“For never has such soothing voice / Been to your shadowy world convey’d…” — Matthew Arnold on William Wordsworth

“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity; the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins.” — William Wordsworth’s famous preface to Lyrical Ballads

Wordsworth was born on this day in 1770.

People argue about Wordsworth’s above statement to this day. (Lee Strasberg’s emotional memory exercise was based on a similar concept. Powerful feelings need time to percolate in order for you to enter into them in order to “use” them artistically.) I love Saul Bellow’s comment on this “tranquillity” concept listed below.

More – a lot more – beneath the jump.

Wordsworth wanted to immerse himself in the experience, Romantic style, but his detachment is evident in even his most emotional works. He was not Shelley, who was on the verge of spontaneous combustion at all times. He was not Coleridge, immersed in fantasies and dream-spaces, aided by drugs. Wordsworth wrote nature poems, nostalgic poems, he tried to give the reader the sense that he/she was there. He distrusted modernity. He feared mankind’s separation from nature. His most well-known poem is “The World Is Too Much With Us”, and it comes across as a philosophical mission statement. It’s also a little bit “get off my lawn, you crazy kids.”

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

He was born in 1770, he died in 1850: Wordsworth saw so much change, he witnessed the disappearance of an old world to a degree we cannot really comprehend. The Industrial Revolution caused him great anxiety, and in that he was not alone, nor was he wrong to worry about it. The collective generational anxiety about “progress” helped create the Romantic movement. Humanity was on the cusp of a paradigm shift. This was not “good” or “bad”. It just WAS, and artists struggled to deal with it.

As Bertrand Russell’s quote below suggests, Wordsworth went through a transformation, evident when you compare the poems he wrote as a young man to those he wrote as an old man. He was radicalized by the French Revolution. It was a galvanizing force for his generation. He felt the betrayal of the Revolution keenly. Like many liberals, he calcified into a cranky old man, looking backwards into the more glorious past. Wordsworth was a big deal YOUNG, and he abandoned the course he set and the expectations put on him and went another way, leaving many followers disillusioned. His friend William Hazlitt (an incredible writer himself) was very distressed by this turn of events.

Wordsworth and Coleridge were good friends; together, they were responsible for launching the Romantic Age. In 1798, they published a book of ballads: but it was more than “just” a book of ballads, it was an opening salvo, a gauntlet thrown. The two men traveled together. Wordsworth’s relationship with his sister Dorothy, a poet herself, has inspired libraries of commentary. She kept a detailed diary, indispensable to historians. Other people at the time remarked on the strangeness of their bond. When Wordsworth married, Dorothy did not like it. The famous and mysterious “Lucy” poems were included in the Ballad book. Camille Paglia observed, in her essay on “Love Poetry”: “Rousseau’s delicate sentiment and pagan nature-worship created the fervent moods of ‘sensibility’ and woman-revering Romanticism…Wordsworth’s Lucy poems imagine woman reabsorbed into roiling nature.”

Here is one of the “Lucy” poems. The last line is a surprise.

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mosy tone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

And finally: Wordsworth’s magnum opus, The Prelude, published only after his death and is basically autobiographical, moving from childhood to adulthood, his influences and development – artistically, spiritually, how he responded to nature – the most important wellspring of his art – and how his philosophy developed. He wrote three full versions of it, decades apart. It swings from observational to personal, making the connection between the two. I haven’t read the whole thing, it’s a LOT, but it’s a major work.

from “The Prelude”

I began
My story early, feeling as I fear,
The weakness of a human love, for days
Disown’d by memory, ere the birth of spring
Planting my snowdrops among winter snows.
Nor will it seem to thee, my Friend! so prompt
In sympathy, that I have lengthen’d out,
With fond and feeble tongue, a tedious tale.
Meanwhile, my hope has been that I might fetch
Invigorating thoughts from former years,
Might fix the wavering balance of my mind,
And haply meet reproaches, too, whose power
May spur me on, in manhood now mature,
To honorable toil. Yet should these hopes
Be vain, and thus should neither I be taught
To understand myself, nor thou to know
With better knowledge how the heart was fram’d
Of him thou lovest, need I dread from thee
Harsh judgments, if I am so loth to quit
Those recollected hours that have the charm
Of visionary things, and lovely forms
And sweet sensations that throw back our life
And almost make our Infancy itself
A visible scene, on which the sun is shining?


