Monday, July 27, 2015

Wordsworth(less), but interesting

I am a fan of William Wordsworth's poetry.  In particular, he was one of the leaders of a naturalism movement, that changed poetry from rather formal or even stuffy, difficult-structured material laced if not laden with arcane references to the classics or the Bible, that only the desperately intellectual could actually read.  Some of it, like Milton's Paradise Lost, is great (with an annotated edition!), but most of it is just difficult.

By contrast Wordsworth strolled through Nature, especially of his native England and its peaceful, scenic Lake District, and wrote in a simpler, ordinary-language way about the splendors, trials, and beauties of what he saw.  Most of his works are very fine, in my particular view.  So, to pass some time, I decided to read a poem called Peter Bell.  It was published in 1819.  Unfortunately, I agree with many critics, especially of his own time, that this was a real loser.  It's corny and implausible to the extreme.  However,  its Prologue, though hardly related to what followed, provided a very interesting description of what was known of cosmology at the time, an imaginary voyage into space. In light of recent space ventures, and images from what's really out there, rather than just the imagination, I thought this Prologue would be interesting to post, on a lazy summer's day:

Peter Bell
William Wordsworth, 1819


There's something in a flying horse, 
There's something in a huge balloon; 
But through the clouds I'll never float 
Until I have a little Boat, 
Shaped like the crescent-moon. 

And now I 'have' a little Boat, 
In shape a very crescent-moon 
Fast through the clouds my boat can sail; 
But if perchance your faith should fail, 
Look up--and you shall see me soon! 

The woods, my Friends, are round you roaring, 
Rocking and roaring like a sea; 
The noise of danger's in your ears, 
And ye have all a thousand fears 
Both for my little Boat and me! 

Meanwhile untroubled I admire 
The pointed horns of my canoe; 
And, did not pity touch my breast, 
To see how ye are all distrest, 
Till my ribs ached, I'd laugh at you! 

Away we go, my Boat and I-- 
Frail man ne'er sate in such another; 
Whether among the winds we strive, 
Or deep into the clouds we dive, 
Each is contented with the other. 

Away we go--and what care we 
For treasons, tumults, and for wars? 
We are as calm in our delight 
As is the crescent-moon so bright 
Among the scattered stars. 

Up goes my Boat among the stars 
Through many a breathless field of light, 
Through many a long blue field of ether, 
Leaving ten thousand stars beneath her: 
Up goes my little Boat so bright! 

The Crab, the Scorpion, and the Bull-- 
We pry among them all; have shot 
High o'er the red-haired race of Mars, 
Covered from top to toe with scars; 
Such company I like it not! 

The towns in Saturn are decayed, 
And melancholy Spectres throng them;-- 
The Pleiads, that appear to kiss 
Each other in the vast abyss, 
With joy I sail among them. 

Swift Mercury resounds with mirth, 
Great Jove is full of stately bowers; 
But these, and all that they contain, 
What are they to that tiny grain, 
That little Earth of ours? 

Then back to Earth, the dear green Earth:-- 
Whole ages if I here should roam, 
The world for my remarks and me 
Would not a whit the better be; 
I've left my heart at home. 

See! there she is, the matchless Earth! 
There spreads the famed Pacific Ocean! 
Old Andes thrusts yon craggy spear 
Through the grey clouds; the Alps are here, 
Like waters in commotion! 

Yon tawny slip is Libya's sands; 
That silver thread the river Dnieper! 
And look, where clothed in brightest green 
Is a sweet Isle, of isles the Queen; 
Ye fairies, from all evil keep her! 

And see the town where I was born! 
Around those happy fields we span 
In boyish gambols;--I was lost 
Where I have been, but on this coast 
I feel I am a man. 

Never did fifty things at once 
Appear so lovely, never, never;-- 
How tunefully the forests ring! 
To hear the earth's soft murmuring 
Thus could I hang for ever! 

"Shame on you!" cried my little Boat, 
"Was ever such a homesick Loon, 
Within a living Boat to sit, 
And make no better use of it; 
A Boat twin-sister of the crescent-moon! 

