Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism [1 ed.] 9781443848862, 9781443847742

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Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism [1 ed.]
 9781443848862, 9781443847742

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Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


James Prothero

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism, by James Prothero This book first published 2013 Cambridge Scholars Publishing 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2013 by James Prothero All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-4774-7, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-4774-2


Glyn and Hannah for all their help and rescues I couldn't have done this without you and also In Memory of

Leslie Norris poet teacher husband friend


Acknowledgements .................................................................................... ix Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 “The Mountainous Shadow of William Wordsworth” Chapter One ............................................................................................... 11 Wales and Wordsworth Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 17 Huw Menai Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 43 John Cowper Powys Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 79 Idris Davies Chapter Five ............................................................................................ 101 R.S. Thomas Chapter Six .............................................................................................. 121 William Henry Davies Chapter Seven.......................................................................................... 141 Leslie Norris Appendix A ............................................................................................. 171 An Interview with Leslie Norris by Phone on 14 May, 1998 Appendix B.............................................................................................. 173 An Interview with Leslie Norris in Person on 29 June, 1999 Appendix C.............................................................................................. 181 Letter to the Author from Leslie Norris dated 29 May 1998


Table of Contents

Appendix D ............................................................................................. 185 An Interview with R.S. Thomas on 17 July, 1999, at his home in Pentrefelin Appendix E .............................................................................................. 189 A Letter from Arfon Menai Williams to James Prothero, 10 August 2003 Notes........................................................................................................ 193 Works Cited ............................................................................................. 197


I want to thank Ms. Belinda Humphrey and Dr. John Manning for their help and guidance. Also, I can never overstate my debt to my Welsh kin, Glyn and Hannah Griffiths and Sali and Malcolm Davies, without whom none of this would be possible. Diolch yn fawr iawn. I also wish to thank Mr. Kent Fisher for his keen editing eye and invaluable aid, Dr. Daniel Westover for his friendship and support, and of course, my supportive wife, Gail and daughter, Sarah for her excellent proofing.


Alistair Heys writes that for the poet R.S. Thomas the fearful sublime that drives his poetic creation is his “debt to the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge and also to the late Romantic poetry of Yeats.” (2000, 133) Heys asserts that “for Thomas, to write in the mountainous shadow of William Wordsworth is to interpret in darkness”. (2000, 134) This may well be so of Thomas, but in the wider sense, it may well be so for all the five poets and the novelist in this study. One may question if any nature writing is necessarily influenced by Wordsworth just by virtue of it being nature writing in Britain after the time of Wordsworth. But the question could just as easily be inverted. One might well ask the question: what nature writing after Wordsworth can be said to be not influenced by “the mountainous shadow of William Wordsworth”? This study will address the question of what that influence has been and to what degree Wordsworth was influenced by Wales in return. The first chapter will deal with the question of what influence Wales may have had on Wordsworth. The following chapters will deal with Wordsworth’s notable influence on five Welsh twentieth-century poets and one Welsh novelist.

The Problem of Defining Anglo-Welsh literature This study will look at five native Welsh writers and one adopted son writing in English: Huw Menai, Idris Davies and R.S. Thomas all spent their entire lives in Wales and were Welsh speakers, though Thomas came to the Welsh language late in life. W.H. Davies and Leslie Norris, though born and raised in Wales, were expatriates, spending large portions of their lives in England and North America. Still, Norris’ work is mostly set in the Wales of his childhood and Wales figured powerfully in his imagination. W.H. Davies left Wales behind in youth and did not much



look back. But his exposure to Wordsworth in Welsh schools, powerfully affected the way he wrote. John Cowper Powys, a man of Welsh ancestry, embraced Wales and living in north Wales in the middle of his life and never much returned to England. Though calling him Welsh may be controversial, it is just one controversy in this largely controversial matter of Anglo-Welsh literature, and will be dealt with in the Powys chapter. Defining Anglo-Welsh writing, a subject of great controversy over the years, is not so easy a line to draw. The matter goes far beyond whether a given work has been written in Welsh or English. For example, of the poets in this study, R.S. Thomas is very clear about his identity as a Welshman and Leslie Norris is not. The controversy over the term “Anglo-Welsh” in language, in ethnic identity, literary influence and cultural milieu in reference to a work of literature starts with Saunders Lewis’ 1939 pamphlet “Is there an Anglo-Welsh Literature?”. Since then the controversy has been discussed by Gwyn Jones, Glyn Jones, Raymond Garlick, and Roland Mathias, as well as many others, to the point where Meic Stephens, editor of The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales remarks acidly in the entry for “Anglo-Welsh”, “There has been much discussion in literary journals concerning the validity and the use of the term ‘Anglo-Welsh’, some would say ad nauseam.”(Stephens 1986, 12) It is not the place of this study to weigh in decisively on this question that has been controversial for at least sixty-six years. In light of the fact that no consensus exists, I will hold the position for the purposes of this study that one may be considered a Welshman by accident of birth, whether or not one remains in Wales, or that one may become a Welshman by choice of embracing the culture and living entirely in Wales.

Wales and Romanticism A more worthwhile question really is why, in Wales, is there a significant response to Wordsworth and Romanticism in the twentieth century? Is there something about Wales or Welsh culture that is somehow more receptive to Wordsworth and his thought? It is possible but hardly tangible. Certainly there are more than these six writers in Wales in the twentieth century, and they were writing in the vein of the dominant, Modern mode of literature, starting with Caradoc Evans. If Romanticism finds a receptive soil in Wales in the twentieth century, so does Modernism and Post-Modernism. John Cowper Powys saw Huw Menai’s form of writing to be a sort of protest against the mainstream, and

“The Mountainous Shadow of William Wordsworth”


for all of these writers, except perhaps R.S. Thomas, that may also be so. Of all the writers discussed here, R. S. Thomas is the one who accommodates both the Romantic and the Post-Modern in his poetry. If one looks for Wales to be a haven for Romanticism, one will look in vain. However, as Leslie Norris believes, there is an affinity to a type of Wordsworthian Romanticism in Wales. If one broadens the definition of what is an influence to think in terms of Leslie Norris’ “affinity”, one will find that all of the writers in this study have an affinity for seeing nature not only as a symbol of eternity, but perhaps something more immediate and closer to home. What is interesting about this statement is that Norris was in fact raised not in the hills, but in urban and industrial Merthyr Tydfil. I’m not suggesting that Norris is misled about his own past here, but rather that as a boy in an industrial Welsh town, his focus is on the meadows and hills beyond the town, and that he considers his raising to have really happened in the natural areas surrounding the town. Much the same can be said of the unemployed Idris Davies who went to the hills for solace after being expelled from the mines by economic conditions. Huw Menai, a miner all his life, is also focused to a large degree on the natural world beyond the borders of his town. For these three poets at least, Wordsworth is the poet of the natural beauty away from the industrial ugliness of the mines. Thomas and Powys, though never miners, also strongly reacted against the industrial and increasingly technological world. Only W.H. Davies does not follow this pattern. His influences seem more simple. He carried a copy of Wordsworth with him when he tramped, mainly it seems, because he’d been taught to believe that Wordsworth’s poetry was what poetry was supposed to be like. Perhaps he formed this impression in school and never forsook it. For whatever reasons, Wales in the twentieth century has produced more latent Romantics with an affinity to Wordsworth than neighboring England. Leslie Norris in the telephone interview was willing to speculate, I don’t know that it’s more really than the general fact that Romanticfeeling poets were heavily influential on the Welsh writers in English, and in Welsh as a matter of fact. And I do see it rather like that. I think the obvious correspondence of feeling between the Lake District and Wales, and Wordsworth’s great awareness of Wales, as a matter of fact, probably means that that kind of feeling influenced us greatly.

Perhaps the problem for Welsh writing in English is the tension of writing in the language that ultimately is that of the conquerors. And the most apparent sign of the conquerors’ presence is the increasingly industrial



development of South Wales, which was largely owned by English interests. Seeing matters in this light might cause a similar reaction. Just as Wordsworth reacted to the failure of the French Revolution and the stillborn nature of English political change in his time by returning to the rural countryside away from the increasing industrialization of England, so might these Welsh writers respond to the industrialization of South Wales and the dehumanization of the miners with a returning to the rural countryside of Wales. In a sense, the hilly, upland sheep pastures retained all that remained of old Wales, Wales before the conquest, Wales not dominated by any Edwardian castles, or later Edwardian factories and mines. Perhaps this is the source of Norris’ affinity.

The Exposure to Wordsworth in Schools Another question is: how much Wordsworth did budding Welsh poets read in the early Twentieth Century? The Central Welsh Board exams for the early Twentieth Century show that knowledge of Wordsworth was regularly tested throughout Wales, at the time when five of the writers in this study would have been at Welsh schools. Two of them cite different sources, which suggests that local schools had options in selecting texts. However, the School Certificate Examinations consistently used questions on Wordsworth, which indicates that schoolmasters and heads of schools would have not failed to include a fair amount of Wordsworth. Huw Menai cites Palgrave’s Golden Treasury as the source of much of his early exposure to poetry. Palgrave’s begins with Renaissance verse and ends with a section of Romantic poetry heavily favoring Keats and Wordsworth, but which also includes Scott, Byron, Coleridge, Lamb, Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Southey. The selections chosen from Wordsworth tend to favor poems of patriotism, sentiment and honor. A section of “Margaret” is given, but it is a section which constitutes a statement of faith. The final Wordsworth selection is the Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. From Palgrave one might get the impression of a lighter, less philosophic and more sentimental Wordsworth than the Complete Poems give. These poems seem to have been chosen because the editors deemed them suitable for the moral instruction of the young because they presumably inculcated moral truths. The 1900 School Certificate Examinations specifically tested Palgrave books I, II and IV. Palgrave is mentioned specifically in the July 1938 as well as 1931 exam. The 1935 exam required examinees to have read Selections from Wordsworth and answer questions regarding the influence of the French Revolution on Wordsworth. 1929 required an

“The Mountainous Shadow of William Wordsworth”


essay on Wordsworth’s ideas on the duty of a poet. In varying degrees, all of the tests from 1929 to 1939 require a thorough reading of Wordsworth. Of course, the question arises, was the literary syllabus any different in England and Scotland? Most likely not in any significant way. But there is a certain traditionalism in writers from Welsh background, in particular Huw Menai, who consciously and admittedly chose to buck the current trend in poetry set by writers such as Lawrence and Eliot, who represented the contemporary transatlantic high literary culture. What this study aims to show is that in early twentieth-century Wales there was in some quarters a disregard for the literary fashions in London, New York and Chicago. For instance, R.S. Thomas imbued Wales with a mythic and moral significance of his own construction. In this, Thomas shows himself heir to a Welsh mythological heritage, a Romantic quality. Powys too draws on a mix of Welsh myth and history to convey his philosophical interests. To a large degree, except for the vestiges of ancient legend, much of this Welsh Romanticism was created in the language revival in the later 1800s, which also constituted a Romantic revival of Welsh culture.(Williams 9-35) Still, this very Welsh mythological heritage is the setting in which these five poets are mastering their art, setting down their poetic roots. Having grown up in Wales, each of them became poets surrounded by this tradition of myth and Romanticism in a way that would have a very different quality for a poet growing up in England. Powys did grow up in England. And yet he is drawn in mid-life to this mythic Wales to the point of giving up England and moving to Wales for the rest of his life. Wales becomes the setting of all his writing after he moves to Corwen and then later to Blaenau Ffestiniog. This is the second point worth considering. The testimony of Huw Menai and Leslie Norris asserts that the school texts selected for their study of literature held a substantial amount of Wordsworth’s work. Consider what these Welsh children, exposed by necessity of examination to a large body of Wordsworth’s poetry, would have made of the frequent mention of their homeland. It may have acted as a validation of Welsh identity, or if nothing else, an artistic validation of the beauty and poetic importance of Wales. If this is so, it may also account to some degree for what Leslie Norris calls the “affinity” that he shares with Wordsworth, as well as the enthusiasm for Wordsworth found both in Idris Davies and Huw Menai. Certainly, students in Wales being set serious exams in Wordsworth’s poetry would have read the 1850 Prelude and “Tintern Abbey” if they read nothing else of Wordsworth.



Wordsworth and Joy Huw Menai, John Cowper Powys and Idris Davies acknowledge their admiration for Wordsworth. For the other three poets in this study, Wordsworth is either an object of mixed admiration and disapprobation or perhaps, as in the case of W.H. Davies, a model of what a poet must be in order to be considered a legitimate poet. This study will certainly highlight any similarities of imagery, metaphor, and diction, but perhaps the most important similarity to be found is this central Romantic concept of joy. M.H. Abrams has concluded that “Joy” is a central and recurrent term in the Romantic vocabulary. . . . “Joy” signifies the conscious accompaniment of the activity of a fully living and integrative mind. As [Coleridge] defines the term in his Philosophical Lectures, it is the state of abounding vitality—necessary to the working of the creative power of genius. (1963, 276)

Thus, robbed of joy, Coleridge in “Dejection: An Ode” is incapable of creative work. Abrams further notes that for Wordsworth and Coleridge, dejection and joy were polar opposites. “‘Hope’ and ‘joy,’ as against ‘despair’ and ‘dejection,’ was a central and recurrent antithesis in Romantic Poetry.” (1963, 329) The Welsh writers under discussion in this study for the most part are not Modernists, though they are writing in the Modern period, and don’t exhibit a Modern sense of skepticism and alienation. The tendency of these writers is in varying degrees to reject that skeptical despair, the darker vision of life, and accentuate a Romantic sense of hope and joy. This joy, balanced against alienation and despair, marks Wordsworth’s influence on them. In Thomas’ interpretation, though his view of nature remains essentially Romantic, his view of human nature is pessimistic. Norris and the other poets balance their view of human suffering with the purely Wordsworthian sense of hope and joy. Whereas Coleridge defined joy objectively in his Philosophical Lectures, Wordsworth is more the poet, and though joy is central to him, his understanding of it grows as he develops as a poet. Stephen Gill has made it clear that Wordsworth never succeeded in defining joy, and has documented the course of these changes. (Gill 1967, 208-224) However, there are certain consistent elements in Wordsworth’s descriptions that recur and give his concept a form, if not a definition. In 1798 in “Tintern Abbey”, he discusses the experience that is his “gift”, that makes him capable of being a poet. Coleridge’s gift is, in Abram’s words, a “state of abounding vitality—necessary to the working of the

“The Mountainous Shadow of William Wordsworth”


creative power of genius”. Wordsworth describes his gift in more emotional and physical terms: . . . . Nor less, I trust, To them I may have owed another gift, Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, In which the burthen of the mystery, In which the heavy and weary weight Of all this unintelligible world, Is lightened:--that serene and blessed mood, In which the affections gently lead us on,-Until, the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things. (35-49)

