Thursday, November 7, 2013

Memorization Challenge: The Tables Turned

I've been trying to take better notice of the beauty that surrounds me in nature. It's not easy. My mind gets so filled with checklists and deadlines that it's hard to slow down, breathe in for a second and smile at what life is offering. I'm in the thralls, or maybe the trenches, of formal education and assignments stack high. While I was buried in books and papers this week's poem hit me like a ton of bricks.

The piece is called The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth. There are several phrases that struck a vibrant chord with me, especially because of how busy I make myself. Somewhere in my head I hear my father's voice telling me he's concerned I'm spreading myself too thin. Don't worry Dad, I'm writing the worth of Wordsworth's words.... I'm sorry... I couldn't resist.

Wordsworth was a major English poet during the Romantic Period. He was born in the Lake District. His mostly absentee father taught him poetry and introduced him to authors like Milton and Shakespeare. He also sent little William to Hawkshead Grammar School in Lancashire. Wordsworth saw his first writing success when a sonnet he wrote was published in The European Magazine.

Wordsworth published a book of poetry with Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Lyrical Ballads. When writing the preface to the book Wordsworth noted that he wanted to write in the "true language of men" and insisted poetry is a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin in emotion recollected in tranquillity."

He was close with his sister, Dorothy, for all of his life. He lost a brother in a shipwreck. He lost another brother to the clergy. He traveled to Revolutionary France and fell in love with a woman there, with whom he had a child. He married a childhood friend.

Wordsworth's poetry sadly focuses on separation, grief and death, but he also is recognized for his ideas about the human mind and its connection to nature. His idealistic lines should be taken with a grain of salt though because the guy But his poetry still hits home for the busy-minded like myself. He writes like someone who knows what it is to feel time slip through his fingers; for that reason I feel a particular connection to his poetry.

In The Tables Turned a few lines really move the waters, so to speak. The first is the idea of a "meddling intellect." The power of the human mind is an incredible force. Sometimes, though, it doesn't know when to stop working. It analyzes, breaks down, compares, contrasts, accepts, rejects-- enough is enough. We "murder to dissect." Sometimes it's important to just look around and take in the world for how it is. It's great to admire and accept bits of life without carrying the burden of "figuring things out."

I love this poem because it sounds like a friend reminding me to take it easy and enjoy every moment.

The Tables Turned

Up! Up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! Up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening's yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth by by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

-William Wordsworth