Michael Schmidt, Lives of the Poets:

He shakes the age awake with a freshness of language and vision, then changes tack; it is as though Moses led his tribe out of the eighteenth century and then turned around and tried to go back again. Tinkering with his early poems to make them more correct, writing verses of reaction and recantation, he does what Eliot does in the later essays and in Four Quartets. He abandons a new faith to embrace the old.

Bertrand Russell:

In his youth Wordsworth sympathized with the French Revolution, went to France, wrote good poetry, and had a natural daughter. At this period, he was called a ‘bad’ man. Then he became ‘good’, abandoned his daughter, adopted correct principles, and wrote bad poetry.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti on William Wordsworth:

He’s good, you know, but unbearable.


The wonderfully cranky William Hazlitt wrote:

Coleridge has told me that he himself liked to compose in walking over uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood; whereas Wordsworth always wrote (if he could) walking up and down a straight gravel-walk, or in some spot where the continuity of his voice met with no collateral interruption.

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae:

Coleridge is a wind-harp vibrating to someone else’s music. Wordsworth speaks for nature and crushes Coleridge by the enormity of his achievement…Wordsworth and Coleridge were locked in a sadomasochistic marriage of minds, where Wordsworth kept the hierarchical advantage and Coleridge surrendered himself to ritualistic self-abasement…Coleridge did his best work under Wordsworth’s influence. After they separated, Coleridge languished poetically and never matched his early achievements. The nature of their collaboration was this: Wordsworth was a father/lover who absorbed Coleridge’s self-punishing superego and allowed his turbulent dream life to spill directly into his poetry. The supreme irony, as we shall see, is that everything that is great in Coleridge is a negation of Wordsworth. This is the son’s ultimate revenge upon the father. Wordsworth’s leading moral idea of nature’s benevolence is annihilated in Coleridge.

Samuel Taylor Colderidge on Wordsworth:

Of all men I ever knew, Wordsworth has the least femininity in his mind. He is all man. He is man of whom it might have been said, ‘It is good for him to be alone.’

Michael Schmidt:

In the “Lucy” poems he struck briefly a tone and manner that he never repeated and that none of his imitators or disciples, not even Arnold, approached, try as they might. It is not possible to relate the poems to specific incidents or a specific person, despite the theories that have been advanced. The loved and lamented one may be emblematic. The physicality of the devotion and the sense of loss, the mysterious courtship and hinted characterization, and most poignantly the vision of death, bring these poems closer to ballads than the literary ballads Wordsworth had composed before.

from “Companionship”
By Elaine Feinstein

It was Wordsworth’s clear line I wanted,
nothing to do with mountains, only the quiet
sunshine and silence, but I hated belong alone.
The lonely cannot love solitude.

Saul Bellow:

I wonder whether there will ever be enough tranquillity under modern circumstances to allow our contemporary Wordsworth to recollect anything.

Lol See, that’s what I was talking about.

T.S. Eliot, from “Andrew Marvell”, 1921:

The wit of the Caroline poets is not the wit of Shakespeare, and it is not the wit of Dryden, the great master of contempt, or of Pope, the great master of hatred, or of Swift, the great master of disgust. What is meant is some quality which is common to the songs in Comus and Cowley’s “Anacreontics” and Marvell’s “Horatian Ode.” It is more than a technical accomplish meet, or the vocabulary and syntax of an epoch; it is, what we have designated tentatively as wit, a tough reasonableness beneath the slight Iyric grace. You cannot find it in Shelley or Keats or Wordsworth.

William Hazlitt:

His poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial, between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world … The political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments … His Muse is a levelling one.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

Poetry meant a great deal to Wordsworth, but nature meant more.

