April 26, 2011

Poets for April 25, 2011 - Wordsworth and Coleridge

Like I mentioned when I started earlier this week when I began posting about poets who write in languages other than English, poetry in translation is particularly challenging and hence I have decided to abandon the effort and not post about Chinese, African, French, Italian, Greek, and other Russian poets (had thought of posting Mandelstam/Pasternak one day and Brodsky/Yevtushenko the next), who I had penciled in for this week. (Note: I will however blog about four poets from the Indian subcontinent later this month.)

Instead, I am going to go back in time to poets who are very familiar to us from reading their work in school. Given my concentration on post-20th century poetry, I had initially decided to not go back to the Romantic era and post about famous poets like William Blake, John Keats, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Coleridge but have now decided to post about four poets from the Romantic era: two today and two tomorrow, recognizing that in dismissing an entire golden era of poetry in two days, I do you all a great disservice. But there is really no time in a month to cover poetry written in English over various centuries, let alone going down the times to the great poets who write in centuries past in languages other than English: from Goethe to Rimbaud to Rilke, __, and __. I also do not have enough days this month to feature the major poets who wrote in the mid-to-later part of the 19th century like Longfellow, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Gerald Manley Hopkins, and Thomas Hardy. 

So, the first poet for today is William Wordsworth: 

William Wordsworth (Born: 7 April 1770 Cockermouth, England – Died: 23 April 1850, Cumberland, England)

Bartleby.com has a great index to his poems and I won't cut-and-paste multiple poems here today but share here excerpts from one poem, one which I enjoy far more than any other Wordsworth poem. The Prelude is probably his most critically lauded poem and as a child, we were exposed to many of his more popular poems like She dwelt among the untrodden ways, I travelled among unknown men, My heart leaps up when I behold, To the Cuckoo, and of course, I wandered lonely as a cloud  (or as I call it, the daffodil poem)... but my favorite Wordsworth poem is:  Ode - Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. So, here are some excerpts from the poem; you can read the poem in its entirety if you click on the title link below:

by William Wordsworth


          THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
          The earth, and every common sight,
                    To me did seem
                  Apparelled in celestial light,
          The glory and the freshness of a dream.
          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,
                  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;
              The sunshine is a glorious birth;
              But yet I know, where'er I go,
          That there hath past away a glory from the earth.


          Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
              And while the young lambs bound
                  As to the tabor's sound,
          To me alone there came a thought of grief:
          A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
                  And I again am strong:
          The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
          No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
          I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
          The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
                  And all the earth is gay;
                      Land and sea
              Give themselves up to jollity,
                  And with the heart of May
              Doth every Beast keep holiday;--
                  Thou Child of Joy,
          Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy


          Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call
              Ye to each other make; I see
          The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
              My heart is at your festival,
              My head hath its coronal,
          The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.
              Oh evil day! if I were sullen
              While Earth herself is adorning,
                  This sweet May-morning,
              And the Children are culling
                  On every side,
              In a thousand valleys far and wide,
              Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
          And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm:--
              I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
              --But there's a Tree, of many, one,
          A single Field which I have looked upon,
          Both of them speak of something that is gone:
              The Pansy at my feet
              Doth the same tale repeat:
          Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
          Where is it now, the glory and the dream?


          Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
          Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
          And, even with something of a Mother's mind,
              And no unworthy aim,
              The homely Nurse doth all she can
          To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,
              Forget the glories he hath known,
          And that imperial palace whence he came.


              O joy! that in our embers
              Is something that doth live,
              That nature yet remembers
              What was so fugitive!
          The thought of our past years in me doth breed
          Perpetual benediction: not indeed
          For that which is most worthy to be blest--
          Delight and liberty, the simple creed
          Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
          With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:--
              Not for these I raise
              The song of thanks and praise;
            But for those obstinate questionings
            Of sense and outward things,
            Fallings from us, vanishings;
            Blank misgivings of a Creature
          Moving about in worlds not realised,
          High instincts before which our mortal Nature
          Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:
              But for those first affections,
              Those shadowy recollections,
            Which, be they what they may,
          Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
          Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
            Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
          Our noisy years seem moments in the being
          Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
              To perish never;
          Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
              Nor Man nor Boy,
          Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
          Can utterly abolish or destroy!
              Hence in a season of calm weather
              Though inland far we be,
          Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
              Which brought us hither,
              Can in a moment travel thither,
          And see the Children sport upon the shore,
          And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.


          Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
              And let the young Lambs bound
              As to the tabor's sound!
          We in thought will join your throng,
              Ye that pipe and ye that play,
              Ye that through your hearts to-day
              Feel the gladness of the May!
          What though the radiance which was once so bright
          Be now for ever taken from my sight,
              Though nothing can bring back the hour
          Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
              We will grieve not, rather find
              Strength in what remains behind;
              In the primal sympathy
              Which having been must ever be;
              In the soothing thoughts that spring
              Out of human suffering;
              In the faith that looks through death,
          In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And the second poet for today is a poet who was a very close friend of Wordsworth - Samuel Coleridge. The two are often said to have launched the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads in 1798. (Do read Wordsworth's preface to the book - very fascinating!)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Born: 21 October 1772, Devon, England - Died: July 25 1834, Highgate, England)

I'm posting here an excerpt from Coleridge's longest and arguably his most famous poem - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It was written in 1797-98 and the first draft was in the aforementioned Lyrical Ballads, though most modern publications use a later version from 1817. You can read the poem in its entirety if you click on the title link below:

by Samuel Coleridge

Part III

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! A weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drouth all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all aflame.
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the sun.

And straight the sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven's mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that woman's mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
'The game is done! I've won! I've won!'
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The sun's rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o'er the sea,
Off shot the spectre bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My lifeblood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman's face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dews did drip--
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

Their souls did from their bodies fly--
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my crossbow!"
It has turned out to be a very long post, what with my rambling about my choices first and then long-ish excerpts from Wordsworth and Coleridge's long poems. Onto the two poets for 4/26 then...where I'll feature two more Romantic era poets.

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