Nineteenth-Century Poetry – 12 (Wordsworth).

William Wordsworth (1770-1850

Wordsworth:  Here’s his take on that particular point.

A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal

“A slumber did my spirit seal;/I had no human fears.//She seemed a thing that could not feel/The touch of earthly years./No motion has she now, no force;/She neither hears nor sees;/ Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,/With rocks, and stones, and trees…” – I misread – “No motion has she now, no force;/She neither hears nor sees;/Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,/With rocks, and stones, and trees.”

So that’s what we were just talking about.  But the way he’s got it, it isn’t … he’s got … well, the way he says “No motion has she now, no force;”  –  by the time he’s finished with his statement, she isn’t there anymore.  It isn’t us, you know.

That’s a very … that’s a really … that has got that kind of Olympian placid objective impersonal vastness in it –  that mind in Wordsworth, that little moment in Wordsworth.

This is from a series of poems called “The Lucy Poems,” which are early work by him – 1799-1800.

Peter Orlovsky:  Who vanishes there?

AG:  Well, he had a girlfriend named Lucy, or some woman or some friend, a girlfriend, who he was in love with, who died whom he called Lucy, and there’s a series of little lyrics about life and death.

Student:  Is that sort of like getting offered a … when he talks about … when he says…

AG:  Well, just what he was talking about when I was talking about the idea of … from dust..  from the raincloud to the …flower, from the flower to the cow, from the cow to the milk, …
milk to the baby, baby to the old man, old man to.. whatever.

But this is considered really great in Wordsworth – that one spot where he gets to a point of almost impersonality, or, where the transition is very subtle, from his grief at her being gone:  “A slumber did my spirit seal;/I had no human fears.”  It’s his final reaction.  Or maybe some immediate take of realization of the ultimate ultimacy of her death, that she really was gone, gone forever, you know, like shot out from the human form, and now whatever energy there was passed on to rocks and stones and trees.  And by the time you get to rocks and stones and trees it ain’t us anymore.

Student:  Right.

Student (2):  (I’ve been thinking how we are now, you know… It’s so clear now that we’re just really impersonations, in that

AG:  I see that all the time.  That’s pretty … people get that.  I think we were in a previous class talking about epiphanies in crowds, in crowded streets – I think that’s the take.
(T.S.) Eliot has a line (that he takes from Dante)“Unreal City”…”A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many./ Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,/ And each man fixed his eyes before his feet./ Flowed up over the Thames over the bridge..Williams Street,  I think.. (“Flowed up the hill and down King William Street”) – “To where Saint Mary Woolnoth chimed the hour/With a dead stroke on the final sound of the nine” – from “The Waste Land.”  – That little vision which he got from Dante, of Dante in Hell viewing a crowd flowing over a bridge of fire, I think.  Sighing.  But it’s a picture of masses of living people as phantom appearances.

from Allen Ginsberg’s annotated copy of  The Waste Land in the Houghton Library, Harvard University

It’s one of the nicest themes in poetry. or one of the perennial themes.  Because it’s a real glimpse that people have every once in a while of everybody being already dead.  Kerouac gets that constantly – seeing people as transitory phantoms suffering – like in a dream, because they don’t realize that it’s just a transitory phantom, thinking that it’s real and permanent and their pain is real.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-eight-and-a-half minutes and concluding at approximately sixty-two-and-a-half minutes in


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.