Spontaneous Poetics – (Wordsworth – 7)

Benjamin Robert Haydon – plaster cast of life mask, 1815, of William Wordsworth (via the National Portrait Gallery, London)

There’s the famous nostalgic “Ode on Intimations Of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, which I read to my father, several months ago, on his death-bed – and his comment – it was a poem that he’d always loved and wanted me to read aloud to him – it was the last time he heard it (a poem which he’d heard maybe a thousand times in his life, aloud, or read) – but his final comment was, “It’s very beautiful, but it isn’t true”. And I was thinking that Wordsworth, trying to be judicious, trying so hard to be judicious, (to) have a responsible political reaction and a responsible personal reaction, tried to codify, formulate, and bid farewell to anarchic visionary consciousness, accepting heavy responsible maturity, still didn’t make it. I’ll read it (and) see what it sounds like (because it’s actually moving) – [Allen begins and reads Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality…” in its entirety] – “The Child is father of Man/And I could wish my days to be/ Bound each to each by natural piety…”…”To me the meanest flower that grows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears” – Well that’s 1802, published in 1807, same year as he published an “Ode to Duty”. There’s a very self-conscious close-down on his part of what he thinks of as his original inspiration. Yeah?

Student: But he still… That’s an example of him writing his way back to the light, you know.

AG: Well, yeah, because he’s got the light solidified as something that was before birth and that ain’t here no more, and it’s become an idea, so he’s got to write his way back to it, and
actually doesn’t really experience it any more, as he says. He says – the key thing – “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star/Hath had elsewhere its setting/And cometh from afar:/Not in entire forgetfulness/And not in utter nakedness,/But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home” – In other words, it was at the key, crucial, point that my father said, “It’s very beautiful, but it isn’t true”. I thought that was very interesting, puncturing that balloon – actually, the balloon of God, but also the balloon of (a) sort of conceptualization of experience, of actually wanting a specific, visionary, God-like experience so much that it had become an idea, and an unreal idea, or become an unreality but an idea of doing exactly what (Walt Whitman) said (in “Respondez!”) – “Let books replace trees, forests, mountains, rivers” – “Let ideas replace daylight”, so to speak, let ideas of eternity replace the daylight. It’s a funny mixture he’s got, but I think he finally did get hung up on notions, on ideas, of both eternity and liberty, and therefore his disillusion with eternity was sad, whereas Whitman was able to continue exploring straightforward phenomena that he encountered.

Student: And Whitman was writing his way back to the light every time that he..

AG: Well, I think Whitman sort of stood more in it. It was there present with him, I think,
more directly. It had become more of an idea in Wordsworth. The idea of liberty, particularly. Political liberty later to Wordsworth became a kind of Frankenstein, but he could only see it in terms of total middle-path Moderation, slow Law and Order, basically. Funny.
It isn’t an open and shut case. It’s just simply that there are poets exploring… they’re intelligent people reacting.. just as we are intelligent people reacting.. and you have all these alternatives.. and you can’t really put down Wordsworth, although you can see certain tendencies there that are pathological (as there are in Whitman too).

Student: It seems to me that, when reading that (Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”) that the seven stages of man, Shakespeare’s idea.. was repeated – and also that, I mean, like, what you’re saying about (the) poetic idea being crystallized and written about in the present, like “Gather ye rosebuds while you may” in essence, although you transferred into a more..transferred into a more, you know, eternal story.. but I mean, I mean, that whole idea in English Literature (which is probably prevalent in other literatures, as well, I mean, from the Elizabethans) of….you know, you can see how that’s present in that poem, and exactly what you say of writing about an idea, you know, that is not necessarily a real one. That, Whitman doesn’t have (or, at least, not in the stuff you’ve been reading us)

AG: (Or) Whitman’s form of it (They both have the idea of an eternal, some sort of eternal empathy). Whitman’s form was maybe more workable, because it consisted in continuous change, and responsiveness to change. Wordsworth seems to have…

Student: Preconceptions.

AG: (He’s) more conceptual. Wordsworth has very good examples of direct experience. In the “Poems of (the) Imagination”, oddly enough, you get both – You get some direct experience in Whitman, say, in that little glimpse where he’s holding hands with his friend, and you also get a number of very great moments in Wordsworth of direct perception, also (usually around 1801, 1802, 1803 – he died in 1850, remember)

[Audio for the above is available here, starting at approximately thirty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in, and concluding at approximately fifty-five minutes in]

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