In this powerful description two of the elements are present: (1) the physical elation coupled with (2) the overpowering calm that lets one think one has touched eternity. Thus, with this calm, through the “deep power of joy” the poet is able to “see into the life of things”. In 1799, the following year, this theme is expanded in the early two-part Prelude, which has more concentrated references to joy than the more expanded versions or broadcast throughout the poems in general. By examination of the text of the 1799 Prelude, one might distil something close to a definition, at least of Wordsworth’s sense of joy in his early period. Wordsworth’s definition is empirical. Joy is a portion of his experience. He does make a distinction between the “vulgar joy” he feels as a boy at his rowdy play in the natural world of his youth in Hawkshead and its environs (1.413,427) and the joy that is the result of contemplating nature for its own sake. (2.240-2) This constitutes something of a growing up. The young Wordsworth destroyed birds’ nests for pleasure and trees for their nut crops. Wordsworth describes this in the second book of the 1799 Prelude in a sequence beginning line 140, where Wordsworth and his young companions enjoyed drifting in their boats under the overhanging boughs of trees, eating a light supper provided by a local manor house. Wordsworth recalls his decision made at this point:


Introduction And there I said, That beauteous sight before me, there I said (The first beginning in my thoughts to mark That sense of dim similitude which links Our moral feeling with external forms) That in whatever region I should close My mortal life I would remember you, Fair scenes—that dying I would think on you, My soul would send a longing look to you, (2.161-9)

It is this ability to link moral feelings with external forms that elevates his pleasure in nature to something deeper and more profound. Thus joy is not just boyish exuberant pleasure, but a side-effect, a marker that indicates a kind of spiritual growth or perhaps a spiritual attainment. Later on in part two, after experiencing “Sublimer joy” for seeing Coleridge’s concept of unity in the natural beauty around him, Wordsworth writes: Thence did I drink the visionary power. I deem not profitless these fleeting moods Of shadowy exaltation; not for this, That they are kindred to our purer mind And intellectual life, (2.360-5)

Thus Wordsworth’s joy, his “fleeting moods/Of shadowy exultation” are more than the “vulgar joy” of boyish adventures. They are the by-product of the growth of the poet’s mind and understanding, which is why references to joy appear through this poem on the growth of the poet’s mind. They are the result of nature turning the mind of a callow lad into a lover of nature’s beauty, and through that love, into the man he sees in the Coleridgean sense into the unity of all things, into the “one life, and felt that it was joy”.(2.460) For several of the writers in this study, joy to a greater or lesser degree, is likewise the marker of having discovered meaning, as Wordsworth feels he has done in Coleridge’s concept of unity. The third and final element of joy in Wordsworth is its reflective nature. The realizations of “Tintern Abbey” happen in the context of reflection on a visit five years previous to the moment of the poem’s composition. Wordsworth’s speaker may have left behind his coarser pleasures of five years before and received “abundant recompense”(88), but he has stored that memory and is even storing the present beauties because “in this moment there is life and food/ For future years”.(64-5) Thus the memory of a joyful experience, such as the one Wordsworth and Dorothy are

“The Mountainous Shadow of William Wordsworth”


having that July day in 1798 in the Wye Valley, is drawn upon later and joy has the power to recur in memory. C.S. Lewis’s aesthetic theory will serve to illuminate Wordsworth’s idea of joy as expressed in his poetry. Lewis’s aesthetic theory at once explains the connection between this emotional-spiritual experience and its physical manifestations as well as the connection between the experience of joy and its recurring nature. Lewis identifies the experience with Wordsworth’s joy, and goes further in describing the experience in a way that is very similar to many of the poets in this study. Lewis identifies “joy” as an experience that is pleasurable, but not strictly pleasure. It is a physical sensation that accompanies an overwhelming euphoria, that comes unannounced, usually as a result of some sudden aesthetic experience. The experience is so powerful, that when it passes, one longs to have it resume. At times, this nostalgic wish for the resumption of joy can bring it on again. Primarily it exists, much as Wordsworth said of poetry, as something that “takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”.(1988, 740) Thus, the longing for the return of the experience is an essential part of the experience, indeed the core of the experience. Lewis tells us, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago (thus the sense of nostalgia) or further away or still ‘about to be.’”(1988, 78) Nor is the desired object ever reached, though the desire remains and may attach itself to almost any aesthetic experience. Thus it is ironic but characteristic of this property of joy, that Coleridge is able to create a poem in which he claims that the antithesis of joy, dejection, has destroyed his ability to create poetry. The memory is as powerful or perhaps even more powerful than the original visionary experience. For Lewis, this joy and longing are transcendental, and he uses the German term, Sehnsucht, much as R.S. Thomas uses the Welsh term hiraeth, both translating into English as ‘longing’. The language that some of the writers in this study, and Wordsworth himself, use for this experience is likewise laced with transcendental overtones. However, as Jonathan Wordsworth notes, the 1799 Prelude is “vitally dependent on this double awareness” that Wordsworth is flirting with transcendental claims but never quite stating them.(576) Wordsworth never speaks directly of nostalgia or longing in his looking back to five years before, as in “Tintern Abbey”, but there is a definite wistfulness in his tone that indicates the nostalgic experience is occurring. For R.S. Thomas, this intense physical and emotional experience can be set off by reading a line in a poem about Abercuawg, a mythical Welsh paradise where the cuckoo sings. (Thomas, “Abercuawg”) Again, this



experience is usually connected to experiences of nostalgia, or longing for either the past of memory or some state that does not exist. Thus R.S. Thomas goes as far as the Hebrides looking for some longed-for Celtic paradise, and spends much of his energy berating his beloved Wales for not living up to his paradisal ideal of it. This longed for state is both past and future, and thus, the ecstatic longing is called by R.S. Thomas by the Welsh word for longing, hiraeth. In this study, I shall show how these three elements of Wordsworth’s joy, as well as textual and thematic elements, echo through the work of these six writers.


Donald E. Hayden in his Wordsworth’s Travels in Wales and Ireland has thoroughly documented all of Wordsworth’s passages through Wales in a lifetime and I will not attempt to add to that record by narrating any kind of travelogue. Instead, I want to start by focusing on the juxtaposition of the two best-known Welsh allusions in Wordsworth’s work. Anyone familiar with the body of Wordsworth’s work is certainly familiar with two of the most soaring and memorable passages: the ascent of Mt. Snowdon in the final book of The Prelude, and what Wordsworth called his “poem upon the Wye”. These are punctuation marks in Wordsworth’s career, the first coming at the moment of the publishing of Lyrical Ballads and the latter composed initially in the 1805 Prelude, right towards the end of a particularly fertile period of composition in Wordsworth’s career. Since The Prelude was not published until after his death in 1850, it is possible to look at these two events as a start and a finish. He begins at a river valley on the border of Wales and England, in lowlands almost at sea level, and completes his pilgrimage at the highest mountaintop in Wales. Looking at it this way is not only a metaphor for Wordsworth’s career but one that portrays that career as a journey from one corner of Wales to the other. Tracing Wordsworth’s feelings towards Wales as a single political or geographical entity is difficult because Wordsworth doesn’t discuss it as such. There is a passing reference in the “Convention of Cintra” that lauds Llewellyn the Great and William Wallace for their local loyalties and willingness to stand up against tyranny, but nowhere does Wordsworth show anything like sympathy for Welsh nationalism. (Wordsworth 1974, 1.328) Rather than try to find some elusive Wordsworthian sympathy for Wales, it will be far more useful to explore Wordsworth’s imaginative perception of Wales, both in the sense of visual perception of Wales as a favored beauty spot and Wales as a place of mythically historical interest. J.R. Watson in his essay “Wordsworth, North Wales and the Celtic Landscape” writes that “North Wales was a


Chapter One

territory of the mind for Wordsworth, as well as a place to visit.”(92) A look at Wordsworth’s travels groups the destinations into just a few places: France (and beyond to Italy), Germany, London, Scotland and Wales. The trips to London are more business than sight seeing and his sonnet to the beauty of the morning over Westminster Bridge is the exception. The first trip to Germany was anything but pleasant; the second amounted to little more than tourism. The two trips to Scotland resulted in a fair amount of poetry, but nothing as spiritually profound as The Prelude or “Tintern Abbey”. There are three discernible “territories of the mind”, to use Watson’s term, for Wordsworth: first and foremost is his beloved Lake District. Close behind is Revolutionary France where he joined an attempt at creating a new human society and fathered a love child. Right behind that is Wales, where he went for refuge or refreshment throughout his life. Truly, where does a poet who lived a “life in retirement” in Cumberland’s fells and vales, go to get away from the disappointments of failed love and failed revolution or the simple grind of daily life? Historically, after both the 1790 and 1792 trips to France, Wordsworth went to Wales to stay with Robert Jones at Plas-Yn-Llan. If he witnessed the death of Gorsas in Paris in October of 1793, as he told Carlyle, he left from Wales to go there and may have returned to Wales from the dangerous venture. Even later in life, though the Wordsworths went for months at a time to live on the estate of Sir George Beaumont, their other favored haven was the Hutchinson farm in North Wales. As his increasingly conservative mind set and the war with France came to close France as a territory of the mind to which he had access, Wordsworth was left mainly with London, Scotland and Wales. London was a place of transacting business, of ‘networking’ to use the contemporary phrase. The two trips to Scotland did not produce any repeat tours, as the trips to Wales did. Scotland became valuable chiefly as the home of friend and colleague, Sir Walter Scott. But the frequent repeated trips to Wales suggest that Wales became his refuge. If Wordsworth did not see it in political or national terms, it was because he saw it as a place for a poet to retire from his life of retirement. Leslie Norris, perhaps of all the writers in this study the most like Wordsworth in his world view, claimed that he and Wordsworth had an “affinity” for the hill country, and for seeing nature “as a symbol of eternity”. But there is an affinity, or perhaps a considerable similarity of experience and temperament, which I can recognise. Both Wordsworth and I are hill boys, brought up in very similar environments of open mountains, lakes,

Wales and Wordsworth


rivers. Both, for different reasons, see the natural world as the moral, perhaps even “religious” landscape, and the industrial world as one in which men walk at their peril, both temporal and eternal. (I moved from the natural world through slum dwellings and the fallen ruins of the steelworks, in opposition, every day.) Both have used nature as a symbol of eternity, or accepted anyway the Platonic idea that it stands as God’s promise and vision of eternity although in my case this is not as strong a premise as it is say in Vaughan and Vernon Watkins.

If, as Norris suggests, the affinity is for landscape, the similarity of terrain between the Lake District and Wales, may have produced in Wordsworth this apparent affinity for Wales. This affinity, as Norris suggests, is something spiritual connected to “very similar environments of open mountains, lakes, [and] rivers”. A scan of Wordsworth’s written work for the word ‘Wales’ would find very few repetitions. However, the letters hold frequent mentions of specific places. More significant, a survey of his poetry shows a tremendous amount of poetry set in Wales. As Watson suggests, spots of time for Wordsworth often become spots of places as well. If for Wordsworth, Wales as a national or political entity did not loom large, his focus on individual places that made an impression on him looms very large. The Wye Valley above Tintern Abbey and the top of Mt. Snowdon in first light are powerful images central to Wordsworth’s poetry. It is possible to group his poetry containing Welsh allusions fairly close to these two points. There is the poetry of the Wye Valley and there is the poetry of the North. With a few exceptions, the poetry of the Wye Valley, of the South, is the poetry from his early years: The little girl in “Anecdote for Fathers” lives on “Liswyn Farm”, a name that Wordsworth admits in the Fenwick Notes that he borrowed from the name of Thelwell’s farm near the Wye River. In the Fenwick Notes Wordsworth admits that the little girl that was the model for the child in “We Are Seven” he encountered at Goodrich Castle, again on the Wye River. In “The Tuft of Primroses” Wordsworth refers to imagery in the Wye Valley near Tintern Abbey remembered from his 1793 journey. In “The Egyptian Maid”, Wordsworth sets the tale in Roman Caerleon, for the purpose of establishing an Arthurian connection. Of course, the Wye River Valley is the site of “Tintern Abbey”. Simon Lee is from the “sweet shire of Cardigan”, and the poem is a tale of the rural decay seen in Wales. And though Cardigan is somewhat west of the Wye Valley, it is an early poem from Lyrical Ballads and distinctly a poem of South Wales. Though Peter Bell in his wandering days saw “Caernarvon’s towers”, Wordsworth admits that the character and mannerisms of Bell were drawn from an acquaintance he traveled with up


Chapter One

the Wye River Valley. The sole exception is that late in life he wrote a sonnet about the rebuilding of a church on the banks of the Severn near Cardiff. The poems of the north are set across a wider range of country, as well as being fewer. After the scene of the ascent of Snowden in The Prelude, there is the sonnet to Devil’s Bridge east of Aberystwyth, a result of touring with his family and Robert Jones. The same is true of the poem written to the two ladies in Llangollen. There are two references in poems about the channel off the coast of Cumberland that mention the far sight of Mona, the older name for Anglesey. If the muses of place sang for Wordsworth here, at Anglesey, it’s notable that they also sang there for John Milton, in his poem “Lycidas”, which shares the setting of the waters off the coast of Anglesey or “Mona”. (Milton 1961, 3) And these lists may not even be complete as it is impossible to trace all the nameless settings in poems that Wordsworth drew from memories of the Welsh landscape in his frequent journeys there. Ironically, though Wordsworth spent far more time traveling in the north, he writes more frequently of the south. Wordsworth made visits to North Wales in 1791, 1793, 1824, and 1841, the first two alone to visit his friend, Robert Jones and the latter two accompanied by members of his family. He visited Thelwell’s farm in Llyswen in August 1798, and of course, there is the journey a month previously he made with Dorothy to the region above Tintern Abbey that resulted in the well-known poem. In the later years he made short visits to the Hutchinson farm in North Wales, such as the one in 1810. His last visit was the trip up the Wye as far as Goodrich Castle in 1841. There really is no strong pattern to these trips, though the trips to the north most often constituted family visits and the later trips to the south tended to be nostalgic, as was the trip to Somerset that generated The Fenwick Notes. What really emerges here is the profound life-shaping nature of his 1793 walk through Wales, up the Wye Valley to Plas-yn-Llan, and his march up Snowden with Robert Jones. This was a defining moment for the young poet-to-be, as his memory of it in “Tintern Abbey” and his evocation of the Snowden climb attest. He passes through the Wye Valley, by his own account, “ . . . more like a man/ Flying from something he dreads than one/ Who sought the thing he loved.” Granted, he is mixing in these lines his memory of passing up the Wye Valley with his boyhood in Esthwaite Vale. Yet, it was this trip up the Wye that held the events that generated the Lyrical Ballads pieces, and may have well been the launching place for a surreptitious journey to France that witnessed the death of Gorsas. And though the ascent of Snowden occurred two years previous on the first

Wales and Wordsworth


trip to see Robert Jones, Wordsworth places it last in the order of events that unravel in The Prelude. It is the conclusion of this 1793 trip that results in Wordsworth and Dorothy taking up residence together, first at Windy Brow and later at Racedown, where he finds his vocation as a poet. In The Prelude, he finds his vocation as he climbs Snowden, so in the territory of the mind, Snowden, not Racedown is the mythological place of self-discovery. This profoundly important trip of 1793 is the trip that began with his accident with the whiskey cart near Salisbury, and concluded with his taking to his firm legs and “Flying from something he dreads” up the Wye Valley to the refuge with Jones and the moment at the mountaintop. Though this isn’t strictly speaking, biographically accurate, it is the version in his territory of the mind. Wales is for Wordsworth, in short, the place of imaginative self-discovery, away from home, that allows him to come home. It also gives him an image of his vocation in the tradition of the bard.

