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As you may already know, I'll be spending Friday at a writing conference, where I will be spending time with many different kinds of writers. I'll be going to a workshop on writing poetry, another on writing for children, and one on theme & plot in novels (because Gregory Frost is teaching it, and he teaches really well). Each of those is one hour a day for three days straight. Plus, I'm also taking a one-hour session somewhere along the way on research. Hence today's icon.

Here's a sonnet from Wordsworth, which caught my eye due to the appropriateness of the the first line. But I do love line about laughing "by precept only" and shedding "tears by rule."

'A POET'! -- He hath put his heart to school
by William Wordsworth

'A POET'!--He hath put his heart to school,
Nor dares to move unpropped upon the staff
Which Art hath lodged within his hand--must laugh
By precept only, and shed tears by rule.
Thy Art be Nature; the live current quaff,
And let the groveller sip his stagnant pool,
In fear that else, when Critics grave and cool
Have killed him, Scorn should write his epitaph.
How does the Meadow-flower its bloom unfold?
Because the lovely little flower is free
Down to its root, and, in that freedom, bold;
And so the grandeur of the Forest-tree
Comes not by casting in a formal mould,
But from its 'own' divine vitality.

For those of you who enjoy looking at sonnets, check out the inventiveness of his rhyme scheme: ABBABAABCDCDCD. Or, to break it down a bit, the first eight lines are two four-line stanzas using envelope rhyme, but instead of the usual repetition (ABBA/ABBA) he mixes it up in the second quatrain (ABBA/BAAB). And he then uses only two more end rhymes, alternating back and forth - no mixing up at all: CDCDCD.

When reading this one, don't get tripped up in line 5: The second half of that line "the live current quaff", means that a poet drinks from the live/living current. And that's a long letter I in "live". Then again, you all probably got that right away, but I had to reread it aloud a second time because on my first go, I botched it.

If you are wondering what on earth Wordsworth is on about, I suppose you could say that he's scoffing at poets who spend their days in school, claiming that true poets roam about and are inspired by nature. One could even say that he's mocking them for their constraints and restraints: a true poet, he says, drinks from the living stream, whereas this guy calling himself a poet drinks from a stagnant pool out of fear that critics will murder him for doing something different, and he'll get tagged with a crappy epitaph.

So perhaps, if I heed Wordsworth, I'd do better to take a long country walk than to head to workshops. But I think I'll head to the workshops anyhow, but avoid drinking from the stagnant pools. Particularly as the stagnant pools to be found in Philadelphia are probably toxic.

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 6th, 2008 09:54 am (UTC)
Wishing you lots of "divine vitality" in the next three days of conference-going! I'm pretty sure you don't have to be outdoors to find it!
Jun. 6th, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
Ha! Love this one. I'm thinking of memorizing it, just so the words "And let the groveller sip his stagnant pool" can pass my lips.
Jun. 6th, 2008 12:25 pm (UTC)
But a poet implicitly needs some restraint, and some learning - else ol' WW wouldn't be writing, particularly, a Sonnet. Although trees come of their own divine vitality, they still have to look like trees to be trees. So maybe making the sonnet-form his own says enough. I think Byron would be like, "Psh. Lake Poets, they're all too well schooled to count."

Or maybe it was Dorothy's wisdom, and WW was like "um, okiedokie."

I think WW would explode if he saw some of the free reign stuff published after the twentieth century.
Jun. 6th, 2008 01:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think he was talking about subject matter here, more than form. Have a great day discussing subject matter, form and theme and plot and all that jazz! :-) Sounds like a fun weekend.
Jun. 6th, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
From a. fortis
Great one. I posted a sonnet today, too! Hope the writing workshop goes well.
Jun. 7th, 2008 10:28 am (UTC)
Philadelphia stagnant? No Way!

This is just perfect prep for spending the weekend at a writer's conference. Good pick! You explained the exact line that did trip me up the first time through - thanks. But I really like the first line: "...hath put his heart to school,". Whether nature or rule, it's the heart that is student.
Jun. 7th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)
Jenn Hubbard will confirm that we saw some stagnant water on the streets in Philly, and that there's no way anyone should be drinking it.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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