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he intends to write from its common orbit, fixes it, like a new star, in his own higher firmament, and there contemplates it beneath the gleaming lights and mysterious shadows of its new sphere. It is in this respect that he differs so widely in habit of thought from Coleridge, who was also a muser in his way. All his thoughts in any one poem flow as surely from a distinct centre as the fragrance from a flower. With Coleridge they flit away down every new avenue of vague suggestion, till we are lost in the inextricable labyrinth of tangled associations. The same spiritual freedom which set Wordsworth's imagination in motion, also controlled and fixed it on a single focus. And this he himself noted in contrasting his own early mental life with his friend's abstract and vagrant habits of fancy :
“ I had forms distinct
Without the light of knowledge.” That this spiritual freedom, acting through the imagination, and drawing the objects of the poet's contemplation voluntarily and purposely into his own world of thought, is the most distinguishing characteristic of Wordsworth's poetry, no one can doubt who compares him with any other of our great poets. All other poets create their poetry, and even their meditative poetry, in the act of throwing themselves into the life of the scene or train of thought or feeling they are contemplating : Wordsworth deliberately withdraws his imagination from the heart of his picture to contemplate it in its spiritual relations. Thus, for instance, Tennyson and Wordsworth start from the same mood, the one in the song “Tears, idle tears," the other in the poem called the “Fountain." Tennyson's exquisite poem is well known :
“ Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean ;
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
* Prelude, book viii. p. 224.
Ah, sad and strange, as in dark summer dawns
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.”
“My eyes are dim with childish tears,
My heart is idly stirred;
Which in those days I heard.
And yet the wiser mind
Than what it leaves behind.
The lark above the hill,
Are quiet when they will.
A foolish strife; they see
Is beautif and free.
And often, glad no more,
We have been glad of yore.” Tennyson continues in the same strain of emotion with which he begins, picturing the profound unspeakable sadness with which we survey the irrecoverable past; Wordsworth no sooner touches the same theme than he checks the current of emotion, and, to use his own words,“ instead of being restlessly propelled” by it, he makes it the object of contemplation, and," with no unconquerable sighs, yet with a melancholy in the soul, sinks inward into himself, from thought to thought, to a steady remonstrance and a high resolve.” And thus meditating, he wrings from the temporary sadness fresh conviction that the ebbing away, both in spirit and in appearance, of the brightest past, sad as it must ever be, is not so sad a thing as the weak yearning which, in departing, it often leaves stranded on the soul, to cling to the appearance when the spirit is irrecoverably lost. There is no other great poet who thus redeems new ground for spiritual meditation from beneath the very sweep of the tides of the most engrossing affections, and quietly maintains it in possession of the musing intellect. There is no other but Wordsworth who has led us “ to those sweet counsels between head and heart” which flash upon the absorbing emotions of the moment the steady light of a calm infinite world. None but Wordsworth have ever so completely “transmuted,” by an imaginative spirit, unsatisfied yearnings into eternal truth. No other poet ever brought out as he has done
“ The soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;” or so tenderly preserved the
" wall-flower scents From out the crumbling ruins of fallen pride;" or taught us how,
“By pain of heart, now checked, and now impelled,
The intellectual power through words and things
Went sounding on a dim and perilous way.” He has himself described this self-determination of his genius to “preserve and enlarge the freedom in himself” in lines so beautiful, that, though we have already lingered long on this point, we cannot forbear quoting them :
“ Within the soul a faculty abides
That, with interpositions that would hide
From palpable oppressions of despair."* Of other poets, Tennyson alone may seem in some of his more thoughtful poems (the “ In Memoriam” and “The Two Voices”) to have approached Wordsworth's domain in employing the spiritual imagination to illuminate the moods of human emotion. In reality, however, even these poems are quite distinct in kind. They are more like glittering sparks flying upwards from the
Excursion, book iv. p. 152.
flames of self-consuming aspirations than the quiet, stedfast, and spiritual lights of Wordsworth's insight.
But it is by no means principally in treating these deeper themes that Wordsworth brings the most of this conscious, voluntary, imaginative force to bear upon his subjects. All his most characteristic poems bear vivid traces of the same mental process. In his poems on subjects of natural beauty it is perhaps even more remarkable than in his treatment of mental subjects where this contemplative withdrawal from the immediate tyranny of a present emotion, in order to gain a higher point of view, seems more natural. But in all his most characteristic poems on nature there is just the same method : first, a subjection of the mind to the scene or object or feeling studied; then a withdrawing into his deeper self to exhaust its meaning. Thus, in the fine poems on Yarrow, the point of departure is the craving of the mind to see an object long ago painted in the imagination; but instead of yielding to the current of that feeling, the poet checks himself, and meditates whether the imaginative anticipation may not in itself be a richer wealth than any reality which could take its place:
“ Let beeves and homebred kine partake
The sweets of Burn-mill meadow,
Float double swan and shadow !
To-day, nor yet to-morrow :
There's such a place as Yarrow.
It must, or we shall rue it;
Ah, why should we undo it?
We'll keep them, winsome Marrow;
'Twill be another Yarrow." And in the same way, in the poem on “Yarrow visited," after brooding over its beauties, he puts them at a distance from him, to distinguish the influence of the "waking dream,” “the image that hath perished," in helping him to see the reality : "I see; but not by sight alone, loved Yarrow, have I won thee.” And then finally, in revisiting the same spot in old age, we have first the picture of the present; and, as the memory of the past, with its regrets, naturally follows, again the poet shakes himself free from this—the natural mood of the natural man, so to speakin recognising the beauties of happier years, to win the higher spiritual insight that
" the visions of the past Sustain the heart in feeling Life as she is-our changeful life,
With friends and kindred dealing." And he ends this most perfect triad of spiritual imaginations with the characteristic verse,
“ Flow on for ever, Yarrow stream,
Fulfil thy pensive duty,
For simple hearts thy beauty;
Dear to the common sunshine,
To memory's shadowy moonshine.”
» we may recall those daffodils transfigured before the "inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude;" the cuckoo, which, though
babbling only to the vale of sunshine and of flowers,” he spiritualises into a “wandering voice,” that “tellest unto me a tale of visionary hours ;" the mountain echo, which sends her“ unsolicited reply” to the same babbling wanderer; the nut-laden hazel-branches, whose luxuriant feast first threw him into “that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay tribute to ease,” and then so “patiently gave up their quict being,” that, haunted by remorse, he is compelled to exclaim, “with gentle hand touch, for there is a spirit in the woods;" the daisy, that recalls him from “stately passions” to “the homely sympathy that heeds the common life our nature breeds;" and the mists, which “magnify and spread the glories of the sun's bright head.” But there is no finer instance of Wordsworth's selfwithdrawing mood in gazing at external things than that of the lines on the Boy of Windermere who mocked the owls. For real lovers of Wordsworth, these lines have effected more in helping them adequately to imagine the full depth of the human imagination, and to feel the inexhaustible wealth of Nature's symbols
, than any magnificence of storm or shipwreck or Alpine solitude :
“ There was a boy : ye knew him well, ye cliffs
And islands of Winander ! many a time