Tuesday, March 24, 2009

shadow of daisy cast upon stone

Ss fair, so sweet, withal so sensitive,
Would that the little Flowers were born to live,
Conscious of half the pleasure which they give;

That to this mountain-daisy's self were known
The beauty of its star-shaped shadow, thrown
On the smooth surface of this naked stone!

And what if hence a bold desire should mount
High as the Sun, that he could take account
Of all that issues from his glorious fount!

So might he ken how by his sovereign aid
These delicate companionships are made;
And how he rules the pomp of light and shade;

And were the Sister-power that shines by night
So privileged, what a countenance of delight
Would through the clouds break forth on human sight!

Fond fancies! wheresoe'er shall turn thine eye
On earth, air, ocean, or the starry sky,
Converse with Nature in pure sympathy;

All vain desires, all lawless wishes quelled,
Be Thou to love and praise alike impelled,
Whatever boon is granted or withheld.
This is an untitled poem by Wordsworth known as "So fair, so sweet." It is poem LXII in the section, 'Poems of Sentiment and Reflection' of the Poetical Works (London, 1917) and it is the 28th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Wordsworth wrote this in 1844, very late in life. It has characteristic subject matter but its technique is unusual for him. Lawrence was not generally fond of Wordsworth's verse, assigning to him, more than Keats, 'a congenital inability to write a good poem' and he left no clues why this one mattered to him. My guess is that he liked the sound and meaning of 'converse with Nature in pure sympathy' and 'whatever boon is granted or whithheld.'

Two modern editors, E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, tell us:
The incident which gave rise to the composition of this poem has been recorded by several persons. R. P. Graves recalls the walk to Longrigg Tarn with W., Professor Archer Butler, Sir William Hamilton, and Julius C. Hare: "The splendour of a July noon surrounded us, and lit up the landscape with the Langdale Pikes soaring above, and the bright Tarn shining beneath; and when the poet's eyes were satisfied with their feast on the beauties familiar to them, they sought relief in the search, to them a happy vital habit, for new beauty in the flower-enamelled turf at his feet. There his attention was arrested by a fair smooth stone, of the size of an ostrich's egg, seeming to imbed at its centre, and at the same time to display a dark star-shaped fossil of most distinct outline. Upon closer inspection this proved to be the shadow of a daisy projected upon it with extraordinary precision by the intense light of an almost vertical sun. The poet drew the attention of the rest of the party to the minute but beautiful phenomenon, and gave expression at the time to thoughts suggested by it." And on Sept. 14, 1844, J. C. Hare wrote to W.: "One of the brightest days in those happy three weeks was that on which we accompanied you to Loughrigg Tarn; for that walk bore its part in ripening our previous friendship, if I may not call it our fraternal affection, into something still dearer and better; nor shall I ever forget your stopping and drawing our attention to the exquisitely pencilled shadow the daisy cast upon a neighbouring stone. I remember saying at the time 'We shall have a sonnet upon it,' and this probably has been fulfilled, I rejoice to learn, save that, instead of the sonnet, you have adopted a new form of verse, that is, new, I believe, in your writings, in composing the beautiful triplets you have had the kindness to send.

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971)

The Poems of William Wordsworth (1893)

William Wordsworth, The Poetical Works, ed. E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (5 vols, Oxford, 1940-49; rev. 1952-59).

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