Tag Archives: william wordsworth

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and Literary Criticism

Let me begin by saying that Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud is not one of my favourite poems. It is a pleasant piece of writing. It does not, however, resonate with me as much as does the poet’s The Solitary Reaper.

I am always a little wary of dissecting the work of poets. Many a dead poet would, I feel sure turn in his or her grave where they to hear literary critics discussing their work.

I don’t know whether Wordsworth would be amused or irritated by this video in which his I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud is dissected from a Marxist perspective, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnVAPhHvWek.

In summary, the Marxist critique of the poem is as follows. Wordsworth had the leisure to lie upon his couch “in vacant or in pensive mood”. To possess such leisure one must be wealthy. In addition the poet does not engage with the social ills of his time. Rather he retreats into his own private enjoyment of nature. At bottom the poem is, to the Marxist critic a selfish piece of writing, because it is about the poet’s private enjoyment of nature and does not engage with the public realm.

One major problem with this perspective is that by making the poem public Wordsworth brought (and continues to bring) pleasure to countless numbers of people. To share one’s poetry is, arguably an act of altruism because, as already stated, it has the potential to bring great pleasure to those who enjoy that particular art form. Indeed it can also be contended that when a poem is out in the public domain the poet (or any other creative person) lays themselves open to criticism, some of which can be extremely harsh. For a creative person to step out of the private realm and risk (in the most extreme case) public ridicule is therefore a brave and unselfish act.

In its most extreme form this Marxist view of art leads to a society where men and women on tractors are glorified, whilst art which engages with issues not to the taste of the governing Marxist elite (such as poems about nature) are side lined or, in the worst case scenario their creators are punished as class traitors.

There are, of course Marxists who write about nature, romantic love and other issues not connected with the workings of the market economy. When such poets pen their work, are they guilty of the same sin as Wordsworth – of not engaging with society?

Although, as stated at the beginning of this post, I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud is not amongst my favourite poems, it is a pleasant piece of writing and does not deserve to be misinterpreted in this manner.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about the Marxist criticism of literature, and those who oppose it, there is a very good debate between the late philosopher Professor Roger Scruton and the Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton. To watch the debate please follow this link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdMBDOj4ec

Will People Still Read Poetry In 100 Years Time?

“Will people still read poetry in 100 years time?”, my friend Toby said as we sat in a pub in central London. “Yes” I replied.

We live in a world obsessed with material things. Whether one is watching a production of “Wuthering Heights” on commercial television or a trashy talent show, the advertisements are sure to interrupt one’s viewing with tedious regularity. Beautiful women imply that if men purchase certain products they will obtain the girl of their dreams, while other comercials exhort us to buy the latest gadgets (even though those we own are hardly out of their packaging and work perfectly well). Given this world of plastic smiles, where the sun always shines, its tempting to think that poetry is irrelevant as we find ourselves through endless consumption of products.

The idea that we are drowning in a sea of vapid consumerism is far from new. Take, for example William Wordsworth’s 19th-century poem “The World Is Too Much With us”:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn”.
(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45564/the-world-is-too-much-with-us).

Wordsworth is right when he says “getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”. Indeed in this age of the internet and 24-hour television his poem is, perhaps even more relevant than when he penned it. However, modernity which as brought us TV shows where the foolish and the inadequate make fools of themselves for the enjoyment of the viewers, has also ushered in a plethora of high quality classic serials (and full length dramatisations) in which the great works of literature fill our screens. Technology now exists which allows the recording of programmes while disregarding the commercial break. Tech is, indeed a double-edged sword!

The internet is full of vapid celebrities living “perfect” lives. It is, however also replete with websites and blogs which furnish everything from William Wordsworth to William Shakespeare. The web also allows poets who might otherwise have languished unread to gain a following (and perhaps fame) in the digital age.

So in answer to my friend Toby, I conclude by saying that the glass is neither full nor empty. It is somewhere between those two states. Advertising may drive us bonkers (this is certainly true with me), however one can find solace in poetry which proliferates both in print and online.

As always I would be interested in the perspectives of my readers.

Kevin

A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal By William Wordsworth

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;

She neither hears nor sees;

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees.

The Solitary Reaper By William Wordsworth

I must confess to not being a lover of all Wordsworth’s poetry. I do, however derive considerable pleasure from the poet’s “The Solitary Reaper”:

 

“Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself;

Stop here, or gently pass!

Alone she cuts and binds the grain,

And sings a melancholy strain;

O listen! for the Vale profound

Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt

More welcome notes to weary bands

Of travellers in some shady haunt,

Among Arabian sands:

A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard

In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,

Breaking the silence of the seas

Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?—

Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow

For old, unhappy, far-off things,

And battles long ago:

Or is it some more humble lay,

Familiar matter of to-day?

Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,

That has been, and may be again?

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang

As if her song could have no ending;

I saw her singing at her work,

And o’er the sickle bending;—

I listened, motionless and still;

And, as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.”