Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Rainbow

The Rainbow

My heart leaps up when I behold
   A Rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man;
And I wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

William Wordsworth

My Heart Leaps Up, also known as The Rainbow, is a poem by the British Romantic Poet William Wordsworth. Noted for its simplicity of structure and language, it describes the joy that he feels when he sees a rainbow and notes that he has felt this way since his childhood. He concludes the poem by noting how his childhood has shaped his current views and stating that "the child is father of the man."

Wordsworth wrote "My Heart Leaps Up" on the night of March 26, 1802. Earlier that day, he wad written "To The Cuckoo". He was in Dove Cottage, Grasmere with his wife, Mary. After he wrote it he often thought about altering it, but decided to leave it as it was originally written. It was published as part of Poems in Two Volumes in 1807.

The day after he wrote "My Heart Leaps Up" Wordsworth began to write his larger and better known Ode: Intimations of Immortality. The last three lines from "My Heart Leaps Up" are used as an epigraph to Intimations of Immortality. Some scholars have noted that "My Heart Leaps Up" indicates Wordsworth's state of mind while writing the larger poem and provide clues to its interpretation.

Some commentators have speculated that Wordsworth felt such joy because the rainbow indicates the constancy of his connection to nature throughout his life. Others have said that it celebrates "the continuity in Wordsworth's consciousness of self." Many commentators also draw parallels to the rainbow of Noah and the covenant that it symbolized. Wordsworth's use of the phrase "bound each to each" in the poem also implies the presence of a covenant. Some commentators have drawn further parallels with the story of Noah. Harold Bloom has suggested that Wordsworth casts the rainbow as a symbol of the survival of his poetic gift, just as the rainbow symbolised to Noah the survival of mankind. Bloom suggests that Wordsworth's poetic gift relied on his ability to recall the memories of his joy as a child.

William Wordsworth
On April 7, 1770, William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumbria, England. Wordsworth's mother died when he was eight--this experience shapes much of his later work. Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where his love of poetry was firmly established and, it is believed, he made his first attempts at verse. While he was at Hawkshead, Wordsworth's father died leaving him and his four siblings orphans. After Hawkshead, Wordsworth studied at St. John's College in Cambridge and before his final semester, he set out on a walking tour of Europe, an experience that influenced both his poetry and his political sensibilities. While touring Europe, Wordsworth came into contact with the French Revolution. This experience as well as a subsequent period living in France, brought about Wordsworth's interest and sympathy for the life, troubles and speech of the "common man". These issues proved to be of the utmost importance to Wordsworth's work. Wordsworth's earliest poetry was published in 1793 in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. While living in France, Wordsworth conceived a daughter, Caroline, out of wedlock; he left France, however, before she was born. In 1802, he returned to France with his sister on a four-week visit to meet Caroline. Later that year, he married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and they had five children together. In 1812, while living in Grasmere, they grieved the loss of two of their children, Catherine and John, who both died that year.

Equally important in the poetic life of Wordsworth was his 1795 meeting with the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was with Coleridge that Wordsworth published the famous Lyrical Ballads in 1798. While the poems themselves are some of the most influential in Western literature, it is the preface to the second edition that remains one of the most important testaments to a poet's views on both his craft and his place in the world. In the preface Wordsworth writes on the need for "common speech" within poems and argues against the hierarchy of the period which valued epic poetry above the lyric.

Wordsworth's most famous work, The Prelude (1850), is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism. The poem, revised numerous times, chronicles the spiritual life of the poet and marks the birth of a new genre of poetry. Although Wordsworth worked on The Prelude throughout his life, the poem was published posthumously. Wordsworth spent his final years settled at Rydal Mount in England, travelling and continuing his outdoor excursions. Devastated by the death of his daughter Dora in 1847, Wordsworth seemingly lost his will to compose poems. William Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount on April 23, 1850, leaving his wife Mary to publish The Prelude three months later.


silvereagle said...

Once again I am carried back to my early school years by your posting. I remember the rainbow song from Sunday School, with the promise of God, and I remember the studies of Wordsworth, brief though they were, from highschool and college. Those studies touched only slightly on the poem, and ommitted alltogether the human qualities of the poet. Thanks for this posting, JoeBlow!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading his "famous" stuff, but as silvereagle points out, nothing of his personal life, or human qualities.

Peace <3

Mark said...

Thanks for this summary of a great life. The Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, to use the complete title, is one of my favorite pieces of literature.