Monday, April 07, 2008

Poetry Corner

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream. 5
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes, 10
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair; 15
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth.


From Ode: Intimations of Immortality by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth basically says: remember back when the smallest things gave you such joy? You can remind yourself about it just by spending some time watching children and seeing how easily they amuse themselves. But the now mature Wordsworth asks where has that feeling gone?

Now, the first time you read this poem, the prognosis looks pretty bleak. He seems to say that this childhood delight and freedom is gone, and that we have to settle for just our memories and "find strength in what remains behind" (180). He uses a metaphor to of a vast sea and land to sum up this point. We start off in birth in the ocean. As we age, we make it to shore and then further move inland. Once there, we are left only with what we remember of that vast immortal sea.

Yet starting from stanza nine, you can make an entirely different interpretation as well. For he says he has found "perpetual benediction" not in "delight and liberty, the simple creed of childhood." Rather, he finds it in his "obstinate questionings of outward things," or the innate curiosity within him. Why? Well if you think about it, curiosity may be directly linked with our childhood delight and liberty. After all, life begins with an empty conception of the world. So much of the world remains inexperienced in the eyes of the child, and nearly every moment leads to some new experience. All of a sudden, the reader has come across an explanation for “those first affections, those shadowy recollections” of our childhood joy. Why did everything once raise such great feelings of interest and joy within us, yet now seem ordinary and boring? The great affections we felt for these things arose because we were experiencing them for the first time. Yet as these things were “the fountain light of all our day, … [and] of all our seeing,” they have become habitual experiences and cease to amaze us. (151)

Now I'll leave it to you to decide whether you want to see how this interpretation is carried into the rest of the poem. But the argument itself is an interesting one that you don't often think of. In the end, the reader learns that there is nothing so enviable about childhood. Our peaceful attitude is simply the result of a life filled with experiences in a complex world. And although maturity takes us far inland in Wordsworth's analogy, we would not choose to give up our "calm weather" and stability for the vast unknown of the sea.

Of course, the second part of this argument is that it is the satisfaction of our curiosity which leads to happiness. So break out of the routine and keep asking questions: the world is big enough to always learn or experience more, if you take the time to notice it.

P.S. Reader's of The Black Swan may also enjoy thinking about how that argument relates with this.

No comments: