Not useless do I deem
These quiet sympathies with things that hold
An inarticulate language; for the man
Once taught to love such objects as excite
No morbid passions, no disquietude,
No vengeance, and no hatred needs must feel
The joy of that pure principle of love
So deeply that, unsatisfied with aught
Less pure and exquisite, he cannot choose
But seek for objects of a kindred love
In fellow-natures and a kindred joy.
Accordingly he by degrees perceives
His feelings of aversion softened down,
A holy tenderness pervade his frame,
His sanity of reason not impaired,
Say rather all his thoughts now flowing clear,
From a clear fountain flowing, he looks round,
He seeks for good and finds the good he seeks
Till execration and contempt are things
He only knows by name and if he hears
From other mouths the language which they speak
He is compassionate and has no thought
No feeling which can overcome his love.
William Wordsworth, excerpt from manuscript of "The Ruined Cottage," in Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (editors), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Volume Five (Oxford University Press 1949), pages 400-401. The lines were later incorporated, with revisions, into Book IV ("Despondency Corrected") of The Excursion (1814).
James McIntosh Patrick, "Springtime in Eskdale" (1935)
Over the years, I have made only desultory, occasional forays into Wordsworth's lengthy philosophical/narrative poems (e.g., The Prelude, The Excursion, The Recluse). I confess that their prolixity and their often high-flown rhetoric have been a barrier. However, a passage such as this makes me feel that I have been remiss, and inexcusably lazy. Yes, there is some prolixity and rhetoric in these lines, but they are outweighed by the simple truth of what Wordsworth says -- and the beautiful way in which he says it.
Wordsworth wrote this passage at a time when his friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge was at its strongest. Thus, it is not surprising that, in a letter to his brother written in March or April of 1798, Coleridge quotes the first 18 lines of the passage (indicating that Wordsworth had shared the manuscript with him). Immediately prior to quoting the lines, Coleridge writes:
"I love fields and woods and mountains with almost a visionary fondness. And because I have found benevolence and quietness growing within me as that fondness has increased, therefore I should wish to be the means of implanting it in others, and to destroy the bad passions not by combating them but by keeping them in inaction."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letter to George Coleridge, in Ernest Hartley Coleridge (editor), Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume I (1895), pages 243-244.
James McIntosh Patrick, "Glamis Village" (1939)
For some reason, two poems by R. S. Thomas came to mind as I was mulling over Wordsworth's lines. I do not consider them to be reiterations of what Wordsworth has to say. Rather, I think of them as being instances of how Wordsworth's thoughts may play out in our lives.
that you have been seeking
you come upon it
the village in the Welsh hills
with no road out
but the one you came in by.
A bird chimes
from a green tree
the hour that is no hour
you know. The river dawdles
to hold a mirror for you
where you may see yourself
as you are, a traveller
with the moon's halo
above him, who has arrived
after long journeying where he
began, catching this
one truth by surprise
that there is everything to look forward to.
R. S. Thomas, Later Poems (1983).
For me, the most profound, and the loveliest, statement in Wordsworth's passage is this: "Not useless do I deem/These quiet sympathies with things that hold/An inarticulate language." I think this statement sets forth a principle (to use Wordsworth's word) that provides the link between Thomas's poems and Wordsworth's meditation. That principle, as expressed by both Wordsworth and Thomas, requires openness, receptiveness, repose, and contemplation. Not easy qualities to attain. A lifetime in the making, and then, if one is lucky, one may finally touch them. In the meantime, we can only strive.
The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
R. S. Thomas, Laboratories of the Spirit (1975).
Thomas's phrase "the eternity that awaits you" prompts me to think of a statement by Ludwig Wittgenstein that I have posted here on more than one occasion: "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present." Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Proposition 6.4311 (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness).
James McIntosh Patrick, "Boreland Mill, Kirkmichael" (1950)
Everything is right there in front of us, if only we pay attention, if only we look.
To wake, alive, in this world,
Shoha (1727-1771) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 217.
James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)