Thursday, September 8, 2011

How William Wordsworth made me a sinner.

It was William Wordsworth that caused me to sin at the age of ten. In the Episcopal church I attended as a child, the basement fellowship hall held a solitary bookshelf that contained a few precious books. Among the requisite religious tomes was a book of English poetry. It was about five inches thick, old, blue, and musty. I took the book home every week. And every Sunday I would bring it back - good Christian girl that I was. Eventually I realized that no one except for me read the book and that every week I took it home it was not missed. One week, I never brought the book back to church. I was officially a thief now, though I rationalized the theft as an act of poetic love.

The book still sits on my shelf today, 40 years later. I could not read Wordsworth's poem enough to slake my thirst: "I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils." I did not know what "vales" were, nor "a host." But I was taken up, entranced. Like Wordsworth, my heart danced with the daffodils.

"I wandered lonely . . ." Oh yes. I resonated with these words. I knew about that wandering. I knew about that loneliness. And Wordsworth made it beautiful. He made it important. His words, somehow, made my wandering loneliness meaningful in a way that I did not yet understand. But I had a way to track my journey.

Hindsight is an interesting miracle of perspective. Here it is 40 years later, and I write in a blog I've decided to call "The Shiftless Wanderer." I did not make the connection until just now between those first lines of poetry that rang in my child's heart and this blog. We change as we grow older, yes. I believe, more and more as I get older, however, that there is some core Self within us, this nugget of Soul stuff, we are born with, that we bring with us from beyond the veil of our Before Lives. When we meet it in our journey through this lifetime, there is a feeling of recognition ~ "Oh, there you are! I've been looking all over for you! I've missed you."

Some are fortunate to find this nugget of Soul stuff early on in their lives. Others are equally as fortunate to engage in a lifelong, worldwide search for it. I was fortunate in both regards - I found it early, but it took me a long time to realize that I had found it. It is fascinating to realize in midlife that one's life has circled back upon itself, like the dog who turns turns turns in preparation for sleep, flattening down the grasses of an ancient plain that still lives in the canine heart. I circled back round and round to poetry until it was the nest to which I return again and again when the world becomes too much. When I need my little cleared space in the wide grassy plain and I need to take refuge from the lions and charging rhinoceros that roam wild out there.

Poetry speaks to that which is unspeakable. The lines articulate the ineffable. The rhythm of poetry gives sound to a heart that beats at a register far below the human ear. The words come together, even though they are in English or the language of the writer/reader/speaker/ translator, to speak in a tongue that transcends human capability. Poetry is pure paradox, even at its most simple.

It is a dark place when the light shines too bright.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. ~ Wendell Berry

It is a place of blessed light when the night is so very very deep, and it seems as if the morning will never come.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk . . .
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe -
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. ~William Stafford.

This "remote important region in all who talk" - where is that, I wonder? I think it is the same place where I was when I was young and began wandering through the lonely world. I think it's a place we all know in some way or another, this shadowy something place. My little nugget of Soul stuff recognizes it ~ where clouds wander and cast shadows on the world below, where a weary dog follows his tail until he finds a safe place to lie down, where a child who has recently suffered loss finds a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils as if they were grown there just for her.


  1. Thats what we are here for. We are suppose to wander around in life trying and wander and grow and we are suppose to figure out the mystery. some people don't even know there is a mystery. I love your story.

  2. Oh you are so right - "Some people don't even know there is a mystery." So true. I guess the first step in those cases is to help people discover mystery in their lives. Thank you!