Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lines Written in Early Spring - William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:-
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such me Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

I am always somewhat annoyed at poetry that decries the current age as the nadir of humanity, at how doomed we are.  It's an awfully tired notion that we are doomed and that things are worse than they've ever been.  Wordsworth sets that notion against perfect images of Nature, where all things seem to be a thrill of ecstasy.  Birds hopping and playing, with every "least motion...a thrill of pleasure."  What bothers me about this image is the injection of human terms into the actions of Nature.  Wordsworth decries how man lives out of joint with Nature, but that seems deceptive to me.

It's very romantic, the image of sitting in a glade, hearing the lovely sounds of birds, and admiring the way the "periwinkle trailed its wreaths" but it seems that the melancholy Wordsworth injects is very forced.  He is in "that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind."  I can understand this.  Imagine, sitting in a park, enjoying the sounds of the birds in the trees, when suddenly, an acrid cloud of smog rises over the park, a stark reminder of mankind's presence on the landscape.  What's missing here is "what man has made of man."  We can easily assume that Wordsworth speaks of the march of technology, and the idea of city life and the way we've moved away from pastoral living.  However, it is the luxury of modernity, of some degree of security, that allows Wordsworth to sit and wax poetic about how we've ruined the world, and to foppishly sigh over the state of the world.

Wordsworth's affected degree of indignation at our separation from Nature has never won me over.  I find the imagery of the poem lovely, and I can certainly understand the sentiment within, but it just rings so hollow to me.  Every generation is doomed, we're beset by the modern world, we've lost all our ties to sacred Nature, we're doomed for real this time.  Maybe I'm a bit too optimistic, but I like to think that every "doomed" generation contains all the potential of greatness as any other, and we've not yet destroyed our world.

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