Bards on the Celtic Fringe Watson traces the possibility of Wordsworth’s reading Thomas Gray’s The Bard and other poetic and mythic sources available at the time. However, Richard Gravil’s study, Wordsworth Bardic Vocation, 17871842, is extremely thorough in its exploration of this matter. Gravil traces the history of the Lake District and surrounding areas as a British enclave that fell very late to the Saxons. Bardic figures such as Taliesin and others are associated with the ancient British kingdom of Rheged. With Wales and Cornwall, it was one of the places Britons fled the Saxon invasions. Gravil demonstrates that Wordsworth was familiar with this history and then shows how extensively Wordsworth refers to bards and druids throughout his written work, seeing himself as a bard and inheritor of the bardic tradition. Gravil shows that Wordsworth saw the Lake District, with its transition from Briton to Roman to Briton again and eventually to Saxon hands, as a transition of culture directed by Nature to create “a perfect Republic of Shepherds” with a social order made democratic by the enclosure of the surrounding mountains. (qtd. in Gravil 2003, 64; Wordsworth 1982, 67) Gravil traces Wordsworth’s sense of this unfolding history in the Ecclesiastical Sonnets. If Gravil is right, the same might be said about Wales, developing in the natural beauty of her enclosing mountains, from Briton to Roman to Briton again, still resisting the Saxon incursion. Wordsworth may not celebrate Wales as a political entity, but he does celebrate Simon Lee and the little girl with piercing insight about death in “We Are Seven”. Wales too is a “perfect Republic


Chapter One

of Shepherds” and simple folk whose wisdom is drawn from their balanced living in harmony with Nature. Whether or not Wordsworth intended for this concept of the republic shaped by Nature to extend to Wales, in varying degrees the writers in this study have embraced that vision and made it their own. This is perhaps the explanation of Norris’ sense of “affinity”. Norris’ poetry and fiction is peopled with simple folk, most often in rural Wales, wrestling with twentieth-century life from an essentially Romantic perspective. His heroes are characters like Chinner Mason who is poor and most often found in a run down pub, but who understands the land and the secrets of nature. He is a citizen of a Wordsworthian Republic of Shepherds in Wales. R.S. Thomas holds an ambiguous vision of Wales. It is at once a Wordsworthian Republic of Shepherds, Welsh speaking, and yet it is also a vast disappointment to him. Wales fails to live up to Thomas’ idyllic vision of it. His simple shepherd is the recurring character, Iago Prytherch, who is both the elemental earth man in touch with Nature and a hopeless lout, pleased to wallow in his own ignorance. For Idris Davies, Wordsworth’s Republic of Shepherds appeals to the cast-off miner and union man, who looks on the Welsh landscape despoiled by English mine owners and wishes for a return to nature. Huw Menai similarly translates this Republic of Shepherds into a veneration of the simple man. For Davies and Menai, it might be said that the Republic of Shepherds has evolved into a Republic of Miners. The simple Welsh countryman has migrated to the mines of South Wales to find work. The Republic was forced underground by economic necessity. Still, this finds echoes in Wordsworth in The Ruined Cottage and other poems depicting the destruction of simple folk by the industrialized needs of the state. William Henry Davies takes this one step further in portraying what might be called a Republic of the Homeless, exploring the lives, tragedies and virtues of the transients he lived among for so many years in terms of Wordsworthian imagery and meter. Powys, the exception here, insists that Wales be simply ancient and mythic. He does not idealize the simple life, being far more invested in the territory of his own mind. Nevertheless, for the most part Leslie Norris is right about the affinity, though what each Welsh poet does with that affinity translates differently. Still, they are rooted in their school experience of Wordsworth as being the model of what a poet should be, as Norris observed.


Of all the poets in this study, few, if any, can claim to be as Welsh as Hugh Owen Williams, known to his readers as ‘Huw Menai’. Born in Caernarvonshire in 1888, Huw spent his early years in poverty and often without the presence of his father, who went south to work in the Glamorganshire mines. Huw and his mother followed years later, and Huw became what so many Welshmen became, a coal miner. He was a fluent and native Welsh speaker and read Welsh literature. One of the most puzzling questions about him is why he did not, with the exceptions of a couple of stanzas, write in Welsh. He went through a period as a political agitator, writing for socialist publications in the height of the mine unrest between the wars. This ultimately led to his being sacked. Shortly thereafter, he was married. Some time later, a mine owner offered him a job working as a weigher for the mines and Menai’s days of political agitation were over. After this time he began writing prolific amounts of poetry. He lived the last years of his life in Pen Y Graig, in the Rhondda Valley. He was never in exile, except perhaps from North Wales to South; he did not live any real time in England or the United States and never had to rediscover Wales as some of the writers in this study had to. His people are the people of Wales, Welsh miners and their families. Yet, by his own admission, the poet that he liked best was the English poet, Wordsworth. He confesses this freely in the short autobiography he published in his second volume of poems. (Menai 1929, 7-12) Other critics have claimed an affinity with Wordsworth for Menai. Glyn Jones, in his The Dragon Has Two Tongues, notes Menai’s Wordsworthian tendencies, although he is critical of them. Jones, though he knew Menai, seems to dislike a great deal of his poetry because of its apparent disregard for the trend in English poetry set by T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, and Roy Campbell. (Jones 1968, 142, 148) Jones writes:


Chapter Two Very few marks of the changes that have taken place in English poetry since Prufrock, published three years before the appearance of his first volumes, are to be found in his work. . . . His aim was the old one of moving us, and for him poetry should be simple, sensuous and passionate. His prime concern was with fancy, infinity and open air, with the enigma of suffering and death, with the concept of the solitary human soul against the indifferent or hostile universe. (1929, 148)

Jones quotes Menai’s own statement of affinity for Wordsworth from the final words of Menai’s introduction to his second volume of verse, The Passing of Guto (1929). . . . my reading of the other great poets [besides Shakespeare], Milton, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, has mainly been confined to the selection of their works which appear in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury—a book I have very frequently handled during the past eight years. And the poet in this anthology which makes the greatest appeal to me is William Wordsworth. (1929, 147)

Palgrave’s Golden Treasury is admittedly Menai’s entrance into the work of Wordsworth. Thus, Menai’s reading of Wordsworth, is a Wordsworth as filtered through the choices of verse made by the editors of Palgrave. The dynamic in Menai’s poems is his tremendous energy devoted to this positive, faith-filled Palgrave Wordsworth, wrestling with Menai’s darker experience of life among the coal mines of South Wales. This tension and the way it resolves differently over the four books of Menai’s poetry is the force that defines Menai’s voice. Using an analogy to Blake’s titles, one might say that Menai’s poetry depicts the wrestling of his sense of innocence with the realities of his experience. His four books of poetry can be viewed this way, with the first two mainly being his “Songs of Innocence” and the latter two being his “Songs of Experience”. However, this generalization has limited use, since both tensions exist in all four volumes of poetry. The best critical insight into this Palgrave/Wordsworth influence is by John Cowper Powys. In his 1944 preface to Menai’s fourth and final volume of published verse, The Simple Vision, Powys distinguishes Menai’s work from the work of his contemporaries, as does Jones. But Powys is far less critical of Menai for being out of step with the work of T.S. Eliot and other modernists. Powys believes that as poetry moved in the direction of Eliot, the popular taste for poetry continued to gobble up bad poetry in the more traditional lyrical style. (Menai 1944, 11,12) For Powys, Menai’s poetry filled that gap.

Huw Menai


Huw Menai is concerned with poetic and therefore essentially dramatic feelings, while the school of writers from whom the conquest of the air is at this moment saving us, though a formidable school and a subtle school, is concerned with pictorial and therefore essentially aesthetic impressions. (1944, 12) This is an important distinction between a very Wordsworthian and Romantic embracing of what Powys calls “feelings” and the twentiethcentury distrust and rejection of feelings and replacing them with the more emotionally neutral “impressions”. Powys has struck the heart of the matter here: Menai is not naïve; he simply refuses to make the transition from feelings to mere, allegedly neutral impressionism. Menai is one with Wordsworth in his insistence on a poetry based on the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, from “emotion recollected in tranquility”. (Wordsworth 1988, 740) For Menai, the pose of objectivity on the part of the poet, in the “impressionism” of mainstream twentieth-century poetry, is unconvincing. Muting the emotions does not do away with them, but only conceals them. Menai prefers, like Wordsworth, to speak plainly and without embarrassment of his feelings and his faith. Furthermore, in 1944 when Powys wrote the preface, he anticipated something like a return to traditional, formal poetry. With the exception of children’s literature, this prophecy has only come true in a small way in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Yet, Powys’ striking and perceptive description of this imagined comeback reveals more of how he categorizes Menai in twentieth-century literature. All around us to-day there are signs that poetry is returning to simplicity and imaginative naïveté. Our very youngest who are “lisping in numbers” have shaken off their predecessors’ basic principle, namely, that an intellectual poet in our age must first of all be critical, cynical, sophisticated and disillusioned; in the second place must look at Nature with the screwed-up eyes of the impressionistic, aphoristic studioconnoisseur till the virtue of his vision has been corrupted by virtu; and in the third place savagely, darkly, frantically strive to adore what is detestable and to damn what is adorable. (1944, 17)

Powys goes on to assure us that he has not defected from the dominant tastes of his time; he claims The Waste Land to be the greatest poem of the age and notes with an allusion to Wordsworth’s sonnet on London, “Dull would he be of soul who turned an adder’s ear to an whole epoch.” Yet, he claims, “. . . the relief of escaping from [this sort of poetry] . . . is indescribable.” (1944, 17)


Chapter Two

Powys’ argument makes not only Menai more interesting for its picture of him as a dissident poet, plunging upstream against the current of his times, but sheds light on Powys’ own view of the literature of his age. This very paradoxical struggle of the post-Romantic Romantic is the tension not only underlying Menai’s work, but of many of the writers in this study, and even beyond. The post-World War I rejection of Romanticism did not succeed in banishing or reinterpreting Wordsworth and his colleagues, but only in forcing Romanticism to undergo changes such as those one sees in the poetry of Yeats and Heaney, or Dylan Thomas and Leslie Norris. Yet, these later forms often lack the childlike innocence of Wordsworth’s Romanticism. Huw Menai retains this childlike quality. Both Glyn Jones and John Cowper Powys apologize for what they perceive to be the “weak” poems of Menai, those lyrics which do not contain any strong images to somehow justify the traditional and lyrical nature of the lines. If Huw Menai’s work does not fall into a category with Eliot’s The Waste Land, that is not sufficient cause to declare one or the other objectively bad. Even Powys seems to appreciate this when he suggests that Menai’s work is for those who do not care for the literary poetry between the wars and need poetry in the lyrical style which they prefer. To be more specific, the poetry of Menai’s which both Jones and Powys seem to deplore tends to be the poetry that leans toward simplicity and optimism, traits not fashionable in between-the-wars literary poetry. Menai demonstrates elsewhere in his work that he is also quite capable of dark and brooding thought and atmosphere. Therefore, I propose to examine the work in Menai’s four volumes of published verse, starting with the earliest. I can show that Menai echoes “the poet . . . which makes the greatest appeal to me . . . William Wordsworth”, (1929, 12) in his wrestling with the essential Romantic problem of how one is to reconcile the goodness of the world and of God as revealed in nature with death and evil. Stylistically Menai makes a great deal of effort to follow Wordsworth’s injunction to write lyrically and “in the language of men”, as Wordsworth says in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, (1988, 735) in this case, for the coal miners of Menai’s acquaintance. Like Wordsworth, his subject will be the deepest questions of life and death, though Menai will not hold the unswerving faith of the later Wordsworth, but instead wrestle with his darker moments when his faith in the Christian God is at its weakest. Yet, throughout, the difference between Menai and the twentieth-century Romanticism in Yeats or Thomas is Menai’s optimism and faith in the ultimate meaning of the universe.

Huw Menai


Both Menai and Wordsworth share this sense of the world being pervaded with goodness in spite of the darkness that exists. There are probably several places in The Excursion that Menai’s work echoes, but the strongest and plainest statement of what I have called Wordsworthian optimism is in the fourth book entitled “Despondency Corrected”. Here, the Wanderer listens to the bitter griefs of the Solitary, and the Solitary’s disappointment with the French Revolution which echoes Wordsworth’s own, and then responds: The Wanderer said:-“One adequate support For the calamities of mortal life Exists--one only; an assured belief That the procession of our fate, howe'er Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being Of infinite benevolence and power; Whose everlasting purposes embrace All accidents, converting them to good. --The darts of anguish 'fix' not where the seat Of suffering hath been thoroughly fortified By acquiescence in the Will supreme For time and for eternity; by faith, Faith absolute in God, including hope, And the defence that lies in boundless love Of his perfections; with habitual dread Of aught unworthily conceived, endured Impatiently, ill-done, or left undone, To the dishonour of his holy name. Soul of our Souls, and safeguard of the world! Sustain, thou only canst, the sick of heart; Restore their languid spirits, and recall Their lost affections unto thee and thine!” (IV.10-31)

This Wordsworthian optimism resurfaces repeatedly in Menai’s work. Let us examine the four published books in order, and examine the specifics of Menai’s style and content.

