When I hear the name William Wordsworth, I think differently than I do when I hear another poet’s name. Wordsworth to me means imagery; superb imagery that allows the reader to visualize nature as the author saw it; imagery that reveals how the poet felt about nature and why! Poems like Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, The Tables Turned and The World is too Much With Us, are but a few that reveal the author’s necessary relationship with God’s physical world, and the importance it played in his life –appreciated as it was first encountered in his youth, and then later, as an older gentleman in his reflections of growing up in and around the Lake District. In his introduction to William Wordsworth Selected Poetry, Mark Van Doren claims, “…he is the first great modern poet of England and Europe, and by extension, of America…and since his world is still our world, and since his gifts as a poet were pure and great, we more than ever benefit by his achievements.”
Although Wordsworth enjoyed his solitude, he also spent time with a few, select friends including his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Samuel Coleridge both of whom he collaborated with. But was he an artist who preferred kinship with nature above that of kinship with his fellow man? Wordsworth’s relationships influenced his writings. As with most artists and authors, the things taking place in the poet’s life -personally, regionally and nationally -found their way into his works. True love for a sister, admiration for a mentor – held sway on his ideals, his beliefs and therefore shaped the production of particular works.
Within Wordsworth’s poems -not hidden, but up-front and personal -are the sweet, sentimental power of nostalgic memory. Read these lines from Tintern Abbey: “…five summers, with the length/Of five long winters! And I hear/These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs/With a soft inland murmur. –Once again/Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs.” Again, and again the author returns to this style of reflective thought, as it is fostered through his contact with nature. Wordsworth’s poems have the power to sway a mature reader, who in looking back, does so with longing as well. Do we, as adults, envision a more lovely setting than that which we first looked upon in our youth? Probably. Listen to the description Wordsworth offers: “To look on nature, not as in the hour/Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes/The still, sad music of humanity/ Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power/To chasten and subdue.”
Wordsworth was the romantic poet defined, emphasizing intuition over reason. He appreciated the lands around the Lake District and so naturally began participating in walking tours of Europe. He toured the Alps, Italy, France and Switzerland. These travels further influenced his leanings toward nature and its importance on man’s mental health. As Wordsworth’s poetic works gained recognition, he began to discuss freely his thoughts on writing in the “real language of men” where he avoided much of the serious structure previously expected in poetry and placed more emphasis on emotions encountered and felt fully during peaceful times.
There is the question in life as to which is more important: one’s relationship with others, or one’s relationship with nature, or God. There is a closeness with God when one sets foot outside! Wordsworth described this so knowingly when he wrote, “The world is too much with us…Little we see in nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away…” The poet knew, nowhere is man nearer God than when he is deep within that which God has made.
Wordsworth saw separation of man and earth as a ghastly thing –as if in modern times man would completely lose his soul because of this break from original identity. He felt a kinship for a place that drew on memory and played on the senses just as deeply as the memories of time with those he loved. “That on the banks of this delightful stream/We stood together; and that I, so long/A worshiper of Nature, hither came /Unwearied in that service; rather say/With warmer love-oh! With far deeper zeal/Of holier love….these steep woods and lofty cliffs/And this green pastoral landscape, were to me/More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!”
Although Wordsworth’s poetry can be studied, the literary world will never know why the author chose poetry as his medium. Did Wordsworth use the recollection of fond memories to access peace and happiness? It seems that he did, after all, don’t most people reflect on better times, the more pleasant aspects of their life to lift them when life becomes too difficult? The poet writes, “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and the deep power of joy/We see into the life of things.” Tintern Abbey in its entirety seems to be a work of peaceful reprieve.
Wordsworth was equally influenced by both his friendship with Samuel Coleridge and his mixed feelings about the French Revolution. Mark Van Doren writes that it was during this decade that Wordsworth wrote the best of his poems, and that afterward, mysteriously the inspiration was gone. Of all the romantic poets, Wordsworth’s words and peaceful recollections still have the power to sway. Even in modern times, his poetry is read and enjoyed.
And, YES, though I first discovered his poetry in our little library at SHS, he continues to be my favored poet!