Tracy Lee Karner

Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey: my love affair with poetry, part 3

Wordsworth was twenty-eight years old when he composed Lines in 1798.
190 years later, I was twenty-eight when I first read his poem, and immortality touched me.
I had tried repeatedly to appreciate Wordsworth’s poems. I trudged through them only because they had been assigned and I was a dutiful student. But I found his poems difficult and tiresome, like a cranky old man who prefers the sound of his own voice best.

  • Then, In 1988, I discovered the seductive power of his Lines.

All at once I heard, in this poem, the intimate voice reserved for sacred longings. I fell in love.
I read Lines aloud, over and over, singing without melody, soaring without any combustible power to hold me in the heavens, flying on pure inertia.
I returned to Wordsworth’s lengthy Lines as some people return to a ritual of tea, seeking a restorative moment.
I suddenly understood, how foolish it is to attempt, too early in a relationship, to analyze my love. When a romantic poem and I are getting to know one another, it works out best if I simply, unabashedly adore it.

  • My Reading of Lines, these days…

could be like a long marriage–on a bad day I know too much about Wordsworth to find him anything but irritatingly full of himself. I’ve not only read most of his poetry, I’ve analyzed it ad nauseam and written lengthy, dreary papers about him. Here is an excerpt from my essay called “The Creative and Critical Mind in Wordsworth’s The Prelude.” 
“Charles Lamb, essayist and critic who had known Coleridge since their school days, held a dinner party to which he invited Wordsworth and Coleridge. As young men the two poets had been the best of friends. In later years they became estranged from one another. Lamb meant to facilitate reconciliation. At the party, they were seated some distance from one another, each the center of a conversation. One of the guests, Mr. Robinson, reported that when he went to mingle among the people listening to Coleridge, he was edified to note that Coleridge was reciting lines from Wordsworth’s poems. Then when Robinson went to mingle among the people gathered around Wordsworth, he noticed Wordsworth was reciting and proclaiming the glories of… Wordsworth.”
Despite his egocentricities, my relationship with Wordsworth has been a happy, long one. I love the old duff more than ever. He remains charmingly seductive. Although I am well-acquainted with his idiosyncrasies and foibles, he has become comfortable to be with, like my favorite tattered quilt. I even find myself making excuses for his weaknesses.
You’ll understand why I’m disinclined to ramble on about the things he does to annoy me. He’s only human, after all, and after all the solace he has given me, he has earned my heartfelt admiration.
Amazingly, he himself penned the words that sum up what Lines does to me when I read it.
The poem leads me into reverie, puts me in a

…blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
You can admire all of Lines with me by clicking here.
Who do you read when you need to cozy up to a warm fire, wrapped in your favorite old afghan, quilt or sweater?

45 thoughts on “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey: my love affair with poetry, part 3”

  1. Oh dear, I read a ditzy chick lit light book but a spot of tea or a nice coffee is always good. Wine makes me too sleepy to read. I only have wine or a cocktail drink if I’m listening to music.

    1. I’ve never tried wine and reading together — just doesn’t seem right. Maybe if I was reading some heavy-duty philosophy, wine would go with it? But coffee or tea are always companionable with books. With Wordsworth I would choose tea.

    1. I’m convinced I would have been more comfortable in the Romantic world (but only if I could have avoided the dreadful effects of the revolutions). My sensibilities never have caught up with contemporary culture.
      I suppose love is a decision. I decided not to let my knowledge (of flaws and contradictions) cause me to abandon the work of loving what is good while accepting what is imperfect.

  2. I studied Wordsworth at school along with the Metaphysical poets, all of whom have left a lasting impression. I find that, because William is so, well, wordy, I can only read him in small chunks to enjoy him, which I do – and I can evoke wonderful memories of times walking the English Lake District.
    Who do I cuddle up with? When I want something familiar and very, very British, then it’s Alan Bennett’s monologues, as in Talking Heads. I have a volume by the bed right now. I never fail to find something new and I’ve read them countless times. Just the right amount of humour and pathos.
    Poetry? Depends on my mood…but it could be anything from Shakespeare to Roger McGough. 🙂

  3. When studying poetry at school I tired of the analyzing required to pass the exams because I just wanted to read the poems. Why did I have to understand WHY certain words were used in a particular way? Now, I too am going back to some of the old classics and re-reading them and it is amazing how differently an adult head can appreciate things. Thanks for the post and another poet to fully embrace for his poetry – not necessarily for his egocentric nature (although I found that little story about the dinner party VERY amusing).

    1. I think it’s a shame that so many teachers ruin poetry for students. Why not just let them hear it and love it?
      I have to say, I had a teacher in 4th grade who did a good job of that. Just read poems to us and let us like or dislike them. We didn’t have to talk about them, didn’t have to do anything but enjoy them. She was smart.
      And I love the dinner party story, too.

      1. And books and music and art were the same, ruined in some ways by teachers making students over-analyze rather than enjoy their own appreciation of the beauty and creativity of the artist.

  4. Excellent – thanks for the link.
    I think this is an example of older stuff requiring us to sink into it more, when time was different. I will print it out and try to do just that.

  5. I was introduced to Wordsworth and Coleridge in a class on Romantic poetry at Syracuse University. The professor really opened my eyes to the poetry, music and literature of that time, and how it all was intertwined. Lovely stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank heavens for good teachers, those who open our eyes. A class on Romantic poetry can be deadly, without a good professor. I love the Romantic poets myself, but I think it’s an acquired taste, and one needs to sip slowly (rather like drinking a single malt scotch).

