“I wandered lonely as a cloud” – isn’t it amazing to think that when Wordsworth wrote that line it was new and arresting? As fresh as a daisy, which was once also an original phrase. It’s a tricky thing this word spinning, tricky, that is, to come up with fresh ideas and novel combinations of words with which to express them. ‘Novel’, how odd to choose that word when I have spring-boarded off a snatch of Wordsworth’s poetry; poetry which allows for greater compression of language than the novel. In poetic form there is often a purer distillation of words, the usual glue is absent (clauses, conjunctions, subordinators) and instead we can float off into the Milky Way of dreamy notions around which we can fashion our own Perseid meteor shower on the page, shine like the Pleiades.
I love all that, you see, the romance of looking around me at the natural world and figuring working out how and why it redeems us and how I might put it to words. I love wandering and thinking, a little after the fashion of Wordsworth and his fellow Romantics, who may have fallen a little out of fashion with some these days, abjured in favour of angst-ridden, boot-stopping, word-rattling rhyme and line jugglers. The name ‘poetry’ now often dropped in favour of ‘spoken word’, as though it is something different and ground-breaking. But haven’t words always been spoken, poems read aloud to gatherings small and large, recounting local news, ancient lore, fantastic dreams?
Yesterday, I was walking in the Pentlands looking back down over Edinburgh, north across to Fife. Although not Wordsworth country, I couldn’t help but think of him as I leaned on a gate with my head in my hands gazing at the spent heather, low cloud and a shard of pewter forth, and every ill-thought drifted and disappeared from my mind and created a space for me to be “breathed by health”. I heard him calling from two centuries past in a call of comfort that said: generations have had the same thoughts and feelings, expectations and disappointments as you and nothing puts it all into context quite like a tramp in the hills, a clearing in the larch, the sound of the wind moving the Scots Pine.
So, when these bright young things, arms stretched, chin up, words out, take to the stage and spout pages of memory-defying scree on modern life, I think to myself, you need a good walk, the bliss of solitude, and a few lines of Wordsworth – he knew a thing or two!
The Tables Turned, by William Wordsworth
Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.