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of their tour across France, up Lake Como, over the Alps, into the Grisons, through the Tell country and Chamounix, it is manifestly modelled on Goldsmith's Traveller and has many echoes of that poem. It is twice the length of his earlier, and is marked as finished in 1792; but it has far fewer insights and felicities. The sympathy he had with the scenery of his native district fails him somewhat among the more sublime sights of Switzerland and the Alps. Yet there are notable passages, the description of the peace of the Grande Chartreuse broken by the clang of arms, of the old violin-player by Como, of the life and freedom of the Swiss, of the chamois-hunter, of the gathering to arms as he returns through France. The poem is so saturated with the new revolutionism that it might be called a panegyric of freedom; he lingers in admiration over the spirit of the Swiss, in sadness over the thraldom in which the Savoyards were held, in sympathy over the rising of the French to defend their new republican freedom against the tyrant allies; he apostrophises freedom in the manner so popular amongst the poets of the latter half of the century, and appeals to heaven to give aid to the “just cause”, and
“preside Over the mighty stream now spreading wide". He speaks of the Revolution as “a great and glorious birth as if a new-made heaven were hailing a new earth”. In one passage he adopts Rousseau's teaching, shows how man was in primeval times “blest as free, for he was nature's child”; he “all superior but his God disdained ”, had “simple dignity” without debasement, "the eye sublime and surly lion-grace". It is because the Swiss is so primitive that he is so free; he worships on his battle-fields of freedom;
“For images of other worlds are there,
Awful the light and holy is the air”. He holds communion with God,
“There where the peal of swelling torrents fills
The sky-roofed temple of the eternal hills”. He hears the avalanche;
“Mock the dull ear Of Time with deaf abortive sound”,
“A planet's pomp and steady light
In the least star of scarce-appearing night”. 4. The volume attracted the attention of few, even though it had almost all the qualities that belong to the Wordsworthian revolution in English poetry. He sojourned in London for a time, uncertain what to do, but still writing poetry. He passed a month in the Isle of Wight and saw the fleet preparing to set out against the French. He "left the place with melancholy forebodings”; he remembered the American War and he knew that this would be a longer struggle and would bring only " distress and misery”. He spent two days on Salisbury Plain. And the product of this sadness and this visit was a new departure in verse, his Spenserian effort called Guilt and Sorrow, finished by the end of 1794, but only partially published in 1798. It consists of seventy-four Spenserian stanzas, and tells in the plain photographic manner of so many of his brief narratives the story of a marine and a soldier's widow, who meet on Salisbury Plain. It is full of the miseries and sorrows that came from the war and the pressgang, and is in parts sensational and in parts pathetic. Yet its diction is marred by learned elements unsuited to the speech of peasants.
5. About the time of completing this poem, a friend, Raisley Calvert, who had admired his work, died and left him £900 as a legacy. On this he and his sister retired into Dorsetshire and lived for a time in a cottage at Racedown. Here he came across Coleridge, who had been one of the few to see the merit of his first volume; and in July 1797 they removed to Alfoxden in Somersetshire in order to be near their new friend who was living at Netherstowey. It was during these two years that the reaction against the Queen Anne conventionality and against the separation of poetic diction from common speech set in and established itself as a creed in his mind. Here he wrote a tragedy called The Borderers which he did not publish till 1842 ; he had attempted in vain to get it acted. It was another Elizabethan echo but full of the life of his own time. There are in it many passages of great power that show the most careful study of Shakespeare; and
it grows in interest and in pregnant speech as it proceeds. The scene is laid on the Borders of Scotland and in the time of Henry the Third. The story and characters have a strong analogy to Othello. Oswald is the Iago, the motiveless incarnation of evil, who leads on the noble Marmaduke, the young chief of a band of free-booters, to a crime he loathes, and then glories in the deed ; Marmaduke is made jealous of Idonea whom he loves and is drawn into the resolve to kill her blind father by the histrionic speeches of the villain and his accomplice a beggar-woman whom he compels to slander the old man; the haunting image and echo of his love in the face and voice of the victim make him abandon his purpose; he leaves him to die on a heath; and he has to tell his criminal intent to Idonea who still loves him ; Oswald is slain by the band, a triumphant fiend; Marmaduke condemns himself to everlasting exile and wandering. There are very many passages like these ;
“ Hush ! 'tis the feeble and earth-loving wind,
That creeps along the bells of the crisp heather”.
