Jan 16, 2011

Wordsworth, "The World Is Too Much With Us," More on Hirshfield and Romanticism

The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

“Most wild American Crows live for about 7–8 years. Captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years.” (Wikipedia)

Jane Hirshfield’s “The Woodpecker Keeps Returning” has me thinking once again that seemingly over-simplified writing and/or flat language can be deceptive. There is an important difference between the merely descriptive word, “simple,” and “simplistic,” which judges something as over-simplified or simple-minded.

I’m not sure which word or concept describes Hirshfield in “Woodpecker” or elsewhere. I've also felt that the simplicity of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver, for example, shifts from profundity and power in one passage to puerile self-parody in the next. Ditto the quality of their work from story to story.

I've often wondered about this business of simplicity as it relates to the ancient Eastern forms and the West's enchantment with them since about 1920 (William Carlos Williams and James Wright, to name two, and now Jane Hirshfield; but the list is much longer than that and includes some of nineteenth-century American transcendentalists.).

Some people say that to understand Nirvana we should think of still water and silence. OK. I kind of get that—the absence of conflict and complexity as a sublime. But if that's paradise or some such perfection, how is a writer supposed to convey it and make it feel desirable as an ideal rather than boring or dead?

Ditto, for me at least, Classicism’s ideals like order, symmetry, balance, rationality, restraint. That's why I've always been drawn to the Romantics and their passion for dynamism, tumult, eerie, scary mysticism, “the one soul within us and abroad.” That seems so much more alive than pale reason and order. But then I’ve never lived or taken part in a revolution. America’s mini-revolution that we call The Sixties had some admirable purposes, but also a lot of phony bullshit, as the advent of Yuppiedom has verified.

Similarly, those old English Romantics proved to be only a short step from Wordsworth's wind-baggery and others' emotional, spiritual quackery in general. Just around the corner was the late Romantic oozing into Gothicism, which could get downright silly. And what about our squeamishness over the question of just how noble the Noble Savage is? I think it was Joan Baez who wrote, “A hero’s a nuisance to live with at home.”

In any case we're back to Classicism and Romanticism—and that icky business of one’s way of being in the world. Once again, it’s not either-or, but in which ways is this or that person or characteristic Romantic and in which ways Classical? For example, most think of Keats as the most classically inclined of the major Romantic poets. Or maybe Picasso as cubist is Romantic in his revolutionary, individualistic new way of seeing the world, but in the geometric shapes he uses to portray what he sees, he is mathematical, precise, drawing between the lines—that is, Classical.

With that to chew on, I offer Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much with Us,” an orderly poem inasmuch as it’s a sonnet, with classical allusions, but a very Romantic celebration of the Natural, the definition of which might require a tome.

The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.



Anonymous said...

Oh, flat writing is what I admire. Kundera has it. Flatten out the prose, stab everything that's unneccessary, and keep the sentence just the other side of life-support. And never ever tell. Srangly enough, not to bring up the F-word, but I think Gatsby has it, too. And Capote.

Jean Spitzer said...

These are terrific photos together; colors, shapes, themes.

Brenda's Arizona said...

"A Poet, gentle creature that he is,
Hath, like the Lover, his unruly times;
His fits when he is neither sick nor well..."

Even poets can't always live in Nirvana, can they?
Perhaps the loudest revolution we each attend is the one in our mind.
Perhaps, at these times, the world is too much with us.
It is simple? Or simple minded?

Banjo52 said...

AH, if "spare" is another word for it, I cannot think of Fitz as spare. I don't remember Capote in print, and I still need to get further into Kundera. I will say that for a style as poetic as I hear Fitzgerald's to be, I've never thought of him as verbose or flabby, just elegant and powerful.

Jean, thanks. Sometimes I TRY to make sense . . .

Brenda, I doubt I've heard a writer say s/he knew Nirvana from the inside, whereas MANY have spoken of being a psychological mess. I like your question about world clutter and simplicity. I think Yeats (among others?) might say revolution does take some simplification. To risk everything, the revolutionary has to eliminate the possibility of flaws in his own cause or merits in the opposing one. I've heard/read major figures say this, but I'm drawing a blank except for Yeats in "Easter 1916"--"Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart," etc. Remember? Here about a month ago?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

why surfers? being a native of the golden state, the image of the surfer is a loaded image. curious as to why you chose them

Brenda's Arizona said...

Yes, remember Yeats. Hmmm.
You set the pondering gears into high speed.
I often thought Wordsworth was in his own Nirvana. He saw the beauties as he walked, and he wrote about them. Remember "The Prelude"? Miles of beauty, written in miles of poetic symbolism. It seemed the Romantic period poets used their 'poetry brain' as their escape. In the writing mood, they saw beauty, they romanced every thought. In their moment of writing, all is right with the world. They 'romance' the beautiful woman, they see only beauty in nature, they give love.
But out of their poetry shell - they were all a bit 'melodramatic', eh? And we all know England certainly has its share of rain and dreariness.

I just wonder how they made a living writing poems. Did everyone read poetry back then, like we read newspapers now?

Banjo52 said...

PA, I love the question—it’s become a prompt for the next post, Jan. 20. Thanks!

By the way, how is the surfer a loaded image for you?

Banjo52 said...

BRENDA, I’m not sure about those poets and income. Keats never felt financially comfortable, as the movie Bright Star makes clear.

Wordsworth and Coleridge lived near each other in the Lake District, but I don’t recall what each did for money. Family? I’ve seen W’s Dove Cottage, and it’s sure no castle. Byron and Shelley were aristocrats, weren’t they?

Check this out for Grad School pomposity: I studied that the Romantics celebrated in Nature what they saw as “Dynamic Organicism.” I guess it’s paradoxical that they saw Nature as the window to Paradise, but because it was “dynamic” and “organic” and alive, it wasn’t at all the still water ideal that others (Buddhists? Confucius? Taoists?) sought.

Remember too about The Prelude that the boy Wordsworth was so frightened by a storm on the lake that he thought he was being pursued by ?monsters? and raced all the way home (in a rowboat?).

But it was also Wordsworth who said that poetry is “emotion recollected in tranquility.” That way, I suppose, he gets to have his cake and eat it too—the emotion, including tumult, is primary (rather than the intellect), but poetry “recollects in tranquility” that original passion and in that calm makes some sense of it.

Whether those guys felt they were in tumult WHILE writing, I just don’t recall. Coleridge more or less says that a knock on the door by a stranger from Porlock kept him from finishing "Kubla Khan"--it was that much like a trance, I guess. But ironically, "Kubla Khan" might be the most perfectly conceived and constructed Romantic poem of all.

Most writers these days talk about their mission entirely as work, struggle, but an effort they love and through which they re-discover, and maybe make sense of, their experience and the world they live in.

Is that as windy as I fear it is?

Lovers' Lane