge. He fixed his attention on the wide spaces of earth and sky, and against that calm unresting expanse he learned to see men as trees walking And although his intercourse with beauty old as creation was at first almost uncon
scious, he attributed a chief influence over the growth of his genius to the work of these ministering powers. There are many passages of poetic rapture in the Prelude where the debt is acknowledged, and some prosaic passages, more useful for the present purpose, where the doctrine is stated :
Most obviously simplicity and power. It is not that the works of God among cities and crowded communities are less worthy of study; but they are more difficult to read. They too will come to be seen in the same clear and large light by him whose eye has been trained in the quiet places of Nature
As parts, but with a feeling of the whole. To be surrounded in childhood by the larger aspects of Nature, to have them visible, a daily sight, is in itself, according to Wordsworth, the greater part of education. The eagernesses and impulses of his own boyish life he judged
Albeit lifeless then, and doomed to sleep
The very excitement which, in early life, absorbs the powers of the mind is found, long after it has passed away, to have acted as a mnemonic ; just as any acute physical pain suffered amidst beautiful scenery often serves to stamp the image of that beauty on the memory with singular vividness and persistence, when the pain itself has become an indifferent and purely intellectual reminiscence. The flogging of boys, as a means of impressing on them the rules of the Latin grammar, has been advocated on the same grounds by psychologists of time past. They were right in attributing an impressive virtue to a flogging, though there seems to be no guarantee that the rules of the Latin grammar are what will be impressed. Wordsworth, who, in his vocation as a poet, made it his business to investigate “the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement,” never ceased to be grateful to his teacher Nature for the discipline that set his own hungers and fears and wild impulses to flog him in his childhood, so that the forms and images of the high, enduring things that stood around him were branded into his mind and heart for ever.
Both in the Prelude and in the Lines written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey he is careful to
distinguish the several stages of his education by Nature, and the several phases of his love for her. During the first of these
Their trivial pleasures. These activities and pleasures by degrees lost their charm, yet his love of Nature, for her own sake, at the same time grew deep and intense :
affections were removed,
This second phase of his love for Nature baffled his own powers of description :
I cannot paint
Unborrowed from the eye. And it lasted, by his own account, until he was more than two and twenty-that is to say, until the fever of political thought and passion drove it out.
It was a
When the crisis was past, the love of Nature returned to him, but shorn of its old despotism; it was subdued to a dominant scheme of thought, and became fellow-inmate in his mind with the love of man, and with a deep sense of the pathos of things.
The roots of Wordsworth's poetic mysticism drew their life from this virgin passion. He falters and apologises whenever he attempts to describe it. Yet some passages in the Prelude give help to those who can piece them out with the memory of their own experiences. despotism of the senses that held sway over him, a life of the senses so strong and full and exclusive that all other emotions save the joy of the eye in seeing, and of the ear in hearing, seemed dull and irrelevant. The mere joy of seeing contained all things in itself, without the tedious glosses supplied by comparison and thought. Like the religious enthusiasts of the East, Wordsworth sought in fixed and passionate contemplation for admission to the heart of things. And this method of intuition, which became habitual to him in the prime of life, took its origin in the self-sufficient vitality of his youthful senses and perceptions :
I roamed from hill to hill, from rock to rock,