Thursday, September 13, 2007

With Ships the Sea Was Sprinkled by William Wordsworth

With Ships the Sea Was Sprinkled

With ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed;
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich, and of apparel high.
The ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover's look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.
--William Wordsworth

This poem is not, as Mom said about another poem earlier this week, beautifully subtle in its use of the sonnet form. Each line ends solidly on the rhyming word. Even the enjambed line, "She will brook/No tarrying" seems forced rather than natural as Browning's were.

I like it anyway. It describes the very human tendency to focus on specifics. It's hard to see a big picture for long, we want something to relate to. Studying the history of the pioneers, for instance, is all well and good, but what makes it real is the one little anecdote about the boy who was tired of walking and hid in the empty molasses barrel on the side of the wagon only to find that it wasn't quite empty, and that he was going to be sticky for days or weeks till they came to the next stream. Or when you go to a play and focus on one dancer in the chorus scenes.

That's what good poetry is about. Whatever the subject, it enlightens us about the human condition in ways more powerful and memorable than simple prose can.

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