Through the Upcast Shaft (1921) It is not difficult to know where to begin in discussing the Wordsworthian influence on Menai in the first book, Through the Upcast Shaft, because, like Wordsworth, his prime source of imagery for his poetry is nature, and again like Wordsworth, he finds meaning in these


Chapter Two

natural forms. The influence of Keats is also apparent in Menai’s preference for pastoral imagery and tendency to address birds and other objects from nature as starting points for his deeper thoughts, as does Keats in “Ode to a Nightingale.” But deeper than this recurrent use of the ode form and pastoral symbols, Menai makes a strong connection between the Christian God and nature. In effect, as did the later Wordsworth in some of the revisions to the 1850 Prelude, Menai is ‘Christianizing’ Romanticism. He is not hesitant to speculate on eternity like Norris, nor skeptical of the divine wisdom as is R.S. Thomas. He is, with the later Wordsworth, and with Milton, set on “justify[ing] the ways of God to men”. The chief tool of his justification is the beauty found in nature. What makes this effort all the more interesting is the inclusion of dark and doubtful poems interspersed among the lighter, more optimistic verse. I will show that across the breadth of his poetry, he makes his ‘Christian Romantic’ case thoroughly, only to gainsay it with the unexpected poem lamenting the nihilism of meaningless death. Jones and Powys are inclined to attribute this to an incomplete belief in Christianity. Jones cites Menai’s line, “Part Agnostic, part a Christian,” as autobiographical. But this comes from the mouth of “Alf”, the speaker of Menai’s long poem, “Back in the Return”. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that Alf’s background has much in common with Menai’s and there may not be a vast distinction between the two. (Jones 1968, 152) Powys likewise attributes the contradiction to the fact that Menai has found himself “. . . a medium . . . for the . . . Christian sentiment and grim and godless determinism of the Welsh miner of the Rhondda.” (1944, 13) But this apparent contradiction may not be a total inability to have faith at times, but rather a moment when everything one has believed seems dreadfully unlikely and God seems to have deserted the believer. This is a rather common experience in Christian mysticism and daily practice. I suggest that what Menai has done here is not to present us with a glaring contradiction, but rather an honest picture of the vicissitudes of his faith. Through the Upcast Shaft is the work that is least likely to exhibit these poems of doubt. But through the later books of poetry, these poems of doubt become more common and the lyrical quality recedes, making Menai’s work closer to the mainstream literary poetry between the wars. Whether this is because Menai’s faith grew weaker, or rather stronger and less fearful of sharing his doubts, one can only speculate. In any case, Through the Upcast Shaft represents Menai at his most Wordsworthian. The poem that probably illustrates and explains Menai’s own view of this tension between justifying the ways of God to men and poems of despair is “The Paradox of Negation.” The poem is an attempt

Huw Menai


by Menai to deny that the existence of evil is a conclusive argument against the possibility of a divine and benign power behind creation. There is no storm, if but one humble flower Can hold its head; There is no “fateful hour,” There is no dead. While in the heavens a single star will shine There is no night; No evil cloud can mar the gift of sun If but one ray of light Breaks through to underline The point where sunlight ceased and night begun.

In piling up what seem to be incredible affirmations, Menai appears to anticipate his reader’s objections and charges forward with his assertion in spite of them. But Menai follows in the next stanza with something very close to a credo: If we could cleanse our concepts, nought is ill; One flash of light May strengthen out the will— Give soul a view That night Is nothing true; That pain is but want of peace, That life is but the end of death, That death is but a dream; That breath is not supreme. Why to some bleak negation bend our knees? The One-ness of Almighty God will tell That all for aye is well. Let us affirm till all our sorrows cease. (1921, 49)

This is obviously Menai at his most faith-filled and Christian. It is also very reminiscent of the passage from Wordsworth’s philosophy as expressed in The Excursion cited above. Both Menai and Wordsworth claim that the providence of a loving and almighty God is to be relied on. To be confused by suffering here is to see it wrongly, to see it in the short term out of the context of its divine and long-term meaning. Menai calls for a “negation” or rather a defiance of this short sightedness. The juxtaposition of a poem of doubt within the same volume shows Huw the Christian co-existing with Huw the agnostic. This poem is aptly

Chapter Two


titled, “The Fly in the Ointment”. The first two stanzas are full of romantic bird images, a mark of many Menai poems that is reminiscent, as I have stated above, of Keats. But the third stanza jars the romantic harmony established in the first two: Then discord came—and struck right home— From out the fog of fate, A dragon-fly was dripping, A trout came, caught it tripping . . . Slime lichen and the diatom Would not assimilate. (1921, 47)

Menai feels no compunction in reconciling the glaring contradiction of “The Paradox of Negation” with “A Fly in the Ointment”. Of course, all is not evil in the world, but death is the fly in Menai’s ointment of faith. In “To One who Died in a Garret in Cardiff” the contradiction exists inside a single poem. In the fifth stanza, Menai writes: No more!—It seems so futile to make friends, Futile to love, O Lord! Dreaming to live for aye, Death pulls, and rends, And then—the broken chord . . . (1921, 44-5)

The final stanza immediately following is in Welsh and tempers the apparent despair over death of this previous stanza. Dafydd fy Nhafydd bach Trwm yw fy nghalon i; Ond hidia ddim, mae’r nef yn iach— Rhiw niwl yw d’angau di.1

This translates: David my dear David My heart is heavy But heed not, all is well in Heaven Your death is a hill of mist.

Thus within a single work, for Menai, “Death pulls, and rends” ending with the dissonance of a broken chord, music disrupted. And yet four lines later, “all is well in Heaven/ Your death is a hill of mist”. It is apparent that Menai is hanging on to his faith in Christian resurrection, which would render death a temporary state.

Huw Menai


The Passing of Guto (1929) With the publishing of The Passing of Guto, Huw Menai does not move substantially from the Wordsworthian optimism of the kind illustrated above in the quoted passage from The Excursion. Menai understands that the positive message of nature is somehow stronger than the apparent evils of the world. His poetry is now more sophisticated. He has gained subtlety with experience, but not a darker philosophy. There are few poems of doubt in this volume. One is, “Dejection: (By a Fruitier’s Widow in Cardiff)”.(1929, 68) The speaker is an old widow in the process of intentionally starving herself to death. The question is whether this voice is another manifestation of Menai’s thought or perhaps a satirized speaker. She is suicidal, and this is very much counter to Menai’s prevailing tone of vigor and of embracing life. What is more, she is atypical of Menai’s very Wordsworthian characters: usually little children or wise old wanderers. Or perhaps they are gritty coal miners with a smidgen of education much like Menai himself, echoes of Wordsworth’s working class characters such as Ben the Waggoner, or the shepherd Michael who struggles with eking out a living raising sheep on the fells of the Lake District. Menai’s characters are typically grateful for their “daily bread”, for the portion that God has allotted them, even if it is small. The suicidal woman is a “fruitier’s widow” who is electing to starve herself to death in the midst of plenty. She observes dryly, I who have quietly starved now for some days, In this rich city of the worldly wise, Where plenty rots before my wondering gaze, Would have my hunger thus philosophize:

She then catalogues a series of natural beauties that are terminated by death. Death for her negates all of life, which is the exact opposite of the philosophy which Menai works so hard to sustain in the other poems. She concludes, Then why not now than later admit its [death’s] reign And so escape the intermediate pain?

Escape and the evasion of pain are not typical Menai themes. Could this be irony, or perhaps Menai is exploring ideas counter to his belief in a moment of introspection.


Chapter Two

A more direct expression of Menai’s philosophy is the powerful poem “The Spider in the Doorway of my Working Place”. Menai’s speaker admires the spider’s skill, comparing the spider to “ . . . some steeple-jack in the air/ Midst cunning loops and joints, a marvel spread,”. Inevitably a “moth or fly [is] encountered”, and Menai’s speaker justifies this by adding “For Nature hath her many lives to spare;/ And through the struggle all doth beauty shine”.(61) Here again is the Wordsworthian notion that beauty outweighs and somehow justifies sorrow and pain. As if to leave this conclusion beyond doubt, Menai’s speaker finishes saying, “And what a blunderer is love divine/ If there’s no meaning for the carrion!” This is probably a unique inversion of the argument from design that might be characterized as an argument from the impossibility of divine incompetence. It seems that ‘Huw the agnostic’ is rather difficult to find in these first two volumes of Menai’s work. In fact, he is inclined to mock the modern notions. In “The Materialist” Menai’s speaker is in dialogue with a philosophical materialist. The “materialist” bids the speaker to reject his rapture over a rose and explore instead “the whence and why” of the rose, that is, the bare scientific facts. Menai’s speaker is unable to dismiss the beauty of the rose, nor to follow the material view. In the last stanza he rejects the materialist’s way of looking at the rose and concludes: The flower had gone, but what the gain? Knowledge of ugliness! Go, place a shroud about all pain, And bury all distress, And to the soul illusions bring, If they be good and fair, The known is but a little thing, The unknown—everywhere!(1929, 31)

But Menai’s battle with darkness is only part of the influence of Wordsworth on his perception. The most obvious influence in The Passing of Guto is spread through a number of poems in very unmistakable use of standard Wordsworthian images and themes. The speaker in “The Happy Vagrant” is the inspired wanderer from Wordsworth’s Excursion or the soldier in Book Four of The Prelude whom Wordsworth guides to shelter. Wordsworth celebrates the man of simplicity who lives his life on the lonely road. He is a man whose wealth lies in nature. “I find no snobbery in the sun,/ But great benevolence, a thought/ For giving more than can be bought.”(64) Menai’s speaker welcomes the rain “For being careless where it falls,” and

Huw Menai


calls the wind “that strenuous democrat,/ . . . Who asks not permit of His Grace/ The Duke to blow upon his face.” (64) This character rejoices in his simplicity and commonness, somewhat the way Wordsworth’s leech gatherer is proud of his “Resolution and Independence”. In “The Humanising Child” Jesus is portrayed as the innocent child, nature’s priest. The speaker in the poem is an adult answering the questions of a child. The child wants to know if Jesus was an ordinary child like himself. The voice here is of the innocent child, reminiscent of the voices in some of Wordsworth’s lyrics, especially in Lyrical Ballads, such as “We Are Seven”. While these voices resist the child’s wisdom, Menai praises it. Their points converge, but their methods diverge. Menai’s adult speaker’s reply reads something like a Romantic credo in the innocence and spiritual superiority of the child: In children’s eyes shine all the light That ever was, and is, And shall be, warmth of innocence That flames into a kiss Of God’s own love,

The adult speaker continues with a surprisingly metaphysical answer, if one considers this an answer to a child. Yes, Jesus too was little once, Was very much like you, But He lisped of the infinite And never, never grew As you may grow, my questioner, From innocence away; He was a child unto the last, That’s why He lives to-day, As beauty’s very breath, At one with eternity, Heaven’s Principle to be, Transcending life and death. (1929, 80-1)

Here, as in Wordsworth, the child is the spiritual superior of the adult and loses innocence and knowledge of ultimate reality as the child grows older. However, Menai goes beyond Wordsworth, portraying Jesus as a perpetual child, equating childhood with holiness, a quality that Wordsworth does not claim in the “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood”.


Chapter Two

Despite occasional bouts of nihilistic despair and doubt, Menai’s themes in these first two volumes are nature, joy, and Christian faith. And his unabashed optimism in the manner of William Wordsworth, as expressed in The Excursion, stands consciously against the more cynical, impressionistic poetry that dominated his day.

Back in the Return (1933) This third volume of poetry represents a deeper and more artistically mature strain in Menai’s work. Menai has not lost his faith, but he seems more willing to explore doubt, less threatened by the expression of doubt. The volume is divided into three sections. The first and last sections are individual poems of the kind that marks his first two volumes. The middle section is Menai’s first published long poem since “The Passing of Guto”. It is “Back in the Return”, after which the volume is titled. Much of the poetry in the first and third sections is like the poetry in the previous two volumes. The same themes recur: nature as a window to God, the goodness of life outweighing the evil, and the moments of doubt and despair. There is arguably more skill in his execution in this third volume, and there are more frequent despairing poems here too. But the middle section, “Back in the Return”, is rather a patchwork of some of the other kinds of poetry Menai has attempted before with the addition of the narrative of coal town life, usually told by a named speaker who figures prominently as a character in his narrative, when it is narrative. As in “Guto”, the philosophical passages that withdraw from narrative give the whole of the work the characteristics of a frame story. This distinctive character acting as narrator grants Menai the freedom necessary to execute the long poem, for when a story or scene is played out, the speaker can revert to philosophy or transition to yet another story. This makes for an apparent unevenness in the tone, going from the story of a bar room brawl told in the vernacular to soaring lines contemplating nature. This speaker, named “Alf”, is Menai’s alter ego. Alf is both a poet and a rough-and-ready miner, as was Menai. Alf is somewhat idealized and without the author’s limitations, which makes him a useful narrative tool. I will follow the order that Menai chose, and deal with the first section first. Since The Passing of Guto, Menai’s despairing poems have become more frequent. This volume opens with a darker tone. Menai’s typical optimism is on occasion dampened too. The opening poem, “Simple Bird”, begins as an address to a bird singing in the trees, free of all the human complications, and “Content in the brief round/ Of your own throat

Huw Menai


and wings”. Menai has addressed birds before, as have Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley. Indeed, Menai seems to echo some of Shelley’s themes from “To a Skylark:”, and the bird’s song serves to . . . sublimate the sound Of elemental things— The rain upon the leaf, Or feelings from afar, The outcast wave of grief, The stirrings of a star, The many changing moods Of wind and rill and river, Till on the puzzling woods A darkness falls for ever! (1933, 3)

Woods are for the first time “puzzling” instead of unquestionably God’s glorious temple. Then the poem ends with eternal darkness. There is more calm and finesse when Menai takes on an extended personification, as in “Early Winter”. Winter here is personified as a naked beauty “Veiled in her golden hair,” a reference to the colors of late autumn. An earlier Menai might have exuded a burst of violent emotion on the beauty of ‘lady Winter’, but this more mature Menai tightens his final stanza instead. In a line reminiscent of Keats’ “Eve of St. Agnes”, Menai writes But now the burning hours are gone And greying hair succeeds For her, a cool and cloistered nun Counting her starry beads. (1933, 4)

Menai leaves us here with a strong and pleasing image and has resisted the temptation to impose a feeling or a philosophical conclusion. In fact, the need to argue for the goodness of creation seems to have relaxed and Menai is content to report rather than preach. Menai would seem to have achieved a distance from the poet and the man of the first two volumes. In “When Sheltering During a Thunderstorm”, Menai is conscious of this change. Menai’s speaker is sheltering from a thunderstorm in an outhouse, an image that suggests the absurd, or perhaps the ironic where the majesty of the thunderstorm is opposed to the meanness of the outhouse. The lightning and thunder are personified as aggressive and dangerous. But the speaker is appalled, not by the spectacle outside, nor


Chapter Two

his unattractive shelter, but rather by the skeleton of a mouse in which a spider has built a web. He concludes: To think that this should put to shade The sublime lightning with the theme: Utilitarians all were made Save the poet and his dream! (1933, 6)

