William Wordsworth


The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

– – –

Spring is a tricky thing here in Minnesota – on days like today the heart and mind are confused. The air is warm and filled with water; the breeze is cool and not stinging; the sun is bright, but not hot; you can hear the sounds of ice melting and icicles breaking and falling. But, on the ground rests a solid foot and a half of snow. Your body doesn’t know what to think.

Wordsworth is the poet of springtime; one would believe fall and winter never found him in the Lake District. Spring is Nature (Wordsworth & Co. loved the capital-N Nature) at its most fertile, at its smelliest and soggiest. Nature is more Natural in Spring. So when I catch whiffs of it in the air, I like to read a little Wordsworth in hopes of nudging the planet forward.

The language of Wordsworth’s poetry is Romanticism at its best – and it should be, he invented it. Bill Wordsworth is prone to exclamations and interruptions – no one loved a “!” like he did. He paints with a great deal of color; his poems are filled with yellows and greens and browns. He is prone to hyperbole – his poems generally start off small and dull but end up in a world that bears only little resemblance to ours. And he loves using big chewy words like “beauteous.” What a great word!

For me, Wordsworth never seems old or dusty, like so many poets do – there’s a freshness to his lyrical style that I just love to soak up. It feels so invigorating, comforting. This is sweatshirt poesy. This poem is perhaps the most self-explanatory of any that I’ve presented so far. It’s message is simple: get off your ass and go outside. He says it a little better, I’ll admit, but that’s about the long and short of it. Looked at a little more closely, this poem advocates a back-to-nature style of living; Wordsworth is saying that a life close to Nature is the life most worth living, and that everything we need to live is already inside us. Science and Art are unnecessary excesses (yet Wordsworth addresses the topic through poetry, an artform). “Our meddling intellect / mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things.” There’s a bit of a pagan bent to the whole thing: linnets and throstles are full of wisdom, and not mean like preachers. “Sweet is the lore which Nature brings.” Wordsworth insisted a number of times that he was not a “Nature worshipper,” but it’s clear here that he advocates some sort fo communion with the world; the more like animals we act, the more like humans we become.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Jack Kerouac

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