Sunday, July 14, 2013

***Poet's Corner-William Wordsworth's Ode To The French Revolution As The Anniversary Approaches

William Wordsworth's famous ode to the beginning of the French revolution is full of all the youthful enthusiasm such a world historic event can elicit. Even in stuffy old Georgian England among the young, the radicals, and some of the plebeian masses the idea that one could break from the ancient regime, from taking humankind, taking French humankind anyway, where one was a mere subject of some arbitrary happenstance (although in England one should have reflected on one’s own monarchial state as well) to a cry of freedom citizen struck a deep chord throughout Europe and the Americas . No wonder the French went crazy, and in almost all classes too, began calling each other citizen, it certainly had a certain cache. At the beginning.

Of course we have now seen enough revolutions to know that they not only have their own cycles but that they, the great ones anyway, English, American, French, Russian, Chinese, are stern task-masters, make simple social patterns long established explode and create new forms, maybe many forms, before they are spent and not a few things go awry as well. Including the hard fact that revolutions have tended to devour their own. Then many a former fellow-traveler, rightly or wrongly, gets cold feet, gets a feeling that this revolution stuff is a lot more complicated that he or she had bargained for. And so they find reasons, rightly or wrongly, to move away from, to disown what they once proclaimed from the rooftops. Such, alas, has been the hard human experience thus far as we try, essentially, to struggle against the three great tragedies of life; sex, death, and hunger. It has been that last one that most modern revolutions, especially ones espousing socialist goals have, concentrated on.

And that seeming plebeian task is, perhaps, why, while there have been some creative artists associated with revolutions that the norm has been that such types, have shied away from non-artistic revolutionary movements. The exceptions like Milton in the English Revolution, Wordsworth in the early French Revolution and Gorky in the Russian Revolution have been driven by stronger political motives, for a time anyway. One also thinks of Andre Breton and the Surrealist whose Manifesto of Revolutionary Art was written in conjunction with Leon Trotsky’s efforts to form a new revolutionary international after the demise of the initial energies of Russian Revolution under Stalin. However , when one looks closely at the relationship between creative artists and revolutionary movements one notes the sparse numbers who have adhered to such movements welcome as they are.

That Wordsworth, like many another former 'friend' of revolutions over the ages, went over to the other side when things got too hot does not however take away from his efforts here in the fresh bloom of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts

. Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—

Oh! times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,

When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress--to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,

The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself )
The budding rose above the rose full blown.

What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,

The playfellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
Their ministers,--who in lordly wise had stirred
Among the grandest objects of the sense,

And dealt with whatsoever they found there
As if they had within some lurking right
To wield it;--they, too, who, of gentle mood,
Had watched all gentle motions, and to these

Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild,
And in the region of their peaceful selves;--
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty
Did both find, helpers to their heart's desire,

And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish;
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!

But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,--the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all!

William Wordsworth

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