(Poem #411) The Tables Turned
Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; Or surely you'll grow double: Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; Why all this toil and trouble? The sun above the mountain's head, A freshening lustre mellow Through all the long green fields has spread, His first sweet evening yellow. Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife: Come, hear the woodland linnet, How sweet his music! on my life, There's more of wisdom in it. And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! He, too, is no mean preacher: Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher. She has a world of ready wealth, Our minds and hearts to bless-- Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, Truth breathed by cheerfulness. One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-- We murder to dissect. Enough of Science and of Art; Close up those barren leaves; Come forth, and bring with you a heart That watches and receives.
Yes, another one of these. There is a discernible attitude, among some poets, that book learning (and science in particular) is somehow 'unnatural' and 'unpoetic', and that by its pursuit the human race is abandoning its collective spirituality, so to speak, and moving away from nature. This has spawned a whole brood of fallacies and misrepresentations, from Rousseau's unfoundedly praised 'noble savage' to Whitman's unjustly reviled 'learned astronomer'. But enough of the rant - what about the poem? Well, even considered apart from its viewpoint, it's not that great a poem. The tone is sententious, the form correct but dull. And if he was trying to present nature as infinitely more attractive than books - well, let's just say I've seen it done better. In fact, the only reason I'm running this at all is that my irritation at the attitude displayed occasionally calls for an outlet, and the poem made a good excuse :) (Though in Wordsworth's defence the friend he addressed the poem to apparently had an equally one-sided attachment to books - see Notes.)  imho, the only place this *has* been done well is in Oscar Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose" Notes: In the "Advertisement" to the volume, Wordsworth wrote: "The lines entitled Expostulation and Reply and those which follow [The Tables Turned], arose out of conversation with a friend who was somewhat unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philosophy." The friend was probably William Hazlitt who visited Coleridge and Wordsworth in Somerset in the spring of 1798. See Hazlitt's essay "My First Acquaintance with Poets." -- from http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/wordswor2.html Links: For Whitman's poem, and a fine rant by Thomas on the same topic, see poem #54 For a biography of Wordsworth (and a far nicer poem of his), see poem #63 - martin