I don’t quite know, why but this sonnet by Wordsworth has been in my mind for the past week. I am not normally a fan of Wordsworth (I know, sacrilege, but what can you do?), but I visited Dove Cottage a couple of years ago while in the Lake District. It was an interesting tour, and I learned a lot about life at that time – the kind of thing I find fascinating, like the fact that the canopy on the four poster bed was there to keep rain and small creatures off you.
Anyway, there were some examples of Wordsworth’s poetry around to read and I needed to sit down for a while, so I leafed through with no great expectation, only a willingness to suspend my prejudice for a brief period. I came across this, and strange to say it sent a shiver down my spine. I mean it literally. I have never had that before with a piece of writing – and there are many poems I love, as well as prose. Even now, every time I read it I still get an emotional response.
For me it felt like meeting a friend, someone who understood what I thought and felt in my heart of hearts, because the poem so perfectly encapsulates how I do feel about the human condition. And to be sitting in the cottage where the writer had lived when I read it, and know that a person some 200 years ago, who had lived in those rooms and looked out of those windows, felt and thought the same as me, and was able to write it down so beautifully – well, I was moved. I gather he wrote it just before moving away, and that he used to go to sit by the river to get his inspiration to write. I suppose he may have been wondering if he would still be able to write without that inspiration to guide him.
So here it is, and I hope you enjoy it, even if it doesn’t quite affect you in the same way.
Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon
I THOUGHT of Thee, my partner and my guide,
As being pass’d away — Vain sympathies!
For, backward, Duddon! as I cast my eyes,
I see what was, and is, and will abide;
Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains, the Function never dies;
While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We Men, who in our morn of youth defied
The elements, must vanish;—be it so!
Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.