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The Simplon Pass -- William Wordsworth

(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.
-- William Wordsworth
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[1]) that permeate his more famous works.

[1] 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.


  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.


Here's a nice analysis of the poem, complete with historical notes and
pictures: [broken link]

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]

- martin

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