  6. The age of twenty-eight must be a special age, Tracy, at least for you and Wordsworth. I love how you compare his egocentricities, idiosyncrasies and foibles to a favorite tattered quilt. Now, THAT is a perfect match, despite the jet lag of 190 years!

    1. I was pretty sure you’d like the quilt I slipped in, Marylin. I actually thought of you when I wrote it! 🙂
      And for some reason, 28 was a defining year for me. Probably because I fell in love with W.W.

  7. One of the most beautiful things is to encounter someone who loves loves loves the romantics — and is able to breathe life into the poetry.
    that’s what you did for me! thanks.
    I tend towards Rumi by the fire.

    1. I once had a perfect little fireside book, Coleman Barks’ translations of Rumi (limited edition). I tend to give my favorite books away (I never lend them, because then I feel sad if I don’t get them back).

  8. What a lovely post Tracy. I’m not familiar with Wordsworth but his poetry sounds lovely, thank you for sharing! I have to admit that the last really good set of books I enjoyed were the Hunger Games trilogy, I just couldn’t put them down once I started ready.
    I must also say that I love the photograph at the beginning of your post. It looks like the perfect autumn day with the trees just beginning to turn!

    1. It’s just impossible to read everything. Believe it or not, I haven’t read the Hunger Games. I’ve been stuck in the 18th century recently…
      It was a memorable day when that picture was taken– autumn in New England is full of those. But A2 has gorgeous autumns, too, right?

  9. I just remember being absolutely mesmerised by William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ and never fail to be moved by it. That is what I would read if I were in ‘poem’ mood:-) I love how you describe Wordsworth and the passage that you quoted. I always immediately think of his poem ‘Daffodils’ when any mention of Wordsworth is mentioned, thanks to it being pummelled into me when taking high school English 🙂

    1. I love “The Tyger.” I used to read it to my children, and it evidently had a strong impression on my son. When I took him to the zoo, he stood in front of the Tiger cage and stared down the mesmerizing beast for the longest time. I wasn’t sure which one of them was the hypnotizer, and which was the hypnotized.

      1. What a lovely story, I can just imagine it. I too find tigers mesmerizing and always have, I could stare at one for hours. Perhaps your son is a tiger whisperer 🙂

  10. I usually go with a classic book. During the past two years, I got obsessed with them. The ones I have never read when I was young and the ones I have read but I was too young to appreciate.

    1. So, I had to look up Tagore (wasn’t covered in my English Lit classes!). I was familiar with
      “O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet.
      Only let me make my life simple and straight,
      like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.”
      Didn’t know the author. Thank you for opening a door into a new world for me!

    1. I agree!
      Sometimes I feel like the only people who read it are those who write it (or used to write it). But–there is a subculture of people who discover its joys. I think Billy Collins and Garrison Keillor have done marvelous things to bring ordinary people to poetry, as has Alice Fogel with her book “Strange Terrain” and the courses she teaches on poetry appreciation for the uninitiated.
      The wonderful thing about poetry is it remains so divorced from commercial success and mass appeal. People who write it, do it from a motivation of honest love for the art (some do it for fame and accolades, but only for a short while before they drop out, realizing there is such small recognition, such little monetary or prestigious reward, that the only reason to do it is for pure love).
      Oh, I do love poetry!

  11. I tried to post something just now, but it got eaten. It contained a link. Could it be that you have that post in your dashboard waiting for approval? Otherwise I will repost it…

  12. Hmmmm, since it’s not showing up still, I will just repost: I like to sit in my European late 60s leather chair by the window, with a glass of wine or port or coffee on the windowsill…
    What I read for comfort: Carl Zuckmayer, who was born in my home village and whose reflections and plays (his poetry is not among my favorites) I find speak a voice that resonates with me deeply (have you read any of his work?). Or my beloved Ko Un, who catches me on the right or wrong foot again and again. And then there is Shakespeare in the dual English-modern German translation published by ars vivendi, one of the most beautifully crafted and wonderfully executed projects in German bookmaking over the last two decades. I have almost all volumes and love going through them again and again…
    I guess it’s a testament to three cultures I am connected with the most…

    1. I haven’t read Zuckmayer, but I’ll be digging in, as soon as I can find some. And of course, I have been enjoying Ko Un thanks to you and Nina.
      Now that I’ve got the modern-German Shakespeare link, I’ll be foraging in that lush forest, too.
      I don’t often drink wine while reading. But port, I could do port with the right book. Come to think of it, I could do wine with Shakespeare. Just haven’t thought of it until now.
      Did you bring the chair from Europe? Or find it here?

      1. If you can lay your hands on Zuckmayer’s first autobiography which he published while living in exile in Vermont (on a farm) it will probably give you the best impression of the man. It’s called “Second Wind”. I do have a copy of the first edition which I might be willing to lend you…:)
        The chair belonged to a friend of mine’s father who threw it out, so my friend took it in. When she moved up on the income scale she was getting ready to get rid of it, too, so I intervened and took it.
        So, when the question of the move to the US came up, it was one of the three pieces of furniture (along with a huge mirror and a table) that friends of ours who were in the military brought over on their move back to the US. While I was in San Antonio in March, I took the chair apart and mailed it to myself. Now, it has been here for over half a year and I am so happy about it…the mirror is still with our friends. We’re waiting for them to move closer to us so we can drive and pick it up…:D

          1. BTW, I checked Abebooks yesterday and the Second Wind book is available for around $10! In the first edition…might be worth it. His wife wrote a book about their farm life in Vermont as well: Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer. It’s been translated, I’m sure…

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