When I was in college as an undergrad, I spent a great deal of time studying William Wordsworth’s romantic works. He wasn’t an author I was assigned to research and analyze. I think it was more of an affinity that I felt for his writing and his passion for love and for life. I focused on his Excursion and Prelude epics, as I was caught up in the whole idea of journeying to a greater place, both physically and spiritually.
The other day, I picked up (and dusted off) one of my old copies of Wordsworth’s poetical works. Immediately I was drawn into his wondrous way of capturing life in such beautiful words and lyrical notes. Even his early works, as the excerpt from “An Evening Walk: Addressed to a Young Lady” shows below, Wordsworth portrayed the journey almost as another character, where so much of that experience was part of getting to that intended destination.
FAR from my dearest Friend, ’tis mine to rove
Through bare grey dell, high wood, and pastoral cove;
Where Derwent rests, and listens to the roar
That stuns the tremulous cliffs of high Lodore;
Where peace to Grasmere’s lonely island leads,
To willowy hedge-rows, and to emerald meads;
Leads to her bridge, rude church, and cottaged grounds,
Her rocky sheepwalks, and her woodland bounds;
Where undisturbed by winds, Winander sleeps
‘Mid clustering isles, and holly-sprinkled steeps;
Where twilight glens endear my Esthwaite’s shore,
And memory of departed pleasures, more.
Now, the Lady he was walking to was not a woman he was wooing; it was simply his sister, and he was no older than 14 years old when he composed these lines. Yet, it was in the journey that he was able to share so much with us about the total experience.
This is, I believe, what is missing sorely from so much of our writing today, especially our poetry.
We spend so much time holed up in our rooms, going over life in our minds, contemplating, conjuring what-ifs, lamenting what we don’t have, and wallowing in our own self-pity. Few are the On-The-Road pieces that Kerouac wrote. Instead, we’re reading volumes and volumes of woeful pieces where there is no movement, no journey. It’s all in our heads, our dreams, of what may be, but–most likely–probably never will be.
Maybe the Grateful Dead recognized this when they wrote “Truckin'”:
Most of the cats you meet on the street speak of True Love
Most of the time they’re sittin and cryin at home
One of these days they know they gotta get goin
out of the door and down to the street all alone
I think we all know that we got to get goin’, but we find it so tough to take that first step out the door and into the real world.
The Indigo Girls, as well, wrote of this in their song titled, “Least Complicated”:
I sit two stories above the street
Its awful quiet here since love fell asleep
Theres life down below me though
The kids are walking home from school
Some long ago when we were taught
That for whatever kind of puzzle you got
You just stick the right formula in
A solution for every fool
I remember the time when I came so close to you
Sent me skipping my class and running from school
And I bought you that ring cause I never was cool
What makes me think I could start clean slated
The hardest to learn was the least complicated
So I just sit up in the house and resist
And not be seen until I cease to exist
A kind of conscientious objection
A kind of dodging the draft
So now, when I’m reading Wordsworth’s poetry, there’s a new melancholic tug that makes me wonder why it’s just so hard now to get out and journey. We’ve become so focused on our thinking that we’ve forgotten to live life a little dangerously without all of the pregame analysis and the probable percentages for failure to meet the targeted objective or goal.
In Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” he writes about what it means to be a saunterer, and he looks closely at the possible origins of the word. According to Thoreau, Saunter comes from people who were walking to Saint Terre, to the holy land. Children would exclaim, “there goes a Sainte-Terrer,” and thus the words blended to become “saunterer.” He suggests also that the word may be derived from “sans terre,” meaning without land or home, thus concluding that such a person would be equally at home everywhere he or she went.
I like to blend the two possible origins and think of myself as a journeyer, comfortable most anywhere, on my way to a more spiritual place.
Thoreau recognizes, however, that sauntering is not cherished as much as it might have been in Wordsworth’s day. He writes,
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least–and it is commonly more than that–sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say a penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and the shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them–as if their legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon,–I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.
So let’s go. Get out there. Take that journey. Walk toward your sister, your love, your friend, and embrace each step as fully as you might embrace the one you are destined to meet.
Even Wordsworth himself recognized the dangers of not living fully. In his Sonnet titled “The World Is Too Much With Us,” he warns us in the beginning of the poem that we are already succumbing to the unnatural pulls of our industrialized society:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God!
Great God indeed! Right now, I don’t think that it even matters how traveled the road is. Just take any road, for goodness sake, and take the time to look around.
It may just be the greatest idea you’ve ever had.