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Post  eddie Sat Apr 16, 2011 10:31 pm

With Spring-like topicality, the ATU Wordsworth thread returns:

Weatherwatch: Dorothy Wordsworth on daffodils

Tim Radford The Guardian, Saturday 16 April 2011

William Wordsworth Dorothy-Wordsworth-007
Dorothy Wordsworth, writer and sister of the poet William Wordsworth, circa 1820. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

It was a "threatening, misty morning – but mild," on 15 April 1802, when William and Dorothy Wordsworth set off. "The wind seized our breath the Lake was rough," wrote the poet's sister, a little breathlessly, in the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, edited by Marion Moorman (Oxford).

She observes primroses, wood sorrel, anemone, scentless violet and "that starry yellow flower which Mrs C calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road.

"I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. The wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway."

Rain came on. So, two years later, did one of the most famous poems in the English language. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
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Post  eddie Sat Mar 17, 2012 7:15 am

Poem of the week: Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth

The meditative sombreness of this 'Tintern Abbey' precursor reflects the growing authority of Wordsworth's early maturity

William Wordsworth Coniston-Water-in-the-Lak-007
Nature boy … Coniston Water in the Lake District, close to where William Wordsworth went to school in Hawkshead. Photograph: Ben Barden/CTB

This week's poem, "Lines Written in Early Spring", has all the simplicity of diction advocated by the two radical young poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, when they collaborated on Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth's poem is a pastoral, with some distinctly rustic qualities. But the meditative tone we associate with his later or larger-scale works is present too.

It was composed in the year the first edition of Lyrical Ballads was published, 1798, and its sombreness reflects the personal and political disappointments pressing on Wordsworth in his early maturity. In the more substantial and densely argued "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey", which appears in the same collection and was completed a few months after "Lines Written in Early Spring", there's a famous passage that seems to refine the argument of the earlier poem: "For I have learnt / To look on nature not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity".

In "Lines Written in Early Spring", nature and mankind are linked but stand for contrasting modes of being. "Tintern Abbey" works its way through self-doubt to a triumphant resolution. "Lines Written in Early Spring" leaves the situation unresolved. If it's a sketch for "Tintern Abbey", it's one of those sketches made by a great master, minor in scale, less profound than the finished painting but with an allure of its own, part of which is a space left open for interpretation.

The onomatopoeia of the first line is subtle. There's a diversity of vowel sounds and a choice cluster of consonants in the lovely phrase "a thousand blended notes". We're not brought into the midst of "all the birds/ Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire", true, but we hear the birdsong faintly all the same, like the memory of a memory. Otherwise, Wordsworth's scene-setting is spare. It's the mental state provoked by his thoughts that interests him. The reader enters two parallel imaginative worlds, one mimetic and clear, the other indistinct. The poet generalises fearlessly: "pleasant thoughts" invite "sad thoughts", and the whole constitutes a "sweet mood". Perhaps the enjoyed sadness has an erotic quality (is there an echo of "parting is such sweet sorrow"?). The reader, at any rate, is expected to know the kind of mood the poet means.

The sadness will take a more serious turn in line eight. Meanwhile, the originality in the next stanza first appears in the idea of the soul as an active force, implied by the stroke of metaphorical genius in the final verb: "To her fair works did nature link / The human soul that through me ran". The soul is not some static entity: it runs, like blood, rivers, an electrical current. This leads us swiftly to the crux of "what man has made of man". As an aphorism, the phrase has authority. It may not be specific, but it feels undeniable. The raison d'être of Lyrical Ballads was a poetry that used the language of "a man speaking to men". This is a chilly echo of those words. All the negative connotations of "man-made" cling to it, and the reflexive grammar forms an inescapable knot. We have gone wrong; worse, we have wronged ourselves.

The next three stanzas picture nature's various "fair works". The growing insistence of the poem on pleasure is remarkable. In stanza one we had the speaker's "pleasant thoughts", and now the pleasure is nature's – or so the poet believes. "And 'tis my faith that every flower / Enjoys the air it breathes", he says, and later he seems to emerge from a still more conscious battle between reason and instinct: "And I must think, do all I can, / That there was pleasure there". In acknowledging the subjectivity of his interpretation when he senses the pleasure a leaf takes in opening and feeling the spring breeze, he seems to leave a space for doubt, even while asserting his faith.

As Pamela Woof points out, Wordsworth's mind is flexible: like Keats, he possesses "negative capability" and can live with uncertainties and ambiguities. However, for the moral purpose of this poem, it's necessary to set up positive against negative. The poem's core is solid and bright, with the simple flora and fauna whose regeneration brings us (and it?) such pleasure. Their opposite, the destructive human forces, are compacted into that bare, three-beat refrain line, which first appears at the end of stanza two and reappears to end the poem. Almost any of the humble characters featured in the narratives of Lyrical Ballads could have expressed, if less gracefully, a similar thought. It seems to contain the small hoard of wisdom that belongs to people, whether poets or peasants, who have been uprooted from the natural world. Perhaps the key word in the phrase "what man has made of man" is "made". Factories, mines and mills are spreading the sooty sores of manufacture over English fields and groves. But the Romantic movement would not have been born without them.

Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:-
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
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Post  Constance Sat Mar 17, 2012 9:45 am

Driving north to Dover Plains yesterday, taking Ginseng to the groomer, I turned a corner and saw the first daffodils of spring peering out of a rock garden.

And today and yesterday I saw a robin. Always an exciting site to see the year's first robbin return.

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Post  eddie Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:11 am

The poem every English school kid is (or used to be) required to learn by heart:

"Daffodils" (1804)

I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

The poem was used in the classroom to illustrate:

1. Wordsworth's definition of poetry as "Emotions recollected in tranquillity"

2. Poetic licence. It's clear from Will's sister Dorothy's journal that she accompanied him on his walk on that particular day, so he didn't "wander lonely as a cloud" at all
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