Tuesday, February 27, 2018
More On Wordsworth’s A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal: As I Was Saying To The Other Guy...
A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
You say that the redundancy of rocks and stones shows the poet’s numbed reaction to death, the numbness why he near to repeats the same noun. And you say what’s key in poetry is expressing the poet’s attitude to his subject, poetry as such as dramatic poetry. I say that I don’t understand the redundancy and I’m unpersuaded that it’s the poetic dramatization of numbness.
There’s an entirely plausible reading of this poem that precisely discredits your view.
While she was alive he slept, albeit benignly-“slumber.” While she lived he was in effect under a kind of protective plastic. He was sealed in. To be sealed is to be tightly, even claustrophobically, hemmed in, cut off from externality. He had no human fears. He was without fear and,so, less than fully human, limited, really an innocent like Blake’s lamb. And his sense of her was accordingly stifled, superficial, reduced to appreciating only what she “seemed” like, with no sense of the fullness of her.
It was Edenic, but as Blake would have it, a stifled, shorn innocence. She would of course feel the touch of human years but his lack of full understanding made her into a “thing,” “a thing that could not feel...” what in fact inexorability does to us all.
So his first stanza’s looking back is shot through with insight as to how limiting his sense of her had been, how dehumanizing, how reductive. So the first stanza is double visioned: he fuses how, sealed off, he saw her together with a more maturely full understanding of what that sense of her lacked. This hardly numbed reaction.
Now with her gone, he is struck by an understanding of the fullness of what she was and went through as the touch of human years has now made its full claim. His slumber is over, its ending marked from the time of what the fact of her death finally awakens in him, that he missed all the touching of the earthly years of her.
So now for the first time, measured by the experience fed realization of what he has lost, does he confront, too late, her being gone, the full reality of what she was. Negation, “no motion...no force...neither hears nor sees” breeds perception.
And so now he comes to his fullest understanding: the rolling planet has claimed her, has enfolded her in “earth’s diurnal course.” And the double vision of the first stanza now refocuses and fulfills itself in comprehensive understanding of her death being part of ultimate cosmic processes.
“Diurnal course” isn’t harsh. It’s capacious in intimating something larger than us in our lives and our deaths and in that largeness contains us. There’s an intimation of the divine in that circular rolling, “rolled” not a harsh verb either.
Sadness and wisdom commingle.
In these terms, noting the life-fullness of “trees” as against “rocks and stones” isn’t, I argue, picky irrelevance. It’s to the point, one focus of the double vision that is the irretrievable paradox of the poem: a kind of life in death even as death is death. The juxtaposition of inanimate “rocks” and living “trees” precisely image that paradox.
And so one, or I as one, is left wondering why near to repeat “rocks” with “stones”? Numbed impact disconcerting the poet doesn’t cut it, I don’t think. That’s belied by the presence of mind to say “diurnal,” as I noted, by the evolving double vision working its way through the poem and by the poem’s final and ultimate paradoxical insight.