Menai is not so eager to impose his credo as he was in “The Materialist”. Here he is aware that his perception may be small and subjective when set in the much vaster scheme of the universe, a mere “dream” of a poet. Nature here is not sending glorious and unambiguous messages of eternal order and splendor, but rather is represented by the spider, and characterized as “Utilitarian”, here meaning that the spider is not a messenger of meaningful nature, but just an animal using another animal’s remains to best advantage. Yet he has not abandoned a Wordsworthian poetics. In “Fancies” from Through the Upcast Shaft he asks the question, in reference to the destruction of World War I, “Why wrap a poem round a withered moth?”. Yet, he continues: . . . Beauty must appear; God’s ways are dark. From graveyard skull I’ve seen a daisy grow. ‘Tis when we sorrow most we hear the lark Sing out his sweetest—balancing our woe, Lest this old world should roll outside the mark, And back to chaos go. (1921, 50)

The poet oversees transitions from a dark world where loved ones degenerate to grinning skulls, but can see that from grinning skulls daisies grow. The poet’s inspiration and vocation announce this balance to humanity. Menai here leaves behind his “poetic childhood”. As I said before, if Menai’s first two volumes are his “Songs of Innocence”, these latter volumes are his “Songs of Experience”. Or perhaps these are “Songs of Youth” and “Songs of Maturity”. The second section of the volume is the long poem “Back in the Return”, which gives title to the whole. It repeats many of Menai’s earlier themes, juxtaposing Menai’s Romanticism with his cynical doubt. Menai places much of that cynicism in the mouth of his narrative alter ego, “Alf”. The rest of the darker aspects of the poem come from the setting in the mines. In the second stanza, he tells us that coal can be seen in a Romantic light. “Old swamps, now coal, and clay;/ For pure is Nature to

Huw Menai


eyes that see/ The impersonal way!” A few stanzas on, however, this optimistic view of the coal mine has been tempered. “Down there is found the deepest gloom,/ Where Night is rotting in her tomb:” And even a little further on: Back in the foul Return Where bodies of men burn Out, out before their time . . . The mine is no romantic place— It stinks of Hell from sump to “face”; (1933, 63)

All this is reminiscent of R.S. Thomas’ lines in “No Through Road”, where he rejects looking to nature, To bring Truth to birth, And nature’s simple equations In the mind’s precincts do not apply.(Thomas 1993, 68)

Perhaps this is dark, though Menai’s faith in a Wordsworthian Romanticism is more resilient than Thomas’. Menai shares Wordsworth’s fear that demeaning, industrial work is bad for man’s soul. Menai’s dark view of the mines, as presented by his speaker, Alf, takes another turn toward Wordsworthian Romanticism. Nature meant Men’s short existence to be spent, Their waking and their working hours, Among God’s fields of green and flowers And not be wretched moles resigned To burrow on till they are blind. (1933, 65)

Thereafter, Menai’s speaker returns to mourning the destroyed lives of miners. Alf narrates the story of Jack the fatherless miner who lost his life in alcoholism before turning to faith. Alf further pours scorn on “poor Doubt” personified and then further on speaks a “credo” for Menai: Tumult of life! There comes a blessed hush Over it all, when leisurely alone I walk the morning dews, and note the thrush Cracking its breakfast snail upon a stone, And I dwell not too long on mystery, Expecting it to yield its baffling cause, But am contented to partake with glee


Chapter Two Of the rich cream that on the surface flows. For God talks but with God! We, listening, Were never meant the riddle to explain, (1933, 85)

Here Menai is able to compound in this one long, rambling poem both his darker vision and his Romantic optimism. Part Three of the volume contains, if anything, more of the Romantic poems typical of Menai. Nostalgia is still a constant theme. In “Lonely Waters” the speaker wanders back in memory to a lonely lake to refresh his soul in Wordsworthian fashion. Oh! I may find some comfort there, for those grey hills are old; - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - So through the fever and the fret, the noise of the world, I hear its lonely waters call to me.” (1933, 141) This is clearly an allusion to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”, Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir Unprofitable, and the fever of the world, Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—”. (1988, 164)

For Menai, as for Wordsworth, the commercial doings of the industrial world are a source of disquiet which nature can heal. Menai’s poem, “The Countryside”, contemplates the aftermath of a great storm, and how nature is able to recover from it. He contemplates the damage and finds that to the perceptive eye it is not damage at all. No shivering trees, if bare, And on the face of each small pool of rain Not the least furrow of care, Mirroring infinity, within them hushed (1933, 148)

Menai’s speaker finds that not only is there no true destruction, but the remaking has all the beauty of nature as well. “Each twig assumes an edge of loveliness”. Finally, Menai’s speaker makes a credo statement:

Huw Menai


For Nature has an underlying calm, An inmost, beautiful thought, Within whose meshes of Almighty art The storm intruder’s caught.

It is the “art” of God that takes the evil of destruction and wrests it to something good and unlooked for. “The Child’s Return” is an illustration of Menai’s belief, which he shared with Wordsworth, in the divinity of the child and the need to be childlike. The poem sets up a mythical encounter between a little child and God, where the child requests an early entrance into heaven, “Lest my poor eyes should grow too dim/ To ever find the way.”(175) God’s answer to the child, though it does not speculate on the pre-existence of children in heaven, as does Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood”, affirms Wordsworth’s conviction that the childlike nature is the standard in heaven, and becoming a child, or perhaps, remaining one in spirit, is equivalent to spiritual health and complete awareness of the true nature of reality. In Menai’s poem, God replies: The Lord said: “Children are my eyes, The Way they ever know, And e’en the Earth is Paradise If they refuse to grow . . .” So to the Lord’s own Paradise He thus returned one day— A little child with large blue eyes Although his hair was grey!

Paradise here is the product of having a child’s perception. This is about as far away as one can get from the vision of the world portrayed in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, and it is in poems such as this one that Menai separates himself from much modernist poetry and cleaves to his Romantic roots. The darkness of the mine may haunt Menai, but the majority of the poems here maintain a tone of Wordsworthian faith in the supremacy of beauty and goodness in nature, over every evil. Yet, this is not a reversion to the black-and-white innocence alternating with doubt found in the first two volumes. In “Reparation” the subtler Menai emerges. Up until now the advent of death prompted from Menai either an affirmation of meaning beyond death: “And what a blunderer is love divine/ If there’s no meaning for the carrion!”, or a confused questioning: “The smile on a dead child’s


Chapter Two

lips shall never fade,/ Being locked for ever, since the key is gone/ In every tree is now the Cross re-made;/ In every boulder sleeps Laocoon.[sic]”. Laocoön here refers to a statue of the Trojan priest who was killed with his sons by sea snakes for challenging the Trojan Horse. The remarkable statue, rediscovered in 1506, is a single piece of marble and is an image of suffering. For Menai, the statue sleeps inside the stone; beauty sleeps inside the lifeless stone. In “Reparation” the speaker witnesses a songbird, a lark, break its wing and become the prey of a hawk. Both Menai and Wordsworth like to address poems to songbirds, and certainly they symbolize innocence. The speaker reacts in fury at this cruelty in nature against one of her more beautiful creatures. And out of my heart there broke A terrible cry: “O! I would kill that hawk!” Then what was I? (1933, 155)

Menai has moved to a deeper level here, seeing the inherent contradiction in his reaction to killing in nature, much as he had questioned the use of revenge in his poem “Reprisals” in Through the Upcast Shaft. He is not inclined to argue that “. . . Nature hath her many lives to spare;/ And through the struggle all doth beauty shine”. He is content to leave the question hanging before us without either plunging into dark despair or trying to forge a justification of the ways of God to man.

The Simple Vision (1945) If in the first three volumes Menai wrestles with his despair, his poetry of doubt, and adds subtlety to his world view as expressed in his poetry, in this final volume is the culmination of his poetic world view. This is “the simple vision” which titles the work and is part of the title of the last poem in the volume. And here again are what I have called ‘credo’ poems, that is poems in which Menai makes a creedal statement about his vision of life, as well as poems of doubt. Moreover, in this volume is the flowering of Menai’s neo-Platonic thought on God’s being revealed in nature, wherein he closely resembles the later Wordsworth. The final poem, “Give Us the Simple Vision” is clearly a lament on the part of the speaker for the loss of “high ideals”. (95) People are paying

Huw Menai


homage to celebrities, athletes and others that Menai obviously does not think are the appropriate objects of such high regard. The higher mind seems dead, restraint all gone, Safe in the pleasures which once brought with them Responsibilities now sought by none; And how remote the New Jerusalem Where all seems bending back to Babylon!

This poem is apparently chosen to appear last in the last of Menai’s four volumes. Though it is not certain whether Menai meant to publish again, the placement of this poem as a final statement argues against any interpretation of Menai somehow rejecting his earlier optimism of his first two volumes. His “simple vision” integrates both the early Wordsworthian optimism I described above and the darker vision of life in this, his later work. But most importantly, this is the older Menai expressing, through his speaker, a certain cynicism about the changes of values in mid-century. Further on in the poem it is clear that he sees these changes as opposed to the natural light which should illuminate our minds. The second stanza is remarkable for its open statement: Give us the simple vision, make us free To choose the straight direction for our Road, Not eyes weighted with learning which but see Sluggishly at third hand the way to God, And let us always feel, to make us proud, The soul is perfect, fit for paradise, That error evil’s but the moment’s cloud Shutting the sun of beauty from our eyes; That man’s unhappiness is but the sign Of his contempt for what is not divine.

This is a concise ‘credo’ statement for Menai, and he seems to have consciously intended it as such. In the unmistakable allusions to the New Testament, the right road is “straight”; eyes are weighted, as Christ couples weight and spiritual slowness in the analogy of the camel going through the eye of a needle.(Matt. 7:13, 19:24) But what weighs down one’s eyes and causes one to be ‘sluggish’ is learning. What Menai’s speaker calls seeing “the sun of beauty”, by contrast, is to experience a spiritual lightness that makes one’s soul “. . . perfect, fit for paradise”. The learning that is unable to perceive “the sun of beauty” is the


Chapter Two

materialistic, factual sort of scientific inquiry that Menai found useless in the last volume. Wordsworth’s view in the passages in The Excursion condemn the arrogance of science, when science was divorced from something like a spiritual context. Wordsworth approved of science, as a witness cited by biographer Mary Moorman put it, “ 'when legitimately pursued for the elevation of the mind to God.' But science as the mere accumulation of facts, . . . was worse than useless.” And Wordsworth stated that he would rather be a “superstitious old woman than have his mind engrossed with knowledge that was merely material in its aims and uses.”2 Likewise with Menai in the poem “Materialism” from the previous volume, and in this present poem, the material view of science divorced from any spiritual view is “worse than useless”. Powys speaks of both Wordsworth and Menai having an “elementalism”, and of Menai more specifically a “Christian elementalism.”. (30) By this Powys is referring to the focus on the elements of nature around the speaker of a poem that gives meaning. “Elementalism” was Powys’ own term for his own brand of religion, and he sees it here in both Wordsworth and Menai. Powys refers to it as “vague animistic elementalism”.(30) Indeed, Powys sees the most interesting thing about Menai to be this conflict between the “elemental” and the Christian, between Menai presenting us with, “ . . . the long dialogue between ‘the Angels uprising, unveiling’ and ‘the Conquering Worm’”. (30-1) But Menai sees no conflict. If he ever distances himself, it is from the war effort of the Second World War, from the mystery of death, or from materialism. But like the later Wordsworth expressed in The Excursion, if Menai rejoices in God through the elements, he does not see a conflict between God and the elements of nature, but rather between faith and the mystery of death. Menai’s opposites are not Christianity and elementalism, but rather what Powys calls “Christian elementalism” and nihilism. Menai probably comes closest to claiming something like this himself in “Elementals”, where his speaker spurns fame, gold, and might for . . . all the wealth of the hills, Rainbows, and God’s own mint of the setting sun. And the moon on the rills.” (1944, 44)

In the end, both the speaker and the “rich of might” share “Gold of a mother’s love, the stars and the night/ And the grave to be”. This is probably what Powys admires and sees as Menai’s balance between “ . . . the long dialogue between ‘the Angels uprising, unveiling’ and ‘the

Huw Menai


Conquering Worm’”. Powys delights in this sort of balance of apparent contradictions, though Menai is wrestling with it. Here in the last volume he will push his neo-Platonic faith to the degree that he will somehow merge the contradictions. Let me demonstrate this in the following poems I will discuss. Menai will show us darkness again, but the darkness is merged subtly with the light in perhaps one of his best autobiographical poems, “When Time the Sculptor . . .”. He is still able to give us very dark visions in poems such as “Row Leisurely”, where the speaker casts doubts on the existence of an afterlife: Broods not the shadow of the End E’er here where none shall know The reason why we came, my friend Or whether we shall go. Beyond the grave, which none shall miss (1944, 41)

Yet the poem does not portray fear of death, even if it does portray death’s inevitability. In the final stanza, the speaker tells the imagined listener, a boy rowing the boat: Row leisurely thy boat, dear lad, The harbour’s e’er in view, And thou shalt surely reach it, glad To sleep the long night through! (1944, 42)

This is the voice of an older man who has lost some fear of death. This is the moment in the older Huw Menai’s life where life experience and simple maturity have allowed him to cease the more intense pendulum swing of his world views in the earlier volumes. He embraces paradoxes, or perhaps unanswerable questions for what they are. “When Time the Sculptor . . .” is the ultimate expression of this embracing of contradictions. The poem begins with a brief personification of Time as a sculptor, chiseling lines in the speaker’s face. Then the speaker wanders to memories of the hunger of his childhood, and how his neighbors would poach salmon to keep from starving. He laments that children were forced to grow up early by privation, and then promptly changes tack: Yet though so full of sadness Those days of Long Ago When carefree joys of childhood


Chapter Two I was not born to know, A strange and mighty Hiraeth Has hallowed since for me Old haunts by Rhosbodrual, Llyn Garnedd and Llyn Lli! (1944, 50)

Here is that longing, that “blessed mood” that Wordsworth mentions in “Tintern Abbey” and what R.S. Thomas also refers to by the Welsh word for longing, hiraeth. Yet, this hiraeth is not so positive a force as it is in Wordsworth, more like the vain force that it is in R.S. Thomas’ work. But one must be careful not to conclude that Menai has despaired here. The hiraeth that is vain is the hiraeth that seeks a state in which . . . each to-morrow Proves happier than to-day, Children of fond illusions Seeking a magic key Our hearts for ever yearning For things that shall not be! (1944, 51)

It is this “mighty passion” for paradise on earth that is vain, in which . . . going headlong forward But to fall back again— Atilla following Jesus, Darkness following day, Yet sunward climbs the primrose Out of the old decay.

