Spontaneous Poetics – (Wordsworth – 8)

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Why don’t I just go through a few little fragments of not-very-well-known poems by Wordsworth, from “Poems of the Imagination”. (I’ll) just pick out a few lines here and there which give a little haiku-like, or direct, perception, examples of direct perceptual.. examples of the activity of his mind. Like (since) we’re talking about the inertness of his mind, we have to balance it.

He has, (for example), a little poem called “There Was A Boy” – [Allen reads “There Was A Boy” in its entirety] – “There was a Boy, ye knew him well, ye cliffs/And islands of Winander!..”…”This boy was taken from his mates, and died/In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old”…”A long half-hour together I have stood/Mute-looking at the grave in which he lies” – He’s built a very jocund, lively picture and then, all of a sudden, there’s a funny real switch into the experience of looking at the grave for an hour at a time. So there’s a solidity there about Wordsworth’s experience, particularly there, of death, that’s odd, more like the empty strangeness of the situation than in most of Whitman (actually). So, in this case, maybe, Wordsworth is more direct.

Student: What’s the name of that poem?

AG: “There Was A Boy”. It’s the beginning of the “Poems of the Imagination”. One thing Wordsworth does have occasionally, to perfection, is observed imagistic detail, or samatha, or vipassana, rather – the insight, detail insight. I remember talking about Imagism with Louis Zukofsky. He pointed out that Wordsworth had one particular phrase that Zukofsky always took as a standard of pure imagery, which was the star-shaped shadow of a blossom cast on stone – Star-shaped shadow of a blossom cast on stone. I think I’ve mentioned this before when we were talking about haiku. Because what it does is.. it means that Wordsworth is in a field where there’s a bright sun, bright enough to cast a shadow, of a little flower on the stone. So you’ve conjured up space, you’ve conjured up sky, you’ve conjured up bright-enough sun, you’ve conjured up consciousness walking through the field, looking with sufficient microscopic observation to actually see the shadow of the flower underneath the flower on the stone, so, you’ve actually conjured up, with that one little detail, a whole panorama.

There’s an interesting description of the night sky here called “A Night Piece”. I won’t read the whole poem – [Allen reads from Wordsworth’s “A Night Piece”] – “..the pensive traveller, while he treads/His lonesome path, with unobserving eye/Bent earthwards..”…”At length the Vision closes, and the mind,/Not undisturbed by the delight it feels,/Which slowly settles into peaceful calm,/Is left to muse upon the solemn scene.” – So, it’s just the parting of the clouds, a really fast description of the stars, and then a strange description of that evanescent sensation we have when looking up and looking away – “How fast they wheel away,/ Yet vanish not!” – That’s an odd, almost optical, sensation, or “eyeball kick” that people (have had).. Do you know what I’m talking about? A glimpse up and sudden sense of the entire heavens, constellations “wheel(ing) away” yet “vanish(ing) not”? Of the stars moving yet not moving?” – [tape ends, starts up again]

Allen continues his commentary (noting, in “Airey Force Valley“), trees, wind moving the trees – “..in seeming silence makes/ A soft eye-music of slow waving boughs” – “In seeming silence makes a soft eye-music” – Eye-hyphen-music – ” a soft eye-music of slow waving boughs” – “slow waving”..

What else is interesting? He went out on “Nutting” – he was messing up little copses, you know, dragging branches around, screwing up the woods – AG reads – “Then up I rose,/ And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash/ And merciless ravage and the shady nook/ Of hazels and the green and mossy bower,/ Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up/ Their quiet being…… – That’s sort of an odd moment – noticing the violence he’d brought to the “Shady nook of hazels and the green and mossy bower” – good description of that… Let’s see what we have here. (From “Power of Music” – Some odd phrasing that’s almost Shakespearean – “That tall man, a giant in bulk and in height, not an inch of his body is free from delight”” – it’s so Shakespearean..or Blake – “That tall man, a giant in bulk and in height, not an inch of his body is free from delight” – Or (from “Lyre, Though Such Power Do In Thy Magic Live”) – “(translucent summer’s happiest chance!)/ In the slope-channel floored with pebbles bright” – That’s kind of interesting. We’ve all seen that little river-bed or stream-bed, “floored with pebbles bright”, but rarely (so) well described, actually. If you were doing a haiku...

[Audio for the above is available here, beginning at approximately fifty-five minutes in, through to the end of the tape]

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