(Poem #441) The Simplon Pass
-Brook and road Were fellow-travellers in this gloomy Pass, And with them did we journey several hours At a slow step. The immeasurable height Of woods decaying, never to be decayed, The stationary blasts of waterfalls, And in the narrow rent, at every turn, Winds thwarting winds bewildered and forlorn, The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky, The rocks that muttered close upon our ears, Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside As if a voice were in them, the sick sight And giddy prospect of the raving stream, The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens, Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light-- Were all like workings of one mind, the features Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree, Characters of the great Apocalypse, The types and symbols of Eternity, Of first and last, and midst, and without end.
A surprising, even startling poem - this is certainly not the Wordsworth of 'Daffodils' and 'The Solitary Reaper', one feels. And certainly, the mood is far darker; dazzling contrasts of light and darkness throwing every aspect of a grimly personified Nature into stark relief. On the other hand, though, one sees the same wonderful lyricism, the keen attention to detail and the phrases delivered with a marvellous assurance (that's one of the things I like about Wordsworth's poetry - he radiates an air of having gotten it right, and *knowing* he's gotten it right, that many better poets have failed to match) that permeate his more famous works.  and many worse ones have let slip into bombast - there's all the difference between assurance and poetic arrogance. Which is not, of course, to say that I think this is a perfect poem, or even one of his better ones - the ending, sadly enough, does not really work for me. The attempt to unify the tumbled scenery by way of mystical (religious, if you will) imagery perversely enough robs it of some of its grandeur - the verse gets slightly dry as Wordsworth leaves off 'showing' in favour of 'telling'. Still, this is not really a poem that depends on its ending for impact - all in all it's a rather nice piece of descriptive verse blended neatly with imagery that is at once vivid and dreamlike. Notes: Dated by Wordsworth 1799; however, the earliest manuscript is of 1804 when these lines appear in Book VI of The Prelude, then being composed. First published in Poems, 1845; also in The Prelude (1850), VI, 621-40. Wordsworth had crossed by the Simplon Pass from Switzerland to Italy in the summer of 1790 when on a walking tour with a college friend. -- http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/wordswor28.html Links: Here's a nice analysis of the poem, complete with historical notes and pictures: [broken link] http://users.ox.ac.uk/%7Escat0385/reading.html There have (unsurprisingly) been a lot of poems with a similar theme or themes. One of my favourites is Coleridge's Kubla Khan, poem #30 Not so long ago I compiled a bunch of links to 'bad-weather' poems - see poem #416 And, of course, all the Wordsworth poems in the archive can be viewed at [broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet.html - martin