Delight Springs

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Poetic cultivation

Still exploring the Wordsworth connection between Mill and James, both having claimed to find salvation in the former's poetic Excursion. Mill in his Autobiography recounts,

In the first place, these poems addressed themselves powerfully to one of the strongest of my pleasurable susceptibilities, the love of rural objects and natural scenery; to which I had been indebted not only for much of the pleasure of my life, but quite recently for relief from one of my longest relapses into depression. In this power of rural beauty over me, there was a foundation laid for taking pleasure in Wordsworth's poetry; the more so, as his scenery lies mostly among mountains, which, owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were my ideal of natural beauty. But Wordsworth would never have had any great effect on me, if he had merely placed before me beautiful pictures of natural scenery. Scott does this still better than Wordsworth, and a very second-rate landscape does it more effectually than any poet. What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling... a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence.
Wordsworth gave young Mill, so intensely cultivated as both student and object of study in his father's pedagogical hothouse experiment, his subjectivity back, along with needed reassurance that it did not dilute but actually enhanced his humanistic commitment to social progress.
I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in, the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis. 
"Analysis" here means intellect, not the Freudian sort of mytho-biographic rumination and speculation the next century would discover. "The result was that I gradually, but completely, emerged from my habitual depression, and was never again subject to it...unpoetical natures are precisely those which require poetic cultivation."

And that observation immediately recalls James's "Walpurgisnacht" on the mountain, when he said he now finally understood what a poet was...
It's Louise Erdrich's birthday. She sees life itself, every human life, as a poetic construction: “When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.”

5:38/5:31, 60/78/55, 8:00

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