Coming in October: Wordsworth and Zen

No other Romantic-Poet of the 19th century has touched and influenced my very beingness than the poetry of William Wordsworth (1770-1850). I distinctly remember with great-recall my first introduction to English Romanticism in 1978 during a college-class when the Professor, a distinguishably fashioned tall and elderly Indian (India) Oxford-taught gentleman (somewhat fragile in demeanor) with a full head of striking white hair, introduced us to Wordsworth and his works for the first time. The poem in question was Tintern Abbey (Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798).

The teacher’s long fingers pierced the very air like a majestic hawk when describing one passage, “Do you see the Initially-stressed syllable?”:

The day is come when I again repose
HERE, under this dark sycamore

Where in this instance here is used as a noun, almost as if scratching the ground on that direct point like that majestic hawk in search of prey. Tintern Abbey is one of my favorites, but another one is I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

At another college (this time in South Florida, FAU in 1979-80) we were asked in class to choose from a list of poems which one we liked the most. I chose the above and was immediately ridiculed by the teacher in front of the whole class. She drew her arms around her shoulders while rocking back and forth and exclaimed, “Aww, how nice. How safe and cuddly.” Truly she wasn’t a fan of Wordsworth. She had a dog in her office she named “glad-dog”, announcing it gleefully with her own “glad-dog-face.” Yes, even then (a young man in his early twenties) my mood was a very pensive one, wherein I oftentimes experienced the bliss of solitude. And unashamedly so. This series will examine how the study of Wordsworth and Zen reflects that pensive “natural-mode of expression” as many of the ancient Zen Masters also had. Indeed, it was oftentimes a poetic-flash that ignited a sense of satori. Wordsworth himself captures this best in Tintern Abbey:

…a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.

This is also part of “the poetic process” that launched a thousand Zen Haikus. We will be exploring this delineation later on in the series. Wordsworth had that innate sense of the “purer-mind”, as he saw into the very primordial nature of things, of that samsaric “still sad music of humanity.” Greater still is his realization of something far more deeply interfused. I experienced this as a child during the 1960’s when I found solace and wonderment in a location I referred as “The Beautiful Land.”

The main resource we shall be utilizing during this series is Wordsworth and the Zen Mind : The Poetry of Self-emptying, by John G. Rudy, circa 1996. See you soon!

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