Dawn breaks over the bush behind my house overlooking Kuring-gai Chase. A cloud bank on the horizon holds back the sun for another 20 minutes or so. The bush is filled with the sound of cavorting Wattle birds that any European would say sound like woodpeckers. In the distance families of kookaburras break into this strong dawn sound. The night sounds of crickets and the soft ascending scale of the spur-winged plover dim… just as the stars overhead have almost dimmed completely under the impact of the rising sun. In me the sun rises again as I take in this extraordinary benificence of nature.
And it has been a week of wonderful impressions from the literature we have been reading together. My Shakespeare students and I have been reading “Venus and Adonis” and were repeatedly astonished by the clarity and rightness of his images. For example as Adonis manages finally to break from the grasp of Venus who has been holding him tight for hours he is described as a shooting star. This is the impact he has on Adonis:
With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace
Of those fair arms which bound him to her breast,
And homeward through the dark laund (glade) runs apace,
Leaves love upon her back, deeply distressed.
Look how a bright star shooteth from the sky,
So glides he in the night from Venus’ eye.
And then when Venus, pursues him (flying like a falcon to the lure), hoping that he has not let himself be killed by the boar that he is hunting, she suddenly stumbles upon his mangled, bloody body, gored by the sharp tusks of the dreaded creature. This is how Shakespeare depicts her shocked and astonished state:
As falcons to the lure, away she flies.
The grass stoops not, she treads on it so light;
And in her haste unfortunately spies
The foul boar’s conquest on her fair delight;
Which seen, her eyes, as murdered with the view,
Like stars ashamed of day, themselves withdrew.
Or as the snail, whose tender horns being hit
Shrinks backward in his shelly cave with pain,
And there, all smothered up, in shade doth sit,
Long after fearing to creep forth again;
So at his bloody view her eyes are fled
Into the deep dark cabins of her head….
Shakespeare has this extraordinary way of depicting vividly this pained, shocked, delicate state.
In Nineteenth Century Literature we were looking more closely at Wordsworth’s capacity to turn ordinary objects and events into extraordinary moments of seeing; everything for him is connected to a bigger picture, somehow opening to the cosmic dimension; so the simple life around us becomes a kind of gateway to the vast beauty of the universe; So the humble daffidols become mirrored in the Milky Way!
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
And there is this very clever description that he gives in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” where he explains what it is he is doing in a poem like this: he talks about making “incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly , as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.” So it is this amazing power that our brain has of associating one idea with another, that in poetry opens doors to an expanded perception of everything. This is of course the miracle of language, that is the miracle of our brain, that is the expression of the amazing creativity of the human being…. one of the “primary laws” of our nature… if we give it voice!!!! With the help of our discussions I was able to get a sense again of how “I wondered lonely as a cloud” is almost like a prayer to the vivid life in the created universe; Nature for him is almost like a food which nurtures a deeper part of himself. And it is almost as if he doesn’t quite realize the full impact of the event until after it has happened. It is a great treat to be able to plunge into Wordsworth’s vision and be reminded of so much around us that we take for granted.
In Introduction to Literature we had the fortune of journeying with Virginia Woolf into “Kew Gardens”- one of my all time favourite stories, with its rather Wordsworthian appreciation of the minutiae of life. Here the snail, easing its way through the coloured flower bed; the colours being filtered down to the ground level through the impact of the sunlight on the flowers above. And she has this fantastic image of the drops of dew in the bed filling with the colours from above. Set against the amazing, vital beauty of this garden bed, she places the rather paltry world of suffering human beings, caught up selfishly in their fantasy lives, unable really to partake in the deeper life of nature, lying hidden in the garden beds….
So on reflection there is much common ground between these three writers that I have had the good fortuned to revisit this week….(snails in Shakespeare and Woolf!) And now I better get down to the mechanics of downloading discussions and getting ready for next week’s literary feast…. Good to talk….