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CHAPTER VI

WORDSWORTH'S BIRDS

WORDSWORTH, although he is, as we have seen, in a very special sense, the poet of Nature, is not conspicuous for his knowledge of natural history as such. And yet, the curious thing is that in his early days, before he "found himself," he showed skill in mere descriptions without any high moral purpose; witness his Evening Walk, the writing of which was due to his consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country, so far. as he was acquainted with them, and led to his making a resolution to supply in some degree this deficiency. His pictures of the cock and of the swan are minute to a fault :

Sweetly ferocious, round his native walks,
Pride of his sister-wives, the monarch stalks ;
Spur-clad his nervous feet and firm his tread;
A crest of purple tops the warrior's head.
Bright sparks his black and rolling eyeball hurls

in

Afar, his tail he closes and unfurls;

On tiptoe reared, he strains his clarion throat, Threatened by faintly-answering farms remote. Again with his shrill voice the mountain rings, While, flapped with conscious pride, resound his wings. Except it be Chaucer's superb picture of Chanticleer in the Nonnes Priestes Tale, there is nowhere any literature a portrait so minutely painted, so entirely drawn from the life as this of the barn-door cock, but it has no moral lesson; it is drawn merely for its own sake, for the pleasure of limning it with accuracy and force. A similar remark applies to Wordsworth's equally fine attempt in the same poem to depict a swan. This, though a long passage, must be quoted, because it shows how close an observer Wordsworth was, even at an early age, for he was not yet out of his teens.

"Tis pleasant near the tranquil lake to stray,
Where, winding on along some secret bay,
The swan uplifts his chest, and backward flings

His neck, a varying arch, between his towering wings ;

The eye that marks the gliding creature sees

How graceful pride can be, and how majestic ease.

While tender cares and mild domestic loves
With furtive watch pursue her as she moves,
The female with a meeker charm succeeds,
And her brown little ones around her leads,
Nibbling the water-lilies as they pass,
Or playing wanton with the floating grass.

She, in a mother's care, her beauty's pride
Forgetting, calls the wearied to her side.
Alternately they mount her back and rest,
Close by her mantling wings' embraces prest.

Here are some graphic touches (the nibbling at
the water-lilies, and the playing with the floating
grasses) absolutely correct to fact in every par-
ticular, and proving that Wordsworth thus early
used his own eyes, and kept them fixed on the
object to be described. That was his own, al-
though the rhythm of his verse is borrowed from
Pope. In the same poem occur the lines:-
:-

Where the duck dabbles 'mid the rustling sedge
And feeding pike starts from the water's edge,
Or the swan stirs the reeds, his neck and bill
Wetting, that drip upon the water still;
And heron, as resounds the trodden shore,
Shoots upward, darting his long neck before.

Such was Wordsworth's early work. The paintings of a young artist are sometimes characterised by minutely careful and punctilious filling in of small details; as he gains greater confidence in himself, his brush takes a bolder sweep, and he gives the broader aspects of his subject without descending to minutia. Some such evolution was noticeable in Wordsworth. His later work shows that he still had the power of painting details, but

only occasionally did he exercise it; he preferred the larger view, the more outstanding features. It is on record that he objected to Walter Scott's habit of going forth with notebook and pencil to jot down the names of plants found in a particular scene which he was describing. "He should have left his pencil and his notebook at home, fixed his eye as he walked with a reverent attention on all that surrounded him, and taken all into a heart that could understand and enjoy. Then, after several days had passed by, he should have interrogated his memory as to the scene. He would have discovered that while much of what he had admired was preserved to him, much was also most wisely obliterated; that which remained—the picture surviving in his mind—would have presented the ideal and essential truth of the scene, and done so in a large part by discarding much which, though in itself striking, was not characteristic. In every scene many of the most brilliant details are but accidental; a true eye for Nature does not note them or at least does not dwell on them."

We have perhaps unduly lingered on this topic, but it is necessary to prepare such readers as are not Wordsworthians for the fact that Wordsworth is far behind Tennyson in his wealth of allusions

rising out of scientific knowledge; it is also imperative that the real explanation of this fact should be given. Wordsworth is as accurate and reliable as Tennyson, but he is less minute; he is more bare, more plain, more bald, more simple, less rich, less objective, but more spiritual and penetrating in essentials. We now proceed to illustrate such particularities as do occur. Wordsworth spent much of his day in the open air, wandering by himself, consequently he saw animal life at its best, and under the most favourable circumstances. Hence we have such pictures as these :

The bat, lured forth where trees the lane o'ershade,
Flits and reflits along the close arcade ;

The busy dor-hawk chases the white moth
With burring note.

The dor-hawk is the goat-sucker or night-jar, and every circumstance is correctly given. Take next the vivid picture of the hare on a dewy morning :On the moors

The hare is running races in her mirth;

And with her feet she from the plashy earth

Raises a mist that, glittering in the sun,

Runs with her all the way, wherever she doth run.

:

This bears internal evidence of being written on the spot. So it is with his allusions to the glowworm (which is one of his favourite topics), to the

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