Sunday, 13 April 2008

William Wordsworth poet, part 4

In 1798 the poet William Wordsworth combined with his friend and fellow-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to produce a booklet titled 'Lyrical Ballads'. The publication features four contributions from Coleridge including his epic tale of disaster at sea 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere' (one of P-i-R's favourite poems it must be admitted). The remaining nineteen poems are from Wordsworth. In the introduction the poets write: It is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The evidence of this fact is to be sought, not in the writings of Critics, but in those of Poets themselves. This thought is something well worth keeping hold of. It will stand the reader and poet both in good stead. The book's title 'Lyrical Ballads' is something of a misnomer for 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere' is the only ballad therein. This was the experimental poetry of the day! Here's an extract from one of Wordsworth's more interesting contributions. It describes an 'incident in which he was concerned'. Simon Lee, the old huntsman with one eye, is eighty years of age and lives with his wife, the stouter of the two, near a waterfall in Cardigan, Wales. They have no children to help them out. It's a case of scrape a living or die.

from Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman

Beside their moss-grown hut of clay,
Not twenty paces from the door,
A scrap of land they have, but they
Are poorest of the poor.
This scrap of land he had from the heath
Enclosed when he was stronger;
But what avails the land to them,
Which they can till no longer?

Few months of life has he in store,
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
His poor old ankles swell.
My gentle reader, I perceive
How patiently you've waited,
And I'm afraid that you expect
Some tale will be related.

O reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle reader! you would find
A tale in every thing.
What more I have to say is short,
I hope you'll kindly take it;
It is no tale; but should you think,
Perhaps a tale you'll make it.

On summer-day I chanced to see
This old man doing all he could
About the root of an old tree,
A stump of rotten wood.
The mattock totter'd in his hand;
So vain was his endeavour
That at the root of the old tree
He might have worked forever.

'You're overtasked, good Simon Lee,
Give me your tool' to him I said;
And at the word right gladly he
Received my proffer'd aid.
I struck, and with a single blow
The tangled root I sever'd,
At which the poor old man so long
And vainly had endeavour'd.

The tears into his eyes were brought,
And thanks and praises seemed to run
So fast out of his heart, I thought
They never would have done.
- I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning.
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftner left me mourning.

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