"Ne'er in the breast of full-grown Poet 
Fluttered so faint a heart before;-- 
Was it the music of the spheres 
That overpowered your mortal ears? 
--Such din shall trouble them no more. 

"These nether precincts do not lack 
Charms of their own;--then come with me; 
I want a comrade, and for you 
There's nothing that I would not do; 
Nought is there that you shall not see. 

"Haste! and above Siberian snows 
We'll sport amid the boreal morning; 
Will mingle with her lustres gliding 
Among the stars, the stars now hiding, 
And now the stars adorning. 

"I know the secrets of a land 
Where human foot did never stray; 
Fair is that land as evening skies, 
And cool, though in the depth it lies 
Of burning Africa. 0 

"Or we'll into the realm of Faery, 
Among the lovely shades of things; 
The shadowy forms of mountains bare, 
And streams, and bowers, and ladies fair, 
The shades of palaces and kings! 

"Or, if you thirst with hardy zeal 
Less quiet regions to explore, 
Prompt voyage shall to you reveal 
How earth and heaven are taught to feel 
The might of magic lore!" 

"My little vagrant Form of light, 
My gay and beautiful Canoe, 
Well have you played your friendly part; 
As kindly take what from my heart 
Experience forces--then adieu! 

"Temptation lurks among your words; 
But, while these pleasures you're pursuing 
Without impediment or let, 
No wonder if you quite forget 
What on the earth is doing. 

"There was a time when all mankind 
Did listen with a faith sincere 
To tuneful tongues in mystery versed; 
'Then' Poets fearlessly rehearsed 
The wonders of a wild career. 

"Go--(but the world's a sleepy world, 
And 'tis, I fear, an age too late) 
Take with you some ambitious Youth! 
For, restless Wanderer! I, in truth, 
Am all unfit to be your mate. 

"Long have I loved what I behold, 
The night that calms, the day that cheers; 
The common growth of mother-earth 
Suffices me--her tears, her mirth, 
Her humblest mirth and tears. 

"The dragon's wing, the magic ring, 
I shall not covet for my dower, 
If I along that lowly way 
With sympathetic heart may stray, 
And with a soul of power. 

"These given, what more need I desire 
To stir, to soothe, or elevate? 
What nobler marvels than the mind 
May in life's daily prospect find, 
May find or there create? 

"A potent wand doth Sorrow wield; 
What spell so strong as guilty Fear! 
Repentance is a tender Sprite; 
If aught on earth have heavenly might, 
'Tis lodged within her silent tear. 

"But grant my wishes,--let us now 
Descend from this ethereal height; 
Then take thy way, adventurous Skiff, 
More daring far than Hippogriff, 
And be thy own delight! 

"To the stone-table in my garden, 
Loved haunt of many a summer hour, 
The Squire is come: his daughter Bess 
Beside him in the cool recess 
Sits blooming like a flower. 

"With these are many more convened; 
They know not I have been so far;-- 
I see them there, in number nine, 
Beneath the spreading Weymouth-pine! 
I see them--there they are! 

"There sits the Vicar and his Dame; 
And there my good friend, Stephen Otter; 
And, ere the light of evening fail, 
To them I must relate the Tale 
Of Peter Bell the Potter." 

Off flew the Boat--away she flees, 
Spurning her freight with indignation! 
And I, as well as I was able, 
On two poor legs, toward my stone-table 
Limped on with sore vexation. 

"O, here he is!" cried little Bess-- 
She saw me at the garden-door; 
"We've waited anxiously and long," 
They cried, and all around me throng, 
Full nine of them or more! 

"Reproach me not--your fears be still-- 
Be thankful we again have met;-- 
Resume, my Friends! within the shade 
Your seats, and quickly shall be paid 
The well-remembered debt." 

I spake with faltering voice, like one 
Not wholly rescued from the pale 
Of a wild dream, or worse illusion; 
But, straight, to cover my confusion, 
Began the promised Tale. 

No comments: