Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Number 237: William Wordsworth Two "To Sleep"
Fond words have oft been spoken to thee, Sleep!
And thou hast had thy store of tenderest names;
The very sweetest, Fancy culls or frames,
When thankfulness of heart is strong and deep!
Dear Bosom-child we call thee, that dost steep
In rich reward all suffering; Balm that tames
All anguish; Saint that evil thoughts and aims
Takest away, and into souls dost creep,
Like to a breeze from heaven. Shall I alone,
I surely not a man ungently made,
Call thee worst Tyrant by which Flesh is crost?
Perverse, self-willed to own and to disown,
Mere slave of them who never for thee prayed,
Still last to come where thou art wanted most!
-- William Wordsworth
A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by,
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky;
I have thought of all by turns, and yet do lie
Sleepless! and soon the small birds' melodies
Must hear, first uttered from my orchard trees;
And the first cuckoo's melancholy cry.
Even thus last night, and two nights more, I lay,
And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth;
So do not let me wear tonight away;
Without Thee what is all the morning's wealth?
Come, blessed barrier between day and day,
Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!
-- William Wordsworth
Hap Notes: Obviously William Wordsworth (1770-1850) had some serious insomnia since he devoted two full sonnets to it. Even the many paintings and drawings of Wordsworth seem to show a man who needed a good night's sleep.
Wordsworth was born in the "Lake District" in Northwest England, a place that would come to stand for poetry in later years. Wordsworth's friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the poet Robert Southey, along with Wordsworth were known as the "Lake Poets" when they all lived there in the early 1800s. (This, by the way, is just a geographical epithet and was not a "school" of poetry.)
Wordsworth went to St. James College, Cambridge, graduating in 1791. He had begun writing poetry by this time and for a while, was a supporter of the French Revolution. He became disenchanted with the revolution when heads started to roll. He fell in love with a French woman, Annete Vallon, with whom he had a child. He could not visit her often due to the tension built up between Britain and France in the revolution but this was also a good excuse since it didn't seem Wordsworth really wanted to marry her (he did, however, give her financial help whenever necessary.)
In 1798 he and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a collection of poems, Lyrical Ballads, which changed the style and temper of literature as we know it. The collection was the opening salvo of what would come to be known as "Romantic" movement. English literature would never be the same. (Remember how we said that Byron and Keats and Shelley were the "second generation" romantics? Coleridge and Wordsworth are the first.)
Wordsworth was very close to his sister, Dorothy, who often traveled with him. She kept several diaries and journals which reveal how supportive she was of his work (and Lyrical Ballads). She kept house for Wordsworth for many years and lived with him and his wife, Mary Hutchens (an old grade school friend. That's right. He played around in France and then married the girl next door). I believe Dorothy lived in their house until her death in 1855.
Wordsworth and Coleridge were trying to create poetry in what Wordsworth termed "the language of men" and one has to remember that the flowery sounding phrases from this era were somewhat like spoken English sounded then. Wordsworth's famous description of poetry reads, in part "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." Wordsworth was a prolific poet (go to our poet's link at the bottom of the page and you'll see) and many of his phrases will be familiar to you as you read him.
In today's poems we see a man fighting with his insomnia (Wordsworth was also prone to depression) with every means at his disposal; "counting sheep" (which I think Wordsworth may have invented), thinking of tranquil places, imploring sleep to bless him with a visit and even chastising sleep for its non-appearance. Most everyone can relate to a sleepless night or two, can't they?
We will do more Wordsworth this year.
Here's a good Wordsworth quote: "The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this."
"Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future. "
You can find more Wordsworth here:www.bartleby.com/145/wordchrono.html
Today's picture is Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Remember them? If not, here's the poem:www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15720