Camille Paglia, Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best Poems, writes of “The World Is Too Much With Us”:

Burdened with negatives, the poem sinks into melancholy but regenerates itself in a series of ecstatic perceptions … But as in “Tintern Abbey”, Wordsworth finds it difficult to sustain his faith in nature: “For this, for everything, we are out of tune; / It moves us not”. We have become too self-conscious, too sophisticated to be touched or inspired by nature alone. We no longer hear the soothing lullaby of natural energy. The phrase “out of tune” contains a buried image, a favorite metaphor of the Romantic poets: the human mind or body as an Aeolian lyre (wind harp) played upon and vibrated by nature. Wordsworth is implying that our lives in industrial society are so unbalanced that the music wrung from us is harsh, jangling, and dissonant.

from “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”
by Lord Byron
Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
That mild apostate from poetic rule,
The simple WORDSWORTH, framer of a lay
As soft as evening in his favourite May,
Who warns his friend “to shake off toil and trouble,
And quit his books for fear of growing double;”
Who, both by precept and example, shows
That prose is verse, and verse is merely prose,
Convincing all by demonstration plain,
Poetic souls delight in prose insane;
And Christmas stories tortur’d into rhyme,
Contain the essence of the true sublime:
Thus when he tells the tale of Betty Foy,
The idiot mother of “an idiot Boy”;
A moon-struck silly lad who lost his way,
And, like his bard, confounded night with day,
So close on each pathetic part he dwells,
And each adventure so sublimely tells.
That all who view the “idiot in his glory,”
Conceive the Bard the hero of the story.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

Wordsworth, born thirteen years after Blake, was also a titanic individuality, a consciousness fierce enough not to accept victimization by history, and circumstances, or even by Milton, whom he revered quite as much as Cowper and Blake did. But Wordsworth chose another way, not a personal mythology, but a demythologizing so radical that it enabled him to create modern poetry, if any single figure can be said to have done so.

William Hazlitt, who knew Wordsworth, wrote of going to visit and finding WW not at home:

Wordsworth himself was from home, but his sister kept house, and set before us a frugal repast; and we had free access to her brother’s poems, the Lyrical Ballads, which were still in manuscript, or in the form of Syballine Leaves. I dipped into a few of these with great satisfaction, and with the faith of a novice. I slept that night in an old room with blue hangings, and covered with the round-faced family-portraits of the age of George I, and II, and from the wooded declivity of the adjoining park that overlooked my window, at the dawn of day, could ‘–hear the loud stag speak.’

Robert Graves:

He even deigned to apostrophise a spade. He had been lending a hand in a neighbour’s potato patch; but though he called a spade a spade he could not bring himself to call a labourer a labourer, or a potato patch a potato patch. The title is ‘To the Spade of a Friend (an agriculturist). Composed while we were labouring together in his Pleasure Ground.’

William Hazlitt’s first impressions:

He was gaunt and Don Quixote-like. He was quaintly dressed (according to the costume of that unconstrained period) in a brown fustian jacket and striped pantaloons. There was something of a roll, a lounge in his gait, not unlike his own Peter Bell. There was a severe, worn presence of thought about his temples, a fire in the eye (as if he saw something in objects more than the outward appearance), an intense high narrow forehead, a Roman nose, cheeks furrowed by strong purpose and feeling, and a convulsive inclination to laughter about the mouth, a good deal at variance with the solemn, stately expression of the rest of his face… He sat down and talked very naturally and freely, with a mixture of clear gushing accents in his voice, a deep guttural intonation, and a strong tincture of the northern burr, like the crust on wine.

Camille Paglia, Break Blow Burn:

For Wordsworth, the divine suffuses nature and manifests itself in numinous moments of intensified consciousness.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, letter to Robert Bridges, August 14, 1879, on writing the poem “Brothers”

I hope to enclose a little scene that touched me at Mount St. Mary’s. It is something in Wordsworth’s manner; which is, I know, inimitable and unapproachable, still I shall be glad to know if you think it a success, for pathos has a point as precise as jest has and its happiness “lies ever in the ear of him that hears, not in the mouth of him that makes.”

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

A little way into Wordsworth, the reader begins to encounter enormous and legitimate obscurities and dark passages, whereas Blake gives almost too continuous and directing a light. For Blake is not only more systematic than Wordsworth, he is also far closer than Wordsworth to English Renaissance poetry, and necessarily far less modern, however you want to interpret “modern.”

