1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

John Wilson, in "Spenser" Blackwood's Magazine 34 (1833) 806-07.



Wordsworth alone of all Poets — living or dead — may be said to have drunk at the same Fount — and to have been urged thither by the same sacred thirst as the Poet of the Faery Queen. From that Fount — call it Castalian — issue many lucid rills, each of which becomes a beautiful body of living waters, "Where heaven and earth do make one imagery;" but through what different climes and countries, cities and solitudes, in their empiry, do they flow! Spenser followed the glimmer and the glory winding its way in a world withdrawn, through a wilderness of wonders. His delight, and the creative power of his delight, was among the moonlight umbrage of woods and forests, where, among the shadows of the old arms of trees, he saw, or seemed to see, shadows as of stately men, while the flowers grew into beautiful women around his path, and all was Faery life. Wordsworth followed the silver thread that conducted down to the "green silent pastures," where were heard all the well-known voices, and seen all the ordinary goings-on of that condition of being, which seemed to his imagination equally as to his heart, even in these our later days, to reflect no faint or unlovely image of Patriarchal — of primeval life. From even the "light of setting suns," his soul, that felt so profoundly the grandeur of the orb's slow farewell, turned to the humble houses of the mountaineers, seeming to grow out of the rocks as naturally as their sheltering trees, and his humanity saw something in the solemn shadows thrown on the roofs of those his Christian brethren, released from toil, and in gratitude enjoying the dewy hour of rest, sublimer far than the glow of purple and crimson in which the luminary was then bathing the bosom of the sea. Lyrical Ballads! Ay, Spenser's self never sang sweeter strains than these, "that will never die," till the rills have vanished with the rocks, and the lonely beatings of the human heart are heard no more. Milton speaks of the "Sage Spenser." And the character of Wordsworth's genius is — Wisdom. It longs — it yearns — to calm all human trouble; but it knows that calmed it all can never be beneath the skies; and he is our great poetical apostle of endurance, resignation, and faith. The stream of life seems to flow purer and more solemn in his poetry than in any other that has ever yet been conceived; yet we feel it all the while to be the stream of our life — and the earth it flows along our earth; but then our earth sacrificed — as "Southward through Eden goes that river large."