Tuesday, April 07, 2009

William Wordsworth Study Questions

Penguin Editions has a nice volume of Wordsworth's Selected Poems that includes a twenty-page introduction, notes to poems and an index. I didn't know how important Plato's idea of pre-existence was to Wordsworth until I read about him and his poetry. I also didn't know about his skill with linguistics and rhetoric until I read about him and his poetry. Here is a brief selection of his most-anthologized poems along with a few questions to help get discussion started. We used some of this in our meeting last night.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line

along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
  • What role, if any, does memory play in this poem?
  • How does Wordsworth's "poetry of nature" in this poem transform itself into the "poetry of self-consciousness"?
The following is excerpted from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Gray
Lucy Gray is not one of Wordsworth's “Lucy” poems, even though it is a poem that mentions a character named Lucy. The poem is excluded from the series because the traditional "Lucy" poems are uncertain about the age of Lucy and her actual relationship with the narrator, and Lucy Gray provides exact details on both. Furthermore, the poem is different than the "Lucy" poems in that it relies on narrative storytelling and is a direct imitation of the traditional 18th century ballad form.
The narrator begins the poem by stating:
Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray:
And, when I crossed the wild,
I chanced to see at break of day
The solitary child. (lines 1–4)
She may be, as the narrator claims, the "sweetest thing that ever grew" (line 6), but she is dead, as the narrator explains:
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen. (lines 11–12)
The narrator transitions to say that she was told to "take a lantern, Child, to light/Your mother through the snow" (lines 15–16), to which she agrees. She left, and
The storm came on before its time:
She wandered up and down;
And many a hill did Lucy climb:
But never reached the town. (lines 29–32)
Her parents attempted to search for her, and
At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlooked the moor;
And thence they saw the bridge of wood,
A furlong from their door.
They wept—and, turning homeward, cried,
"In heaven we all shall meet;"
When in the snow the mother spied
The print of Lucy's feet. (lines 37–44)
They followed the footprints throughout the area,
And to the bridge they came.
They followed from the snowy bank
Those footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank;
And further there were none! (lines 52–56)
Although she is probably dead, the narrator explains that her spirit, according to superstition, can still be seen:
Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.
O'er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind. (lines 57–64)
  • What role, if any, does memory play in this poem? Compare to “I Wandered...”
  • Why is it important to Wordsworth's speaker that Lucy is solitary? What is the value of solitariness?

Questions for discussion of “A Few Lines Composed above Tintern Abbey”
  • See line 40 - why has the world become "unintelligible" to the speaker? What has happened to him over time?
  • What is the difference between the pleasure the speaker took in nature as a child and the pleasure he draws from it now? What does the poet gain from his reflections on the past?
  • What is the role of "affective memory" in "Tintern Abbey"? How, in other words, does this kind of memory help Wordsworth's lyric speaker first to recognize his problem and then to resolve it?
"Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood" is a long ode in eleven sections by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth. It is a deeply philosophical work, with themes ranging from the Platonic belief in pre-existence, to Wordsworth's belief that children have an instinctive wisdom that adults lack. Composed at Grasmere, in the English Lake District, between 1802 and 1804, "Intimations of Immortality" was first published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). Arranged in eleven stanzas of anywhere from eight to forty lines each, the poem is written in anisometric verse, with lines of varied iambic stresses.
Wordsworth applies memories of his early childhood to his adult philosophy of life. According to the author's prose introduction, "Intimations of Immortality" was inspired in part by Platonic philosophy. Plato taught pre-existence, meaning that the soul dwelled in an ideal alternate state prior to its present occupation of the body, and the soul will return to that ideal previous state after the body's death. The immortality the title refers to is the immortality of the soul, which Wordsworth maintains is felt or intimated during early childhood. Hence Wordsworth's famous line: "The Child is Father of the Man."
"Intimations of Immortality" begins with the speaker recalling how nature and "every common sight" once seemed divine to him. In Stanza II, he reminds himself that rainbows and the like are still "beautiful and fair" to him, but nevertheless he feels "there hath past [passed] away a glory from the earth." In Stanza III, he feels that no private grief can diminish the joyous quality of nature. He feels nature's joy in the fourth stanza, but the feeling quickly fades.
In Stanza V, Wordsworth begins to philosophize in earnest. "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting," he says, for our souls originate in a purer, more glorious realm: heaven itself. Small children retain some memory of paradise, which glorifies their experiences on earth, but youths begin to lose it, and adults, distracted by earthly concerns, entirely forget it (Stanza VI).
Next, the speaker observes a six-year-old boy mimicking adult behavior in his play, "as if his whole vocation / Were endless imitation." In Stanza VIII, the speaker addresses the child, wondering why he, "thou best Philosopher" and "Mighty Prophet," imitates adult behavior as though he were eager to hasten "the inevitable yoke" of earthly cares and customs ("freight").
In the ninth stanza, the speaker rejoices that his memories of childhood ("those shadowy recollections" that "are yet a master light of all our seeing") remain to inspire him. In the tenth stanza, he calls on the birds to sing and the lambs to bound, to share his joy. Instead of mourning the loss of childhood innocence and wisdom, the speaker vows to "find / Strength in what remains behind" and to develop a mature "philosophic mind", 'which stems from a consciousness of mortality, as opposed to the child's feeling of immortality.'
Wordsworth sums up his philosophy in the final stanza (XI). His mature mind, he says, 'enables him to love nature and natural beauty all the more, for each of nature's objects can stir him to thought, and even the simplest flower blowing in the wind can raise in him "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."'
Stirringly written with 'linguistic strategies [that] are extraordinarily sophisticated and complex', "Intimations of Immortality" is Wordsworth's 'mature masterpiece' reflecting his belief that 'life on earth is a dim shadow of an earlier, purer existence, dimly recalled in childhood and then forgotten in the process of growing up.'
  • What two kinds of self-consciousness are described in "Intimations of Immortality"? Which type is more desirable? Why?
  • What differences, if any, do you find in this ode's "affective resolution" compared to the one in "Tintern Abbey"?

Three Years She Grew

Three years she grew in sun and shower,
Then Nature said, "A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown;
This Child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A Lady of my own.

"Myself will to my darling be
Both law and impulse: and with me
The Girl, in rock and plain,
In earth and heaven, in glade and bower,
Shall feel an overseeing power
To kindle or restrain.

"She shall be sportive as the fawn
That wild with glee across the lawn
Or up the mountain springs;
And hers shall be the breathing balm,
And hers the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.

"The floating clouds their state shall lend
To her; for her the willow bend;
Nor shall she fail to see
Even in the motions of the Storm
Grace that shall mould the Maiden's form
By silent sympathy.

"The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face.

"And vital feelings of delight
Shall rear her form to stately height,
Her virgin bosom swell;
Such thoughts to Lucy I will give
While she and I together live
Here in this happy dell."

Thus Nature spake—The work was done—
How soon my Lucy's race was run!
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm and quiet scene;
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be.
  • What will be the relationship between the child and nature? Is it a different one than is posited for the speaker? If so, how?


fleuve-souterrain said...

wow, this post was a good brush-up and a learning exercise too.

Andrew Christ said...

Yay! I'm glad you think so and I'd like to add That means a lot coming from you!

Marinela said...

Nice post :)

Andrew Christ said...

Thank you Marinela. I'll see if I can create more posts of this sort in the future.

Sean said...

Thank You Andrew, great post.