Camille Paglia, Break Blow Burn, on “The World is Too Much With Us”:

Paganism is “a creed outworn” because it has been superseded, but for Wordsworth it “suckled” or fed its followers because it was predicated on the harmony of man and nature, identified by the Romantics with the fertile female principle. Wordsworth means to shock: he is saying, in effect, “I wish Jesus had never been born.”

William Hazlitt, wrote about the man’s transformation:

Liberty (the philosopher’s and the poet’s bride) had fallen a victim, meanwhile, to the murderous practices of the hag, Legitimacy. Proscribed by court-hierlings, too romantic for the herd of vulgar politicians, our enthusiast stood at bay, and at last turned on the pivot of a subtle casuistry to the unclean side: but his discursive reason would not let him trammel himself into a poet-laureate or stamp-distributor, and he stopped, ere he had quite passed that well-known ‘bourne from which no traveller returns’ – and so has sunk into torpid, uneasy repose, tantalised by useless resources, haunted by vain imaginings, his lips idly moving, but his heart for ever still, or, as the shattered chords vibrate of themselves, making melancholy music to the ear of memory!

Camille Paglia, on Wuthering Heights:

Bronte’s sharpest correction is of Wordsworth. Wuthering Heights, written at the zenith of Victorian nature-worship, envisions a cosmos of Coleridgean cruelty. Bronte barbarizes Wordsworth, transforming his serene, majestic testimony of moral cooperation between man and nature into a harsh prose ode heaving with subterranean disturbances. The novel is a sadomasochistic swirl of primitive noise and motion, the rending and tearing of Dionysian sparagmos, which is only made tolerable or even intelligible by the brilliant distancing device of the nesting narrative frames.

Michael Schmidt:

So Wordsworth’s last four decades were an aftermath.

Lucy Maud Montgomery turned to Wordsworth during the horrors of World War I. She wrote in her journal:

The classic calm and repose and beauty of his lines seemed to belong to another planet and to have as little to do with this world-welter as an evening star.

Camille Paglia, Break Blow Burn, on “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”:

With its journalistic dateline, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” is the most vivid of Wordsworth’s you-are-there poems, which absorb us into his consciousness and make us see what he does. Here the drama resides in the poet’s surprise at his own response to the city spread out before him. Like Rousseau, Wordsworth is normally repelled by the noise and furor of urban life: nature alone restores his equilibrium and sense of self. Hence this sonnet is really written to himself; it’s a process of sorting through the tumult of his thoughts.

William Hazlitt:

Mr. Wordsworth’s mind is obtuse, except as it is the organ and the receptable of accumulated feelings; it is not analytic, but synthetic; it is reflecting, rather than theoretical. The personages, for the most part, were low, the fare rustic, the plan raised expectations which were not fulfilled, and the effect was like being ushered into a stately hall and invited to sit down to a splendid banquet in the company of clowns, and with nothing but successive courses of apple-dumplings served up. It was not even toujours perdrix!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Wordsworth’s The Recluse:

I think Wordsworth possessed more of the genius of a great philosophic poet than any man I ever knew, or, as I believe, has existed in England since Milton; but it seems to me that he ought never to have abandoned the contemplative position which is peculiarly – perhaps I might say exclusively – fitted for him. His proper title is Spectator ab extra.

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae:

What Byron would praise, Wordsworth condemns.

On a Portrait of Wordsworth
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
WORDSWORTH upon Helvellyn ! Let the cloud
Ebb audibly along the mountain-wind,
Then break against the rock, and show behind
The lowland valleys floating up to crowd
The sense with beauty. He with forehead bowed
And humble-lidded eyes, as one inclined
Before the sovran thought of his own mind,
And very meek with inspirations proud,
Takes here his rightful place as poet-priest
By the high altar, singing prayer and prayer

To the higher Heavens. A noble vision free
Our Haydon’s hand has flung out from the mist:
No portrait this, with Academic air !
This is the poet and his poetry.

Matthew Arnold:

Wordsworth owed much to Burns, relying for effect solely on the weight and force of that which with entire fidelity he utters. Burns could show him.

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae:

The most masculine passages in Wordsworth are the most Miltonic. But these are his greatest, for example, the ascent of Mount Snowden. Wordsworth’s sister-spirit helped liberate him from Milton’s style, with its ponderous, declamatory Latinism and syntactic inversions, which do appear in The Prelude.

Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland 1803, by Dorothy Wordsworth
William and I walked out after dinner; Coleridge was not well, and slept upon the carriage cushions. We made our way to the cottages among the little hills and knots of wood, and then saw what a delightful country this part of Scotland might be made by planting forest trees. The ground all over heaves and swells like a sea; but for miles there are neither trees nor hedgerows, only ‘mound’ fences and tracts; or slips of corn, potatoes, clover – with hay between, and barren land; but near the cottages many hills and hillocks covered with wood. We passed some fine trees, and paused under the shade of one close by an old mansion that seemed from its neglected state to be inhabited by farmers. But I must say that many of the ‘gentlemen’s’ houses which we have passed in Scotland have an air of neglect, and even of desolation…We talked of Burns, and of the prospect he must have had, perhaps from his own door, of Skiddaw and his companions, indulging ourselves in the fancy that we might have been personally known to each other, and he have looked upon those objects with more pleasure for our sakes. We talked of Coleridge’s children and family, then at the foot of Skiddaw, and our own new-born John a few miles behind it; while the grave of Burns’s son, which we had just seen by the side of his father, and some stories heard at Dumfries respecting the dangers his surviving children were exposed to, filled us with melancholy concern, which had a kind of connexion with ourselves.

At the Grave of Burns
By William Wordsworth (1770–1850)
July 21, 1803, seven years after his death.

I SHIVER, Spirit fierce and bold,
At thought of what I now behold:
As vapors breathed from dungeons cold,
Strike pleasure dead,
So sadness comes from out the mould
Where Burns is laid.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, letter to R.W. Dixon, December, 1881:

The Lake poets and all that school represent, as it seems to me, the mean or standard of English style and diction, which culminated in Milton but was never very continuous or vigorously transmitted, and in fact none of these men unless perhaps Landor were great masters of style, though their diction is generally pure, lucid, and unarchaic. They were faithful but not rich observers of nature. Their keepings are their weak point, a sort of colourless classical keepings: when Wordsworth wants to describe a city or a cloudscape which reminds him of a city it is some ordinary rhetorical stage-effect of domes, palaces, and temples…Now since this time Tennyson and his school seem to me to have struck a mean or compromise between Keats and the medievalists on the one hand and Wordsworth and the Lake School on the other (Tennyson has some jarring notes of Byron in Lady Clare Vere de Vere, Locksley Hall and elsewhere).

Michael Schmidt:

Hazlitt remembers how Wordsworth and Coleridge were passionate for liberty; but after the French Revolution “failed,” love of liberty was displaced by a hunger for legitimacy and the security that goes with it. Time alters many poets in this way.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge comparing Wordsworth and Goethe:

Peculiarity of utter non-sympathy with the subjects of their poetry. They are always, both of them … feeling for, never with, their characters.

Robert Lowell, letter to Elizabeth Bishop, May 20, 1948

I’ve been reading Middlemarch–she too, very mature, powerful, wise, if one forgets her stretches of blank Victorian prose. Not easy-going like Chaucer and Dryden–more like Milton and Wordsworth, a kind of sustained tense Protestant adultness–

Michael Schmidt:

For Wordsworth “voice” is the language people really use, something they share, not – as it has become – something specific to an individual, identifiable from the “voice-print” of distinctive or eccentric usage. He would have had little truck with Hopkins, none at all with Sylvia Plath.

from “Letter to Lord Byron”
By W.H. Auden

There’s every mode of singing robe in stock,
From Shakespeare’s gorgeous fur coat, Spenser’s muff
Or Dryden’s lounge suit to my cotton frock,
And Wordsworth’s Harris tweed with leathern cuff.
Firbank, I think, wore just a just-enough;
I fancy Whitman in a reach-me-down,
But you, like Sherlock, in a dressing-gown.

I’m also glad to find I’ve your authority
For finding Wordsworth a most bleak old bore,
Though I’m afraid we’re in a sad minority
For every year his followers get more,
Their number must lave doubled since the war.
They come in train-loads to the Lakes, and swarms
Of pupil-teachers study him in Storm’s.

