The Book Club Pune on Sunday, 20th September 2020 met via Zoom to discuss the ‘Poems of Wordsworth’. The discussion was led by Indu Kulkarni.
Read on to know what Runa Mukherjee, a member of the club thought about the evening’s presentation.
The presentation was a detailed exposition of the poetry of Wordsworth, tracing the development of his art through his biography. Indu Kulkarni pointed out that Wordsworth played a seminal role in introducing brand new elements to English literature. Gone was the formal classicism and rational vocabulary of the Age of Reason. Instead, poetry was couched in everyday language with simplicity, and evocative of emotion. Beauty was perceived in the homeliest objects and what glorified them to poetic fervour was not lofty philosophy but the welling of sincere emotion in things as they are. These were the hallmarks of Romantic poetry and Wordsworth was the forerunner of the style that Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Byron also adopted in their own individual way. Beautiful imagery, vivid emotionally charged descriptions makes the reader indeed relive the poetic experience. The common themes were: Back to Nature, the simplicity and purity of rustic life, basic emotions of love and joy and a sense of man’s heroic, even divine, nature. Indu demonstrated this to us beautifully in her presentation.
I enjoy the Romantics. Their poetry fires my imagination and infuses me with
a certain elation about the world around us. I accepted this uncritically when I was a teen. But, in retrospect, I feel that Wordsworth, who lived the longest and had a consistent message running through the body of his work, was talking not so much about reality as about an idyllic escape from reality.
For, the condition of the rural poor in England in the first part of the 19th century was not enviable, let alone a sweet simplicity. The life and the living conditions were crude and squalid. Literacy was low, and agriculture is always dependent on fickle weather conditions. The Napoleonic wars had induced very bad economic conditions. Class consciousness was strong. Wordsworth could not have been unaware of this environment. I suspect that the undeniable physical beauty of the English countryside, in general, rather prompted Wordsworth to gloss over the seamier aspects. Or should we say he transcended them ?
Having said that, the best parts of his poetry, in my opinion, are those which express an almost mystical experience through a sense of kinship with Nature.
As pointed out by an audience member, Blake belonged to the same period as the Romantics and shares their characteristics. But we do tend to see him a little differently because his verse stands stripped of ‘prettiness’ and is situated fully in the realm of the mystical. Wordsworth achieves the same at certain moments, as in ‘Tintern Abbey’ or certain parts of ‘The Prelude’ and, of course, ‘The Daffodils’. And this, to me, is the most appealing aspect of his poetry.