Briefly put, Menai here is skeptical of the moral progress of humankind, not of the possibility of the “day” that by implication refers to the reign of Jesus, which is followed by the “darkness” referring to the reign of Attila the Hun and the slaughter he brought upon Europe. And to cap it all, the flower grows from the wreckage. Menai’s speaker concludes: But all is not yet heartache When in the starlight gleams The sea by Dinas Dinlle Whereon I sailed in my dreams

Menai’s speaker then mentions other locations connected with Menai’s childhood. The sea of childhood is not a vain place to sail. The vital point is that the general tone of sadness throughout the poem coexists with this

Huw Menai


assurance of the importance of the perceptions of childhood. As with “Row Leisurely”, Menai speaks of death without revulsion, with a level of mature resignation and acceptance. The same general tone is found in “When Time the Sculptor . . .” and yet, also, an affirmation of the value of childhood. In fact, that may be an apt summary for this whole volume of poetry: death is there and it is sorrowful; there is no point in longing for the joys of this world. Rather one should accept what one is given with gladness, including the beauties of nature, and accept death gracefully. More specifically, one is to accept death with the faith and the simplicity of a child, echoing the New Testament theme that one can only enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child.(Matt. 18:3)

The Unpublished Poems The National Library of Wales contains a batch of handwritten and typed poems of Menai’s. Only a few are dated. Many are scribbled down in ink on various leaves of notebook paper and printed coal mine forms. There are some fifty four mostly unpublished poems here in two separate National Library of Wales folios numbered 20782E, and 18429C, not counting poems that are altered slightly and exist in two versions under different titles.3 Three are clearly identifiable handwritten drafts of poems that were later published. “The Child’s Return” and “The Miner in the Snow” appeared in Back in the Return and “When Sheltering During a Thunderstorm” appeared in The Simple Vision. The first of the two National Library of Wales folios is a collection of handwritten poems on odd slips of notebook paper and occasional mining company forms and also a large sheaf of typed poems. The second folio consists solely of typed poems. A very few of the poems are dated, and two appear with notes on top in Menai’s handwriting. The poem “A Lament” has written on the top right: “This is a good one, I believe”, and the poem following, “The Quest” is topped with “This also I believe, is a good one”. In looking at the poems in these two folios, there is an echoing of the themes from the published poems. As almost none of the pieces are dated, they cannot be placed chronologically in the Menai corpus, with the exception of the poems mentioned above that appear in the four published volumes. Many of the poems are of lesser quality, doggerel such as the poem about ‘Sam’ or ‘Bill’ in love with ‘Lucy Jane’ and then wryly discussing the speaker’s much happier years later after Lucy Jane is dead. Or some poems are selfrighteous little lyrics scorning young women for their vanity. But mixed


Chapter Two

with this uneven batch are poems of a quality nearly equal or equal to the poems in the published volumes, touching on many of the same themes common to Menai’s work. Of the better poems there is “When I Whip-up My Thinking”. Here is the theme of simplicity and the futility of abstract questing for truth. When I whip-up my thinking I then at once destroy All gossamer links in Nature The child-mind’s Mind of Joy. Yea! when I pause to ponder Life’s pearls become unstrung, Black gall beclouds my vision And wormwood is my tongue!

This is the theme of the “simple vision”, of the rejection of abstract thought in favor of a child’s perception, as is seen in poems such as Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood”. For Menai the “child-mind” is a “Mind of Joy” whereas for Wordsworth, the child speaker can see beyond death and does not mourn her dead brothers and sisters, being “Nature’s Priest” and able to move beyond the limited adult mind. The metaphors are striking—his thinking is ‘whipped up’ into an unnatural state that is destructive. His links to Nature are “gossamer”, that is strong but thin, hard to discern and ultimately fragile. Life is a string of pearls that risks unstringing in too intellectual a climate. Shortly after this in the portfolio, the poem “Lych Sale” is an eloquent despairing poem where, according to the speaker, we Whirl around the dark For Ever Tied—one with the Almighty wheel; We feel it so ere we cease to feel, Commonplace end of all endeavour— God, the [inaccessible], chance or Fate:

The uncertainty of the personhood of God, whether God be merely “chance” or “fate”, a very atypical stance for Menai to take, is very reminiscent of Wordsworth’s own uncertainty in the early stages of The Prelude of 1799.4 Quite in contrast to “Lych Sale”, on the next page is a simple and beautiful lyric, “Stars”, which alludes to Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” with its images of daffodils:

Huw Menai


In Heaven’s own daisied fields of light The Summer of the Vast—serene. With Mars a rose for Pity’s sake; Where golden daffodils are seen Dimm (sic) nodding by the moon’s white lake.

As in Wordsworth, Menai over and over again seems to find his way out of brooding existentialist despair by looking outside himself and around him. The world and the cosmos are never threatening to him. Rather they lift up his spirits like nothing else can. One poem in the collection is curious because it takes as its theme the Palomar telescope. Menai must have read about the telescope as it is located in the mountains behind San Diego in southern California, and as far as we know, Menai rarely made the trip to London, much less to the west coast of the United States. Menai finds that the largeness of the universe increases his faith in the creator God while it deepens his own sense of the smallness of humanity in the cosmic scheme: Doubled in power is our world’s once largest Eye To make more marked the greater blur beyond For climbing knowledge from each vantage height Shall but extend the range of the Unknown Almighty pomp—worlds without end, Amen! For final comprehension all too vast. What then to do but keep mine arms for thee Dear one, adored, beloved, beautiful— Calm Polar Star around whose pilot light The constellations of my dreams revolve Though thou art dimming too as mine eyes dim And soon there shall be nor Seer nor the Seen.

The ending of this poem is very telling because it sounds very much like Menai’s darker, existential poems. It shows that Menai at once believed in the Christian doctrine of eternal life, and yet felt the whole weight of the sheer obliteration of the body that is in death. He had, in the words of the psalm, ‘learned to number his days’. (Psalm 90:12) Thus I suspect that even many of his darker poems may be more Calvinistic than existential, more mournful over the “wages of sin”, than puzzling over the existence of a benevolent creator. This is probably also the one exception to Menai’s scorn of science and the materialistic worldview that paralleled Wordsworth’s. Contemplating the beauty of the heavens is acceptable to Menai, and most likely was to Wordsworth too, as it lifted up one’s mind to the creator.


Chapter Two

Menai can descend to darker depths and brighter heights than Wordsworth. And Menai is quicker than Wordsworth to identify the source of joy and beauty beyond nature in God. Yet, though he did not claim it as John Cowper Powys did, I think the record shows that Huw Menai has far better claim to the statement that Wordsworth was his master. Indeed, I think it is plain that as he claimed in his introduction to The Passing of Guto, Wordsworth was “the poet . . . which makes the greatest appeal to me”.


Considering that he was born in Derbyshire and raised in Devon it is debatable as to whether John Cowper Powys qualifies as an Anglo-Welsh writer at all. Certainly Powys believed himself to be such, or at least hoped so. His ancestry was Welsh, no doubt from the shire of Powys. In his book, Obstinate Cymric; Essays 1935-47, (1947, 133) he wrote essays on Wales and Welshness, trying to define it and to connect it to cultures older than the British Isles. In his novel, Porius, Powys questioned whether “Welshness” could be defined at all by some singular bloodline. For Powys, Welshness comes from having opposed the Saxons and having been forced into the mountainous western reaches of Britain. (9) Powys undeniably had a love of things Welsh. So much defines him on the criterion of desire as Welsh: his novels set in Wales, his residence in Corwen, and his residence in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Powys’ philosophy of life, though not his style, is definitely influenced by Wordsworth, but in a very self-limited way. Powys, like Wordsworth, expects to find truth not so much by reason but by imaginatively grasping sensual experiences, particularly experiences of nature. Powys’ novel, Wolf Solent, is the purest example of this Wordsworthian sensuality. But Powys, though he calls Wordsworth “my great master”, (1968, 275) is also swayed by other Romantic voices: Keats, Shelley, and Yeats. Powys' appreciation of Keats is in much the same vein as his appreciation of Wordsworth: the young Powys finds significance in the beauty of nature and a reason to rejoice in life. But Powys begins to be drawn to another polarity when he meets Thomas Hardy and strikes up a friendship with him sometime after 1896. Hardy becomes something of another mentor to Powys, and from this point on, the Wordsworthian Powys is in tension with the Hardyan Powys, and that tension underpins Wolf Solent, to a lesser degree, Weymouth Sands, and Powys' entire philosophy.


Chapter Three

“Wordsworth”, A Philosophy of Solitude and the Autobiography The moment comes in the summer of 1896. Powys does not date it in his Autobiography, but he does recount it in some detail. It was initiated by the young Powys sending to Hardy a poem dedicated to Hardy and receiving in turn an invitation to visit Hardy's home in Dorset. It should be noted here that the first two volumes of Powys' poetry, Odes and Other Poems and Poems, published in 1896 and 1899 respectively, are the only poetry of Powys that could be called “Romantic”. In these two early volumes which Powys later admitted were excessively imitative, especially of Keats, Yeats, and Hardy, (1968, 225) is a younger, idealistic Powys. This is perhaps the only discernable influence of Keats on Powys’ writing. In his book, Visions and Revisions, Powys writes an essay on Keats, but it does not use any of the effusive language about being any type of mentor or master that the Wordsworth essay does. Of Keats he writes, “Beauty hath rest; and of her Martyrs, of these Keats is the protagonist; the youngest and fairest:”. (1968, 183-194) When Powys speaks of these poems in his Autobiography, there is a note of embarrassment at this former self, and yet Powys confesses that that time was also a “spring” and a time of the “rising of the sap”. (1968, 226) The younger Powys' reaction to the invitation is awestruck. I gathered up my spirit within me and resolved to be worthy of the summons I was now obeying. He took me into his study, the chief glory of which was, though it was yet unfinished, the great new Oxford Dictionary. He showed me the manuscript of Tess. He presented me with a paper edition of the same book. He gave me tea on his lawn. I remember telling him how I detected in his work the same portentous and solemn power of dealing with those abstract-concrete phenomena, such as dawn, and noon, and twilight, and midnight, that Wordsworth displayed in his poetry. He accepted the comparison, I remember, as a just one, but he proceeded to animadvert in no measured terms upon Wordsworth's pious optimism. He called my attention to Edgar Allen Poe's “Ulalume” as a powerful and extraordinary poem. In those days I had never read this sinister masterpiece, but following up Hardy's hint I soon drew from it a formidable influence in the direction of the romantically bizarre. I invited Mr. and Mrs. Hardy to visit us at Montacute [his father's home], an invitation which, to my delighted surprise, they accepted; and I enjoyed a second red-letter day in taking him to our church and to the Abbey Farm;. . . .” (1968, 228)

John Cowper Powys


There is an unmistakable tone of awe and almost worship here in this meeting with someone Powys clearly regards as a great man, even recounted forty years later. Powys characterizes the solemnity of the situation with his “obeying” a “summons”. He is given a tour, describing things as simple as afternoon tea in a series of awed, clipped sentences. When the Hardys accept the return invitation he is surprised that the 'great man' would stoop to visit him, and calls it a “second red-letter day”. This is clearly a man, even forty years later, in awe of Thomas Hardy, and even more than awe. Hardy recommends Powys to the American writer, Poe, and Poe thereafter becomes a “formidable influence”. By this point Hardy himself has become a very formidable influence. The most important point of the passage is where Powys dares to compare his “great master”, Wordsworth, to Hardy. Fortunately, he is specific in his comparison, or he might have been painfully rebuffed. Hardy is gracious enough to admit the limited, specific comparison, but then heavily criticizes Wordsworth in terms which Powys disguises with dry and uncharacteristically verbose understatement that stands in contrast to the clipped sentences before it, giving the passage a certain mildly sardonic humor. Apparently, Hardy felt quite negatively about “Wordsworth's pious optimism”, and after this point, Powys does too. In his essay on Hardy from The Pleasures of Literature, Powys compares Hardy and Wordsworth and makes it quite clear what that “pious optimism” is that Hardy despised and Powys after him. Wordsworth looks at a landscape and sees it charged with mystery. Hardy looks at the same landscape and sees one part of nature in mortal assault on another, animal feeding on animal and plant on animal and casual death everywhere. Hardy, according to Powys, blames this on the “Immanent Will”, God, the “President of the Immortals”, an allusion from the final paragraph of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Powys goes on to delineate Hardy’s sense of indignation at God and his conviction of God’s injustice and malignancy in the way the world is created. The optimism and piety that Hardy, and after him, Powys, find so offensive and so “tedious” in Wordsworth is Wordsworth’s faith in the goodness of God as reflected in nature; in the ultimate sense and justice and value of morality in the world, even in apparent senseless calamity; and in the value of a religion such as the Christian religion that believes in the love of God. Hardy objects to the many optimistic passages throughout Wordsworth based on the philosophy, as Wordsworth expressed it in Book 14 of the 1850 Prelude,


Chapter Three To fear and love, To love as prime and chief, for there fear ends, Be this ascribed; to early intercourse, In presence of sublime or beautiful forms, With the adverse principles of pain and joy— Evil as one is rashly named by men Who know not what they speak. . . . (14.162)

This is the notion that out of evil can come good that Wordsworth draws from Milton's Paradise Lost (1961, 3.225) and the New Testament, (Heb 11:39-40; Rom 8:28) that all pain and suffering ultimately has a reason in the divine plan, and is therefore not truly evil. Hardy would take exception to this and to Wordsworth’s more orthodox Christian faith in his later life. In a letter to Thomas J. Wise dated 20 December, 1916, Hardy wrote, “I consider myself a Faithful Wordsworthian, though not to the extent of those who follow him into the years when he became parochial & commonplace”.5 In fact, one would not be surprised if Powys, after this date, ceased to enjoy Wordsworth quite so much, seeing him so roundly condemned by a living mentor such as Hardy. But this is not the case. Perhaps the most succinct and complete statement of Powys' understanding of Wordsworth is in his essay titled “Wordsworth” from The Pleasures of Literature, published in 1946. Though the date is at least a decade later than Wolf Solent, Weymouth Sands and the Autobiography, it reflects Powys' mature understanding and appreciation of Wordsworth. The essay opens with Powys already in defense of his great master, Wordsworth, against any debunkers. Powys starts by defending Wordsworth against the attacks of Browning, explaining that Wordsworth was by nature a staid, conservative person, moved to great and occasional flashes of insight and emotion by the French Revolution, by a French girl, and consistently by nature. Then he abruptly apologises for Wordsworth's “ . . . stupid piety, tedious morality, [and] irrational optimism . . . “ (1946, 347) It is no accident that this language is extremely similar to Powys' rendition of the language used by Thomas Hardy in the passage quoted above from the Autobiography. Surprisingly, Powys then moves on to deny that Wordsworth's optimism is shallow: However much you may sympathise with attacks upon his tedious oldfashioned piety, it would seem that a man who regarded suffering as a deeper and more perdurable thing than pleasure is a somewhat grim and austere optimist. You might as well call Dante an optimist! I do not know any writer except Hardy who indicates more tenaciously and with a sterner