‘I hate a pupil-teacher,’ Milton said,
Who also hated bureaucratic fools;
Milton may thank his stars that he is dead,
Although he’s learnt by heart in public schools,
Along with Wordsworth and the list of rules;
For many a don while looking down his nose
Calls Pope and Dryden classics of our prose.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “Fragments of Richard” (1864):

‘Sylvester, come, Sylvester; you may trust
Your footing now to the much-dreaded dust,
Crisp’d up and starchy from a short half-hour
Of standing to the blossom-hitting shower
That still makes counter-roundels in the pond.
A rainbow also shapes itself beyond
The shining slates and houses. Come and see,
You may quote Wordsworth, if you like, to me.’

Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “Triolets”:

‘The child is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’
No; what the poet did write ran,
‘The man is father to the child.’
‘The child is father to the man!’
How can he be? The words are wild.

Michael Schmidt:

Wordsworth was one of the few English poets of his time to struggle out from under the burden of Milton and write back into English. Milton leaves his mark less on the diction and more on the syntax and cadence of his verse and the wonderful way he handles line endings.

Robert Lowell:

“[Delmore] Schwartz was a revelation. He felt the poet who had experience was very much better than the poet with polish. Wordsworth would interest him much more than Keats – he wanted openness to direct experience. He said that if you got people talking in a poem you could do anything.”

Walter Savage Landor on Wordsworth:

“Dank, limber verses, stuft with lakeside sedges,
And propt with rotten stakes from broken hedges.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Wordsworth’s early poems:

A union of deep feeling with profound thought, the fine balance of truth in observing, with the imaginative faculty in modifying, the objects observed; and above all the original gift of spreading the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the depth and height of the ideal world around forms, incidents, and situations, of which, for the common view, custom had bedimmed all the lustre, had dried up the sparkle and the dew drops.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “Fragments of Richard” (1864):
A spiritual grace,
Which Wordsworth would have dwelt on, about the place
Led Richard with a sweet undoing pain
To trace some traceless loss of thought again.

Matthew Arnold:

The English poetry of the first quarter of this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not know enough. This makes Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth even, profound as he is, yet so wanting in completeness and variety.

From “Memorial Verses April 1850”
By Matthew Arnold
And Wordsworth!—Ah, pale ghosts, rejoice!
For never has such soothing voice
Been to your shadowy world convey’d,
Since erst, at morn, some wandering shade
Heard the clear song of Orpheus come
Through Hades, and the mournful gloom.
Wordsworth has gone from us—and ye,
Ah, may ye feel his voice as we!
He too upon a wintry clime
Had fallen—on this iron time
Of doubts, disputes, distractions, fears.
He found us when the age had bound
Our souls in its benumbing round;
He spoke, and loosed our heart in tears.
He laid us as we lay at birth
On the cool flowery lap of earth,
Smiles broke from us and we had ease;

The hills were round us, and the breeze
Went o’er the sun-lit fields again;
Our foreheads felt the wind and rain.
Our youth return’d; for there was shed
On spirits that had long been dead,
Spirits dried up and closely furl’d,
The freshness of the early world.

Ah! since dark days still bring to light
Man’s prudence and man’s fiery might,
Time may restore us in his course
Goethe’s sage mind and Byron’s force;
But where will Europe’s latter hour
Again find Wordsworth’s healing power?
Others will teach us how to dare,
And against fear our breast to steel;
Others will strengthen us to bear—
But who, ah! who, will make us feel?
The cloud of mortal destiny,
Others will front it fearlessly—
But who, like him, will put it by?

Robert Lowell, letter to Elizabeth Bishop, April 14, 1962:

I’m on a Wordsworth and Blake jag. I’d like to do poems that would hit all in one flash, though loaded with subtleties of art and passion underneath. Or great clumsy structures like Wordsworth’s Leech Gatherer, that somehow lift the great sail and catch the wind.

L.M. Montgomery, journal entry:

“Even he occasionally says something so vital and poignant that I am ready to cry out with the agony of it — and so I love him too, in spite of his much balderdash.”

Michael Schmidt:

Wordsworth, with Coleridge now beside, and now beyond him – extended the language and thematic range of Rnglish poetry into the new century.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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