Monday, June 6, 2011

William Wordsworth

Much like his insistence on using language accessible to the common man or woman, Wordsworth consistently writes about common people. Most often, Wordsworth connects his characters with nature. In “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, Wordsworth describes the interaction between nature and humanity. For him, nature never disappoints. He writes, “Knowing that Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her . . . she can so inform / The mind that is within us, so impress / With quietness and beauty, and so feed / With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, / Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, . . . / Shall e’er prevail against us” (lines124-134). For Wordsworth, if men and women take care of nature and appreciate its gifts, nature cannot fail to protect mankind from disappointment and selfishness.

At the same time, nature helps to reveal the complexity Wordsworth sees in common people. Many of his poems reveal a range of commonly felt emotions under distinctive circumstances and in unusual combinations. On page 206, Wordsworth claims his purpose is to appeal to the common reader in both the language and the experiences described in his poems while also using “a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way”. Wordsworth believes the “essential passions of the heart” are more comprehensible and simpler in the common man due to a commoner’s closeness to nature and removal from societal conventions. Because the poor are focused on survival and raising families on a daily basis, Wordsworth is able to describe emotions that fluctuate and arise independent of many of society’s influences. For example, the roles of the family described in “Michael” are dictated only by what each member is capable of doing, and their emotions are not subject to the fashions of society. The extreme remoteness of the farm removes most of these outside influences and allows for examination of basic emotions.

However, being subject to fewer outside influences does not equate to simple emotions. As a psych major, I think Wordsworth’s attempt at showing the variation and complexity of human emotion is fascinating. Environmental influences, relationships, history, and current circumstances all affect the emotions captured in Wordsworth’s work. Perhaps the best example of this occurs when Wordsworth describes Michael and Isabel preparing to send Luke away. The parents experience what all parents suffer through before sending a child away—hope, fear, sadness, and determination for a better future. These emotions shift throughout the course of the poem. Initially, Michael’s love of the land and desire to give his son a brighter future drive his actions; he declares, “Our Luke shall leave us, Isabel; the land / Shall not go from us, and it shall be free; / He shall possess it” (lines 254-256). Isabel recalls past stories (lines 267-283) and becomes hopeful for her son’s future. Lines 300-311 show the parents’ feelings of confidence and hope warring with their anxiety over losing their son. The emotions experienced by the family mix together, change, and grow stronger throughout the poem, combining to weave a complex web of emotions.

Wordsworth extends this theme in the complex interactions between the passage of time and human emotion. He leaves many of these interactions open-ended; the exact feelings of the narrator are unknown. For example, in “She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways”, Wordsworth notes the death of a person with little influence on the outside world but with great personal importance to the narrator. He says, “She liv’d unkown, and few could know / When Lucy ceas’d to be; / But she is in her Grave, and Oh! / The difference to me!” (lines 9-12). These statements point to both the storytelling elements of small events as well as different human interpretations of them. For a reader, the death may not be important. To the narrator, Lucy’s death would have been deeply felt. In addition, the characters Michael and Simon both experience a loss of stamina over the course of many years. The emotions that occur with aging and death are complex, and Wordsworth shows each character experiencing them differently. For him, a single event has extremely varied effects depending on one’s viewpoint—WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY REALISTIC! All of these perfectly fit Wordsworth’s goal of exploring the range of human emotions in an honest and everyday way.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah,

    Excellent job in this post of exploring an approach Wordsworth makes in depicting human thought, emotions and behavior. You do a very good job of incorporating your major in your response; that is a good match, because Wordsworth was deeply interested in human psychology (although it was not called by that term then). Very good selection of quotations, too, well edited for meaning and clarity. Keep up the very good work!