Shakespeare’s 33rd sonnet

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all-triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

This is Shakespeare’s 33rd sonnet and looks to be a comment on the changeability of the English weather – the first 8 lines seem to be exactly about those days that begin brilliantly and then become progressively dull as the sun is hidden by cloud.  Today is one of those days!  Yet the next lines suggest it’s really about something much more human: love and estrangement; the need for understanding, and forgiveness.

My heart leaps up when I behold

Last January on a bright showery day a magnificent rainbow arched around the village across the northern sky.  The best ever, it seemed at the time.  Initially bright in the west over Broughton Gifford, that intensity soon transferred to Bowden Hill in the east, and then, all to swiftly, sadly, it was all gone.

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:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Wordsworth wrote this on March 26, 1802.  The day after, he began to write his longer and better known Ode: Intimations of Immortality.

The world is too much with us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune,
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

A sentiment that, for many, is as apt now as it was in 1802 when Wordsworth wrote it, maybe even more so such is the disquiet and disenchantment around us, and our divorce from nature almost complete.  A tribute, then, on this April 7th, his birthday – which should forever be, Wordsworth Day.

Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey

Although I have lived in the village for almost 25 years, it was only last month that I really noticed our sycamores.  These are the larger cousins of the field maples that surround the village, and have the disadvantage that they are not considered “native”, having come to England only after the last ice age.  Because of this we are encouraged to look down on them, to assume that they are not as good for wildlife as the field maple, and hence to view them differently – as outsiders – and so we do.  But next May, find the sycamores at the ends of the old road and look at their flowers: long, pale, green cascades, all dangling and delicate, and marvel.  Do this before they change into the keys we’re familiar with, and before the trees cast their dense shadows.  For theirs is the reverse ugly duckling story where something rather wonderful becomes dull and mundane.

Wordsworth knew well the intensity the sycamore brings.  Here’s a brief extract from his Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey:

The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses.

August 2011

The Lesser Celandine

As I write this, the first daffodil buds have burst and yellow floods the garden.  Welcome as daffodils are as a sign of advancing spring, I’m no great fan of many of the cultivated varieties we have today – those bred for drama rather than subtlety.  Much kinder on the eye is the native British daffodil, beloved of the Welsh and immortalised in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal where she recorded her walk to Ullswater in 1802, and then by her brother, whose verse I learned at school, and remember some of today.

William Wordsworth wrote about nature, not to say anything particularly profound about it, but to illuminate the human condition, and his poem Daffodils is about the importance to us of time spent in the natural world, and the fulfilment that memories of this can bring.  Wordsworth wrote three poems about another native spring flower that blooms largely unbidden and often unremarked, even in gardens.  An early source of nectar, it reacts to wind and rain by closing its petals, but as it ages it loses this ability to protect itself.  Unlike humans, however, it is spared this knowledge of change and decay and the temptation to remember and regret.

The Lesser Celandine

There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!

When hailstones have been falling, swarm on swarm,
Or blasts the green field and the trees distressed,
Oft have I seen it muffled up from harm,
In close self-shelter, like a Thing at rest.

But lately, one rough day, this Flower I passed,
And recognized it, though an altered form,
Now standing forth an offering to the blast,
And buffeted at will by rain and storm.

I stopped, and said, with inly-muttered voice,
It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold:
This neither is its courage nor its choice,
But its necessity in being old.

The sunshine may not cheer it, nor the dew;
It cannot help itself in its decay;
Stiff in its members, withered, changed of hue.
And, in my spleen, I smiled that it was grey.

To be a Prodigal’s Favourite – then, worse truth,
A Miser’s Pensioner – behold our lot!
O Man, that from thy fair and shining youth
Age might but take the things Youth needed not!

May  2010