John Cowper Powys


hand what you might call the “bend-sinister” of the boughs of the tree of life, and the contortion of rigid endurance that binds animate and inanimate together, in the long travail of the world. (9)

Perhaps Powys here is thinking of Marmaduke in “The Borderers”, or the leech gatherer in “Resolution and Independence”, or other Wordsworthian protagonists who endure the agonies of life. This paragraph tells us two important things: one, that Powys' has made Wordsworth acceptable by categorically rejecting Wordsworth's sense of optimism, morality and religious faith wherever it appears in his poetry; and two, that for Powys, Wordsworth is found most acceptable in the passages where he portrays the hardness of life in a manner as “tenacious” as Hardy's manner. This thought is echoed in Powys' A Philosophy of Solitude (1933), where Powys reiterates what he has written in his essay on Wordsworth, and elaborates by praising Wordsworth for his “elementalism”, that is, the focus on natural forms which makes an unbearable life of suffering able to experience, “the joy of elevated thoughts . . . a sense sublime of Something far more deeply interfused . . . .”. (1933, 31) This “elementalism” is of prime importance in understanding Powys, for it is not only the philosophy that he admires in Wordsworth, but it is his own philosophy. I want to consider several of the novels in the light of this Powysian ‘elemental’ philosophy. Of course the question arises, to what extent has Powys superimposed his philosophy on Wordsworth? In other words, is Powys’ reading of Wordsworth a reading into Wordsworth? And, of course, there is the even larger question of how focusing on natural forms leads, as Powys says in Wordsworth’s words, to the ‘joy of elevated thoughts . . . a sense sublime of Something far more deeply interfused . . . .’ (1933, 31) There is something else that Powys gets from Wordsworth that he does not get from Hardy and one discovers this when questioning Powys' approach to Wordsworth. If Wordsworth's “pious optimism” is so easily dismissed, as Powys dismisses it, why does Powys bother to read Wordsworth at all? Powys tells us that Wordsworth has to be read, skimming over the “tedious old-fashioned piety”, in other words, very selectively. This seems an odd approach to one who is described as “my great master”. What sort of 'great master' is only to be half-listened to? The further irony here is that though Powys finds reading Wordsworth this way edifying, it is doubtful that Wordsworth himself could have made the distinction that Powys does. Powys calls him a poet who “set out to convey in poetry a philosophy of human happiness that was of necessity a philosophy of human endurance”. (1933, 349) Yet, the question is, for


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just what end was Wordsworth 'enduring' if not that immortality upon which he wrote his “Ode”? This is an immortality in which we come “trailing clouds of glory/ From God who is our home”. Powys is, like Hardy, assuming that there is no life beyond the grave and endurance itself is a virtue if not the only virtue. Wordsworth on the other hand is, as early as 1802, a believer in a super-natural existence. Looking at the manuscript evidence in the Cornell Wordsworth series on the “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood”, though it was polished and sent to the printer in 1806, the changes made at that time were extremely minor points of punctuation or wording. The ringing affirmations of immortality exist in the 1802 and 1804 manuscripts. (Curtis 1983, 269-77, 360-95) Moreover, in a letter from Wordsworth to Sir George Beaumont, 12 March, 1805, Wordsworth argues in reference to the recent death of his brother, John Wordsworth, As I have said, your last letter affected me much: a thousand times have I asked myself, as your tender sympathy led me to do, “why was he taken away?[Ý] and I have answered the question as you have done. In fact, there is no other answer which can satisfy and lay the mind at rest. Why have we a choice and a will, and a notion of justice and injustice, enabling us to be moral agents? Why have we sympathies that make the best of us so afraid of inflicting pain and sorrow, which yet we see dealt about so lavishly by the supreme governor? Why should our notions of right towards each other, and to all sentient beings with our influence differ so widely from what appears to be his notion and rule, if every thing were to end here? Would it be blasphemy to say that upon the supposition of the thinking principle being destroyed by death, however inferior we may be to the great Cause and ruler of things, we have more of love in our Nature than he has? The thought is monstrous; and yet how to get rid of it except upon the supposition of another and a better world I do not see. (Moorman 1957, 556)

Wordsworth has wrestled with the same issues that Hardy and Powys do. Hardy, and Powys after him, assumes the non-existence of any other world other than the material world commonly perceived. Wordsworth finds this not only unsupportable in the face of death, but questions the logic of the belief later held by Hardy and Powys in the malevolence or incompetence of God. Wordsworth asks the question that neither Hardy nor Powys answer: if God is evil, what is our source of an idea of good? Thus Powys separates Wordsworth’s faith in a good “supreme governor” from his (to quote Powys again) “philosophy of human happiness that was of necessity a philosophy of human endurance”. Wordsworth, as the text

John Cowper Powys


of his letter above shows, finds any such distinction untenable. One looks at the distinction Powys is trying to make and is reminded of Wordsworth's caution from “The Tables Turned” against “murder[ing] to dissect”. Powys dissects Wordsworth by artificially separating and throwing away all of Wordsworth’s faith in a good God, summarized contemptuously as “pious optimism” or “tedious old-fashioned piety”, but pays him attention when Wordsworth is being, as Powys sees it, “a man who regarded suffering as a deeper and more perdurable thing than pleasure”. Powys is able to swallow his dissected Wordsworth, but again, one wonders why he bothered. Why does Powys not just discard Wordsworth at this point? The answer is found beginning in the passage, which was quoted in part earlier. Powys tells us that Wordsworth, philosopher of “human endurance”, based his philosophy “upon the senses. From the senses call all those overtones and undertones that transported him so constantly to that region, . . . where we feel the presence of Something else, the 'Something far more deeply interfused' that lies 'too deep for tears,' too deep for words, too deep for reason”. (Powys 1940, 349) Elsewhere in the essay, Powys says, “What [Wordsworth] is ever fumbling and groping towards is nothing less than what, . . . is . . . the secret of existence caught, so to speak, on the wing . . . .”. (350) Finally, after fumbling with the concept of why this mostly happens in Wordsworth's poems to young girls and old men, Powys comes as close as he dares to naming this quality in Wordsworth that keeps Wordsworth his great master. . . . the abiding subject of Wordsworth's poetry . . . is nothing less than an attempt to put into words those obscure feelings of half-physical, halfmystic happiness that come to all of us in ordinary life, and come from quite casual impressions, and yet when they come sweep us away into strange vistas of unearthly exultation. (351)

This sensation Powys is loath to name is at least in part, a physical one. And this is how Powys can come close to reconciling his interest in this sensation, this unearthly happiness, with Naturalism.6 The experience, as a physical-sensual one is a fair subject of inquiry in a Naturalistic world view. Though Powys is reluctant to name the experience, Wordsworth is not. Wordsworth referred to it as “joy”. Powys set this Romantic phenomenon of joy against a Naturalistic world view he first found in Hardy. He is drawn to these opposite polarities and he seeks a solution. I say “solution”, but I doubt that Powys ever found a settled peace between these two contending forces. A


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reading of the Autobiography confirms this. The first chapters of the book are thorough records of his youthful Romanticism, as opposed to his later more typically twentieth-century Naturalistic stance. They are devoted to early childhood memories, far more a record of Powys' early imagination than of the menial details of his early life. Powys admits to being an “incurable romanticist” (Powys 1968, 25) and recounts early experiences of joy brought on by simple objects, such as a small hatchet and a pair of his father's boots. Of one episode he writes: I also know what it is to be transported into a Seventh Heaven of rapture by the sight of some particular inanimate object or of some peculiar grouping of inanimate objects. . . . I can recall the sudden sight of my pipe . . . lying upon the Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. I can recall a certain fir-tree bough that always seemed to me, as I watched it from the dressing-room window which was my Montacute bedroom, to be floating upon an emanation of its own soul, which hovered like a blue vapour about it in those quiet autumn evenings, as I washed my hands with Pear's soap before going down to tea. (37-8)

Powys gives intense attention here to particular objects and their significance, a technique he praised in the works of both Wordsworth and Hardy. Such moments coming in anticipation of pleasure, unannounced, make up what he later will call his “dominant cult”. And like many a partaker of joy before him, his first reaction is to chase it, inevitably unsuccessfully. He speaks at length about what he calls “magic”, which seems to be his efforts to pursue this experience of joy. And in Wordsworthian fashion, he defines childhood as a time of the dominance of the imagination, when the word “play” means pretending, and not involvement in organized games, which Powys sees as adult intrusions. In the later chapters, Powys more and more refers to the interesting people in his life, and references to joy become less frequent. Still, Powys laments this loss and proclaims that in his sixtieth year, he is more the child-equated with wisdom in true Wordsworthian fashion--than ever. (71-2) Elsewhere he recounts a period in his eighth and ninth years in which he is angered at having no memory of joy, or as he puts it, “. . . that Wordsworthian 'pleasure which there is in Life itself', which is now [in his sixties] my dominant cult”. (57) The Autobiography also betrays his basic philosophical tension, between the poles of which Powys balances. In a truly Wordsworthian statement, Powys announces that, “. . . Nature . . . [is] the true Tao, or Path of Deepest Wisdom”. (36) But like other seekers of joy before him, Powys runs into difficulty the moment he tries to explain the experience of

John Cowper Powys


joy and make it a central stone in the foundation of his philosophy. Wordsworth managed this, but by simply accepting the visions of glory given him and not trying to make more of them than his faith did not already explain. Powys, rejecting that faith, must come up with an alternative understanding, and here he runs into conflict. Yet, the history of this conflict and the full story of the development of his final world view lies outside the scope of this present study. I am not concerned here with finding a consistency in Powys' personal philosophy, if indeed, one is to be found, but rather to explore how he held his Wordsworthian influences in balance with his more typically twentieth-century Naturalistic view. Powys is less concerned with ultimate philosophical consistency, as he is with his imaginative grasp of a given sensation. And that perhaps is his primary consistency; somewhat like Keats, what he grasps in his imagination is therefore to be understood as truth. He sees himself gleaning light from his dissected Wordsworthian imagination against the backdrop of a pessimistic, Hardean world. This is precisely the RomanticNaturalistic tension that underlies Wolf Solent and Weymouth Sands.

Wolf Solent The opening scene of Wolf Solent portrays the protagonist riding on a railway coach from London to “Ramsgard”, which in Hardean fashion is a cover name for Sherborne in Dorset. Wolf is not Powys and this is not autobiography, yet Wolf is clearly the embodiment of Powys' thought in the novel. Powys himself admits that, “My writings--novels and all--are simply so much propaganda, as effective as I can make it, for my philosophy of life” (Powys 1968, 641) The character Wolf is, in this novel, Powys' philosophy-bearer, or perhaps propaganda-conveyor. Wolf is riding west on the train, pondering his sacking from his teaching post for having lost all self-control and performing what he calls a “malice dance” in front of his class. He is trying to convince himself that he does not care and that for him all of his real life is in what he calls his “mythology”, . . . consisted of a certain summoning up, to the surface of his mind, of a subconscious magnetic power which from those very early Weymouth days, as he watched the glitter of sun and moon upon the waters from that bow-window, had seemed prepared to answer such summons”. (Powys 1929, 22)


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There is a strong sense of some transcendent calling here, though Wolf, and Powys, view this instant of Wordsworthian joy as strictly interior, thus denying any transcendence. “. . . his 'Mythology,' . . . was limited entirely to a secret sensation in his own mind, . . . “ . (22) This is a distinct repositioning from Wordsworth. As Janina Nordius has pointed out, for Powys’ use of the concept, transcendental, “refers solely to the experience of passing from one level of reality to another”. (37) All these levels exist solely within the mind. As I have shown earlier, Powys in no way shares Wordsworth's theism. His mythology seems to be an ecstatic level of feeling that comes to him on certain occasions, and which has become for him an access to the meaning of life itself. It is clearly the Wordsworthian joy that Powys called his “dominant cult”. Wolf settles into his secretary job and almost immediately meets two young women. The first, Christie Malakite, intrigues him mentally but does not initially attract him physically. The second, Gerda Torp, by her voluptuous sensuality attracts him instantly and with great lustful passion. And though the novel is loaded with a large and varied cast of characters, all interrelated, the central action in Wolf's mind and heart revolves around Wolf, Christie and Gerda. Indeed, the movements of Wolf's own mind and heart are all the action in the novel, as it lacks a conventional plot. It is simply the story of what Wolf thinks for the space of a year in his doings with the various characters. He marries Gerda after seducing her and shortly thereafter discovers that he and Christie are strongly drawn to each other. She is his true soul mate, and he was too lost in his physical desire for Gerda to give himself time to discover this before he married. The novel lends itself to possible archetypal readings. Yet, if one tries by this critical approach to set up clear polarities of opposite symbols, one finds that Powys will not cooperate. Late in the novel Wolf calls Christie his “horizon; but [Gerda] was the solid ground beneath him”. (956) One is tempted here to read Gerda as the earthy, earthbound influence and Christie as lightening and freedom. By this reading Christie is the Romantic voice of nature versus Gerda as the earthy voice of overpowering natural desire, or perhaps instead, the negative influence of stultifying conventionality who lures Wolf into a troubled marriage and dooms him to a dreary life. Yet, in the same passage quoted above Wolf realises he cannot part with either of them, and the interpretation of Gerda in the passage as a negative force becomes questionable. Belinda Humfrey has called both Gerda and Christie, “. . . close to nature, a Wordsworthian girl like Phyllis; . . .”. (Humfrey 19) Phyllis Playter was Powys' assistant and companion and Christie is modelled on her to a