“ Action is transitory—a step, a blow
And shares the nature of infinity”.
“We are praised only as men in us
“ Merit has no surer test
6. Out of his intercourse with Coleridge came his final decision in poetry. They started out one afternoon in the autumn of 1797 on a short tour; and they determined to pay the expenses by writing a poem together and sending it
to The New Monthly Magazine. As they walked they struck on the idea of imitating the ballads. It was not new in English poetry; in fact ever since the publication of Percy's Reliques the truer poets had been more and more receding upon simple ballad language and manner; Blake had been the last experimenter. Coleridge brought up as a theme the dream of a friend. Wordsworth suggested that the old sailor of the dream should commit some crime that should occasion "the spectral persecution", and, having been reading of albatrosses in Shelvocke's Voyages, that the crime should be the killing of one of these birds; he also suggested the navigation of the ship by the dead men. They began The Ancient Mariner together ; but their methods were so different that Coleridge was left to write it, only a few lines being contributed by his partner. The ballad became too long for a magazine; and they resolved to write a volume of poems chiefly on supernatural subjects, taken from common life, but looked at through an imaginative medium. Such is, according to Wordsworth, the genesis of the famous Lyrical Ballads published by Cottle at Bristol in the autumn of 1798. The ballad metres were largely adopted and the lyrical form ; and the simplest of language was used, chiefly the language of daily life.
7. Wordsworth wrote the bulk of the volume; and all his contributions are representative of his various methods. He runs his theory of plain diction and theme to death in The Thorn, Goody Blake, The Idiot Boy, and Simon Lee; and he rises to his noblest with the new metre which he had learned from his dramatic experiment in Lines written above Tintern Abbey. The first four well represent dozens of pieces of bathos that he wrote from this time onwards. They tell what was not worth the trouble of telling to any but a friend or neighbour and then only in an idle mood and in half-a-dozen words to raise his practical sympathy. “The Idiot Boy” is the story of one Betty Foy who sends off her witless son on a pony to bring the doctor to a sick neighbour Susan Gale; he does not return and she has to seek him through the night and finds him by a waterfall. “Simon Lee” describes a poor old huntsman who is too weak to unearth a stump and is helped by the poet.
PERIOD OF PREPARATION
“Goody Blake" tells how Harry Gill never gets warm because he has been cursed by Goody Blake a poor old woman for making her give up the firewood she had taken from his hedge. "The Thorn" narrates the story of a girl who, deceived by her lover, has gone mad, and sits all day by a withered thorn crying "Oh misery”, because is it supposed, she has killed and buried her infant there. To put these incidents into long poems would be bad enough; the ballad-makers might probably have sung half-a-dozen lyrical verses about the last; but to spend two or three dozen stanzas of the most desultory type on them was to invite parody, was indeed to write parody. And he manages to tell the stories like a garrulous old man without point and almost without the natural pathos that briefly told they might have had. The ballads often dealt with lowly life, but it was with the tragic or romantic incidents of it; their phrases were those of the people and so were their methods; but a fine artistic instinct made selection amongst them. To inflict tedious and desultory everyday talk of peasants on a reading public was offence enough; but to labour it into the appearance of poetry was to produce bathos and excite laughter. Had Wordsworth only read Blake's Songs of Innocence, he would have seen what could be made of lowly themes and simple language by means of selection and brevity. He felt the demand of the new audience for simplicity and he took it to mean commonness if not commonplaceness.
8. Two other pieces, Expostulation and Reply, and The Tables Turned, that versify a conversation, are saved from bathos partly by their brevity, but chiefly by a new and noble thought put into fine verse,
“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Than all the sages can.” The Lines Written above Tintern Abbey would have redeemed any volume from commonplace by their noble statement of the new poetic creed. They are instinct with the beauty of Nature that has a spirit in it. They give in rapturous but philosophic blank verse all the articles of trancendentalism. They contrast the thoughtless enjoyment