Saturday, September 15, 2012

a delightfully piquant Wordsworth sonnet


[UNTITLED ("Composed December 1806")]

How sweet it is, when mother Fancy rocks
The wayward brain, to saunter through a wood!
An old place, full of many a lovely brood,
Tall trees, green arbours, and ground-flowers in flocks;
And wild rose tip-toe upon hawthorn stocks,
Like a bold Girl, who plays her agile pranks
At Wakes and Fairs with wandering Mountebanks,—
When she stands cresting the Clown's head, and mocks
The crowd beneath her.  Verily I think,
Such place to me is sometimes like a dream
Or map of the whole world: thoughts, link by link,
Enter through ears and eyesight, with such gleam
Of all things, that at last in fear I shrink,
And leap at once from the delicious stream.

 Mother, Girl, and Clown, the wayward wandering Mountebank Poet there in December remembering summer's pranks . . .

Not one of Wordsworth's famous sonnets, I don't recall it appearing in any anthology, nor even in a Selected Poems Of.

But I like its bounding quality, the way it leaps from its stream. 

It even echoes the Intimations Ode: "Whither is fled the visionary gleam?" 

Such gleam of all things.

How sweet it is at last in fear to shrink.

I remember reading somewhere that Jung describes the Anima of the adult male as being not commeasurate with his own age, but stunted at the adolescent stage—

hence this "bold Girl" who leaps out of Wordsworth's delicious stream of consciousness . . .

this simile which jumps the poem so suddenly from the "lovely brood" of deep forest solitude to a raucous circus atmosphere,

where the acrobats "link by link" perform their agile pranks for the crowd's amusement.

A troupe of tumble-makers, a clown clan of wandering Mountebanks who entertain at Wakes and Fairs,

with the Girl, probably one of the family, still young enough to win the crowd by her bold saucy manner, her mock of it all . . .

Mother Fancy rocks the cradled wayward child, her lovely brood cradled in his thoughts.

"Wakes" here has the old meaning of "a merry-making held in connection with the feast of the dedication of a church, kept by watching all night" as well as a post-burial celebration . . .

Bold Wordsworth mocking the crowd of thoughts that delight and frighten.

Even the self-mockery of great poets is exhilarating (Ashbery or Larkin for more recent examples).

I like this sonnet for all the reasons it likes itself.


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