Apr. 7, 2004

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

by William Wordsworth

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Poems: "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud," "The Tables Turned," and "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold," by William Wordsworth.

I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud

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.

The Tables Turned

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.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold

My heart leaps up when I behold
       A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
       Or let me die!
The child is father of the Man;
       I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Donald Barthelme, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1931). He's the author of four novels, including Snow White (1967) and The Dead Father (1975), but he's best known for his strange, fragmented short stories, compiled in the books Sixty Stories (1981) and Forty Stories (1987).

His father was an architect who designed the house in Houston that Barthelme grew up in. His parents had a large collection of contemporary art and kept a library full of books by writers like James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, which Barthelme began reading at an early age. By the time he was ten he had decided he was going to be a writer. In 1953, he was drafted by the army to serve in Korea, but the war ended just a few days after he arrived. He found work at the army newspaper, then returned to Houston, where he worked as a journalist and wrote speeches for the president of the University of Houston. In 1962, he went to New York to become a writer.

He edited journals for a couple of years until, in 1964, his first short story was published in The New Yorker. His first collection, Come Back, Dr. Caligari, was published later that year. It was full of absurd, surrealistic stories that jump from one topic to another without transitions. Most critics weren't sure what to make of them; some people said they should be read more like poems than short stories. In one story, Batman is ashamed of himself because he doesn't think he's doing a good enough job fighting crime.
A story called "Me and Miss Mandible" is narrated by a middle-aged man who finds himself in the sixth grade.

"Me and Miss Mandible" begins: "Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child; I am, according to the records, according to the gradebook on her desk, according to the card index in the principal's office, eleven years old. There is a misconception here, one that I haven't quite managed to get cleared up yet. I am in fact thirty-five, I've been in the Army, I am six feet one, I have hair in the appropriate places, my voice is a baritone, I know very well what to do with Miss Mandible if she ever makes up her mind. In the meantime we are studying common fractions."

Barthelme said, "Write about what you're afraid of."

It's the birthday of poet William Wordsworth, born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, England (1770). Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was a pioneer of the Romantic movement in English poetry at the end of the eighteenth century.

He grew up in the Lake District in northern England, and he loved to explore the woods and fields around his house, with his three brothers and his sister Dorothy. In 1790, when he was twenty years old, he and a friend decided to go on a walking tour of Europe. They walked through the mountains and valleys of France during the time of the French Revolution, but Wordsworth cared more about nature than politics. He covered more than two thousand miles, walking more than twenty miles every day, and the country he passed through became the inspiration for many of his most famous poems, including The Prelude.

He returned to France a few years later and fell in love with a woman named Annette Vallon. Just as he was preparing to go back to England, he found out that she was pregnant with his child. He planned on raising enough money to return and marry her, but that winter France declared war on England. Vallon wrote Wordsworth a letter that said, "Come, my love, my husband, accept the kisses of your wife, of your daughter. She is so pretty, this poor little thing, so pretty that if she weren't always in my arms I would go out of my mind." The letter was confiscated by French authorities and Wordsworth never saw it. Wordsworth and Vallon stayed in correspondence for several years, but they never saw each other again.

In August of 1795, Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the two quickly became close friends. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to a house just a few miles away from Coleridge's home in the country. Wordsworth, his sister, and Coleridge spent much of the next year in each other's company. Wordsworth later wrote, "We were three persons with one soul."

Wordsworth and Coleridge would meet to take walks and talk about poetry almost every day. They decided to write a book of poems together, with half of the poems about supernatural subjects and half about everyday objects and events. The book, Lyrical Ballads, came out in 1798, and it changed the course of English poetry for the next two hundred years. Most poets in the eighteenth century wrote about ancient heroes and myths in elevated language, but Wordsworth wrote about nature and children and peasants using ordinary words that anyone could easily understand. He defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," arising from "emotion recollected in tranquility."

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