Sunday, November 19, 2006

Blake & Wordsworth: Smallness & Largeness

Discussing with a classfellow in an Office Hour this past week, I had my eyes opened to the counterbalacing foci of Blake & Wordsworth: the first on the small and the second on the large.

Blake is a master of intensely crafted short lyric, expemplifed for me by the Auguries of Innocence (the Songs & Innocence & Experience also, of course): "He who shall teach a child to doubt / The Rotting Grave shall ne'er get out;" and naturally the opening lyric which captivated so many of you, "To see a World in a Grain of Sand /And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour." This latter is, correctly described as a quatrain, but it is also, I believe, a poem in itself.

Wordsworth, no need to emphasise, is master of the long and expansive lyric: the inspired wandering, most especially, of The Prelude, which has its peripateticism on an incalculable compound of levels.

So there is certainly a contrast of poetic mode -- small and large -- understanding , however, that both could, and did, succeed and delight in writing of any length & size. But what connected for me last week was the (perhps merely pedagogical) point that the two men had a focus on nature at the corresponding level. Blake was inspired by the grain of sand; Wordsworth by the Alps, the Lake District; nay, the elements themselves. And this accords with their habits, where Blake was a contented domestic in habit and Wordsworth was a great walker. Praises be.

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