The Romantics were searching deeply for the inner spirit, in themselves, in those around them, in the natural world… As William Blake put it so succinctly “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour” (Auguries of Innocence). Theirs was a passionate search for something beyond the meaningless concern with outer appearances, with social prestige, with the idea of material “progress”. They wanted to change the world from the inside, by looking more deeply into their own hearts and feelings, and into the common and ordinary things -so often overlooked- all around them. This passionate push for a new way of experiencing reality explains what was driving Blake in his Songs of Innocence, Coleridge in “Frost at Midnight”, Wordsworth in “I wandered lonely as a cloud” and sister Dorothy Wordsworth in her journals. Can we connect with their yearning? Can we understand their sense of dissatisfaction with the values of the world around them?
I strongly suggest you read again Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence” where he finds such strength of spirit in an old man collecting leeches in the icy waters of Northern England. What was it that Wordsworth saw in this man that he felt was lacking in his own life?
I could have laughed myself to scorn to find
In that decrepit Man so firm a mind.
And look again at the second last stanza of “I wandered lonely as a cloud”: “I gazed – and gazed- but little thought/ What wealth the show to me had brought”. What “wealth” has Wordsworth found in the visual, tactile, kinetic impression of these daffodils dancing by the side of the lake? What is this substance in the impressions we might receive that feeds something in us, something that gives us a sense of a more vivid, meaningful life? As was discussed in class today, there is a miracle in the fact that Wordsworth’s act of concentrated attention in writing down what he experienced on this occasion has produced a work of art (a poem in this case) that in fact has informed him of the deep, life-giving, value of the impressions he received. And this is perhaps what art is for: it is the way we human beings – whether we write poems, draw or paint pictures, make music…. – connect to the deeper, essential meaning of the things that we experience in and around us. There are a myriad of impressions that flood our sense all day and even night…. but how many of these impressions are really savoured, really sensed, really felt?
So here are a few topics to ponder on for your blogs for this coming week.
Choose an impression (it might be a special event in your day or your week, it might be a simple moment of sitting under a tree or on the beach, or with a special person) and spend a little time sensing, feeling, shaping the value of this impression to your life as a whole. We only live once, for a short time (in the wider scale of things) so what is it in this moment of time that is special for you? You can choose to write your thoughts on this in prose, or you can try to shape them into a poem- it is worth giving it a try, there is nothing to loose maybe much to gain.
Study “Resolution and Independence” closely and see if you can write a paragraph on why Wordsworth seems to value this socially “worthless” person? This old man has no degrees, no wealth, no substance, and yet Wordsworth sees him as one of the greatest people he has ever met. Why?