John Cowper Powys


certain degree. Humfrey suggests that Gerda is also modelled on Playter to some degree, and that because Phyllis Playter was “close to nature”, in that sense she is “Wordsworthian”. (18-19) This may well be so, but the intricacy of Powys’ symbolism here suggests more than that. Certainly Gerda's perfect imitation of a blackbird indicates that she too, is an airy spirit, in touch with nature. (232-3) But Wolf finds out that there is more to living with Gerda than pleasant sex and listening to her blackbird song, when he tries to decline a one hundred pound check on principle. Gerda so opposes his whim that the marriage--and Wolf's illusion of Gerda--is permanently damaged. Gerda may whistle like a blackbird and be close to nature, but she also holds the dreams of a conventional housewife in her heart. She clearly believes that Wolf’s first duty to her is to provide for her financially. Powys may be suggesting here that the perception that any one person is “close to nature”, is too simplistic a perception of any person. Christie may well be, to quote Humfrey, “close to nature, a Wordsworthian girl”, in that she lives sensually and finds meaning in nature, but this is but a small part of her character. She seems more an imitation of Phyllis Playter with her subjective and abstract thinking that Wolf finds so compatible. Wolf's attraction to her is primarily that he can speak his Powysian thoughts to her and she understands and reciprocates them. Perhaps she is more a philosophy-bearer character like Wolf, and exists to echo his highly abstracted trains of thought. As Powys finds his “dominant cult” in those parts of Wordsworth which he has dissected from the objectionable “pious optimism”, so Christie is the feminisation of this dissected Wordsworth of Powys'. That is, she seeks meaning in sensual experiences of joy as initiated by nature, but denies any moral or religious meaning to the experiences. Thus Christie, like Wolf, rides the waves of the sense experiences to the furthest abstraction of thought. She calls herself amoral, and makes herself sexually available to Wolf, even after his marriage. Ironically, when the moment for sex offers itself, Wolf, who seduced a half-willing Gerda, cannot bring himself to have intercourse with a fully willing Christie. Christie, feeling spurned, furthers the irony by contradicting her own and Wolf's amoral position, and tells him that he is living too much inside his head and is inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Her eyes flashed. “Everything that happens,” she cried passionately, “is something to be fixed up in your own mind. Once you've got it arranged there, the whole thing's settled . . . all is well. What you never seem to realise, for all your talk about 'good' and 'evil,' is that events are something


Chapter Three outside any one person's mind. Nothing's finished . . . until you take in the feelings of everyone concerned!” (704-5)

She accuses him of this after offering herself sexually, ignoring the possible feelings of his wife, Gerda. Gerda may well be close to nature, but she is far more reminiscent of characters in Hardy, who though simple country folk, and lively, all too soon learn the disappointments of life and buckle down to a prolonged state of bitter endurance. The love triangle in Jude the Obscure has echoes here. But though Gerda shares Arabella's earthiness, she does not share her callous sensuality and lack of compassion. Instead, Gerda turns out to be just what she first appears: a proper country girl who has her little domestic dreams. Wolf finds her perfectly agreeable to his whims until he denies her the one hundred pound check she has set her heart on for domestic purchases. Gerda is in search of a husband, but one of higher social class than her family, and who will provide a good standard of living for her. In this she seems merely common and blandly pragmatic, or perhaps mercenary. Wolf is a satisfactory husband to her until he threatens not to come through with the increase in standard of living, at which point she becomes hostile to him and the marriage is partly broken. It is a mistake to see her merely as an earth archetype, for she is somewhat different from that; she is the Hardean, Dorset, and very human country woman with crushed dreams, a figure in fact, though not in appearance, very like her mother. Wolf's inability to choose between these women in his life therefore seems a tension between the sensual soulmate and the Hardean country girl. But ultimately in not choosing, Wolf does choose. The novel closes with Christie turning her affections toward her half sister, Olwen, and Wolf living out his life into the conceivable future in his damaged marriage to Gerda. Indeed, with the exception of Christie and Wolf, most of the cast of this novel could easily appear in a Hardy novel. Christie and Wolf are Wordsworthian only in the sense that Powys understands and dissects Wordsworth. They lack the moral purity and simplicity and wisdom of Wordsworth's shepherds and wandering sages and young women such as the child in the poem, “We Are Seven”. None of Powys’ characters gains wisdom from knowledge of nature, or the recourse to the remembered past. The novel's ending, though it hints at the human endurance that Wolf will now display to his dreary dying day, makes no suggestion of an end for which his life is being endured, as in Wordsworth. There are no 'intimations of immortality' here. In short, the novel ends in Hardy's world, not Wordsworth's.

John Cowper Powys


What is Wordsworthian is Wolf's struggle to maintain his “mythology” through the practice of his “elementalism”, the focus on natural objects in order to initiate his experiences of joy. His selling himself to the squire and his intention to have sex with Christie come to threaten his 'mythology', to strip him of any of the mysterious and ecstatic happiness he has known. Though, contrary to his intentions, he does sell out to the squire, he cannot betray Gerda and have sex with Christie. Still, his 'mythology' fades until it is completely gone and Wolf is left to contemplate living without this Wordsworthian experience of joy. This raises the question of when the “visionary gleam” that Wordsworth refers to in the “Intimations Ode” fades and what causes that fading. Janina Nordius suggests that this is because Wolf has lost his sense of himself being good against an evil world, by his selling out to the squire and nearly having sex with Christie. (62) Nordius argues that in recognizing himself and all the world and himself as dualistic, he regains solitude even if he does not regain joy. Nordius builds a strong case, but there are still questions that remain unanswered. Wolf's premonition is that selling out to Urquart and seducing Christie will lead to the loss of his 'Mythology'. Yet, his sell-out to Urquart is in the end only half willed and he draws back from Christie but he still loses his Mythology. It is easy to see this, as Nordius has done, as the product of Wolf's disillusionment with himself, but one could just as well ask if it is Wolf's failure to seduce Christie that causes his loss of his Mythology. A more likely explanation still is that Wolf sees himself not as an abstract good, but as a natural, free and Wordsworthian man. Thus the selling out in writing the pornographic book for Urquart makes him feel like a tool of another man's petty perversion. As for Christie, Wolf holds back from intercourse with her upon seeing in his mind the face of a suffering beggar on the Waterloo steps projected somehow onto the mirror over Christie’s dresser. Note here that he is not thinking of Gerda's potential suffering, nor even of Christie's. Wolf sees suffering in terms of the most abstract image he can think of. This is a pivotal moment in the novel, where Wolf undergoes a spiritual death and rebirth. As he reels back onto Christie’s bed in shock he feels, For a second or two the struggle within him gave him a sensation as if the very core of his consciousness—that “hard little crystal” within the nucleus of his soul—were breaking into two halves! Then he felt as if his whole being were flowing away in water, whirling away, like a mist of rain, out upon the night, over the roofs, over the darkened hills! There came a moment’s sinking into nothingness, into a grey gulf of non-


Chapter Three existence; and then it was as if a will within him that was beyond thought, gathered itself together in that frozen chaos and rose upwards—rose upwards like a shining-scaled fish, electric, vibrant, taut, and leapt into the greenish-coloured vapour that filled the room! (694-5)

What has died here is Wolf’s illusion that sensations of beauty can sustain him without complication. He himself refers to the face of the miserable beggar on the Waterloo steps as a “sort of a conscience”. (701) In this case the operation of this conscience-producing image has destroyed something in Wolf at the moment when he is about to realize his sensual objective of sexual intercourse with Christie. Nordius argues that Wolf’s image of himself is as good versus evil, but I believe a simpler explanation will suffice. Wolf has come to the realization that his amoral philosophy of sensualism cannot be successfully amoral. It has boundaries. At very least he finds that he cannot betray and cause pain to Gerda, in the same fashion that the thought of her possible infidelity with Bob Weevil causes him pain. What has died here is Wolf’s illusion that his “Mythology”, this grasping after Wordsworthian joy in the form of sensual beauty, will lead him through life on the best course. He can no longer use it as an internal compass to find his direction in the world. He must turn outward. Thus Christie’s words to him, quoted above, condemning his solipsistic tendencies, are somewhat ironic; for the behavior she is condemning has been destroyed by the failed seduction that leads her to such painful candor. Granted, Wordsworth has not connected this joy with sexuality, but Powys has, specifically in the scene where Wolf seduces Gerda, a scene which uses abundant natural imagery to symbolize the sexual event. What has happened is what happens to people commonly when they attempt to treat the experience of joy as a fixed point to steer by. Wolf has found that the joy cannot be forced to co-operate on cue, that the steps he takes to realize the beauty he had anticipated in a sexual relationship with Christie do not provide an infallible compass. The “Mythology”, the sensations, are random and do not take account of moral concerns. Wolf is learning that living by the sensations is a blundering, potentially hurtful course, and that the sensation of joy is the by-product and not the end of living. Nor can the sensation be made to perform on command and in every circumstance. This is his “blunder”. He takes some time to realize that he has no choice but to accept this and to move on. Thus, for a time at least, Wolf is forced to abandon his elementalism. He initially contemplates drowning himself in Lenty Pond, but cannot do it. In the end he has a sudden enlightenment seeing a copy of

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Wordsworth's poems lying on a table. “And there suddenly came upon him . . . the memory of another blundering mystic, another solitary walker over hill and dale, who in his time, too, discovered that certain 'Intimations of Immortality' had to take a narrower, a simpler form, as the years advanced”. (962) Wolf finds strength in his view of Wordsworth losing the reliance on the “elemental” pursuit of sensual joy through nature and going on. The passage bears striking resemblance to the passage quoted above in the Autobiography about being in “Seventh Heaven” when he sees his pipe on a copy of Wordsworth's poems. Powys views Wordsworth as a “blundering mystic”. Wolf is also a blundering mystic, that is, he makes the discovery that a life of pure amoral sensualism cannot be lived, “that certain 'Intimations of Immortality' had to take a narrower, a simpler form, as the years advanced”. One might characterize Wolf Solent as a novel that traces the progress of a man forced to abandon his philosophy of sensualism, of elementalism, to be absorbed into a world of hopeless endurance. In other words, it is a novel about a modified, twentiethcentury Wordsworth who gets all but completely absorbed into the world according to Hardy. I say all but completely absorbed, because in this final identification with Wordsworth, Wolf is making a last attempt at holding on to his delight in aesthetic sensuality before being finally swept into the completely pessimistic Hardean world. At this point it would be useful to break from this question and return to the question addressed in the beginning of this chapter. If John Cowper Powys has standing within the canon of twentieth-century British literature, it is perhaps because he addresses the question of the conflict between Romanticism and Naturalism without categorically rejecting Romanticism. How well Powys succeeds in this attempted synthesis is a subject for debate. But that he is swimming against the tide of twentiethcentury literature raises the level of the importance of his work.

Weymouth Sands In Weymouth Sands, a novel published in 1934, the same year as the Autobiography, there are some echoes of the Wordsworthian theme found in Wolf Solent, but scarcely to the same degree. More charitably, one might say that they are disguised more subtly. One difference is that in Weymouth Sands there are two, or possibly three characters who are Powysian philosophy-bearers or propaganda-conveyors. This is quite certain because a legal controversy eventually caused Powys to have to publish the novel with a disclaimer, which includes the statement: “All the


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events and characters in this book are pure invention, except in the case of Magnus Muir and Sylvanus Cobbold, where certain characteristics and peculiarities have been taken from the nature of the author himself”. (Weymouth 16) Sylvanus Cobbold and Magnus Muir are the primary point of view characters, though the point of view jumps from character to character fairly freely. A third character, the philosopher, Richard Gaul, writes Powysian philosophy, but otherwise does not quite play the part of propaganda-conveyor. Like Wolf Solent, the plot in this novel is very loose, though not as loose as other Powys novels. There are particular points of plot tension: Jobber Skald is determined to murder Dog Cattistock, though his love for Perdita Wane inhibits him; Dog Cattistock is engaged to Hortensia Lily, but seems reluctant to marry her; Sylvanus Cobbold risks arrest and commitment to a particularly grisly mental institution for his odd ways and his affection for young girls; Magnus Muir is in love with and engaged to Curly Wix, who does not return his affections and puts off the wedding. Therefore there is some level of suspense in the novel. But the suspense is nominal. Like Wolf Solent, this is a story of the inside of a mind, or in this case, inside the minds of several townsfolk. The duration of the novel is about a year. Thus, unlike Wolf Solent there is a range of dark or confused human motivations, not just those that spring from an elementalist pursuit of Wordsworthian joy. Once again, the characters seem to have either an archetypal or perhaps stereotypical dimension that makes the few plot movements and the external actions of the characters less significant than the fevered fury of their minds as they wrestle with their maladjustments and inadequacies in a small-town, Dorset seaport. The change of focus between the two novels also seems to accompany a change in weather and landscape. Wolf Solent is full of green fields and sunny days punctuated with scattered showers. Weymouth Sands's weather is as stormy, dark, and brooding as the thoughts of the principal characters. This latter novel owes a clear debt to Hardy, especially in its characters, men of action such as Jobber Skald and Dog Cattistock who struggle with their seething desires and go from episode to episode with declining fortunes and increasing confusion. Yet, atypical of a Hardy novel, both these characters are ultimately united with their women in the end and achieve something like happiness. But in Weymouth Sands there are a lot more people who substitute something to pursue in the place of Wordsworthian joy than there are philosophy-bearer characters who wrestle with those very mental Powysian categories. At the same time, however, it is the two principal philosophy-bearers, Muir and Sylvanus Cobbold, whose minds Powys

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visits most often. By the end of the novel they have grown even more prominent and it becomes apparent that they are the two main protagonists. Sylvanus Cobbold is a self-appointed prophet, who stands on the esplanade above the beach and preaches long, convoluted sermons. Consciously or not, Powys probably conceived of these as burlesques on his own “philosophy”. His main audience is young girls, after whom he lusts in his own cerebral fashion. Powys presents him initially as something like the town lunatic, but it becomes clear that the author quite likes this character as well. He is a lover of nature, and lives purely by sensation. In fact, he lives in purity the “elemental” philosophy. He has one building near his house in which hang an old discarded painting and a rope. These “fetishes”, as he thinks of them, inspire great sensations in him. But his favorite 'fetish' is a sunbeam that regularly comes through a crack in the roof of this shack, which he has named “Trivia”. When Trivia “dances”, that is when the sunbeam moves, Sylvanus goes into ecstasy. Here he looks somewhat absurd in his worship of sensation. One wonders if Powys shows us this scene in order to mock the character, or perhaps even the elemental philosophy. If so, it is a moment of soul-searching for Powys to question the principal source of his “dominant cult” in this character. Shortly after this, in a scene reminiscent of Christie's scolding Wolf for his self-absorption, Sylvanus's girl, Marret, scolds Sylvanus for being absorbed in another sighting of Trivia when she is trying to talk to him about her fears. She runs out and leaves him. To his own surprise, Sylvanus finds it impossible to ignore or forget her. This is a pivotal moment for his character, for it gives him more depth and draws the reader's sympathies to him. A Sylvanus who cares about something other than the state of his own feelings is almost another character altogether. It also parallels the scene in Wolf Solent when a spurned Christie tells Wolf that things have their existence outside of his mind. In the end of the novel, Sylvanus is committed to a mental institution the locals call “Hell's Museum”, for its collection of mad and dying patients. He takes on almost heroic dimensions as he duels mentally and verbally with the cold, vivisectionist Dr. Brush, his jailer, in order to stop the vivisection from going on and perhaps to maintain his own sanity. It is during this mental duel at the end of he novel that the psychiatrist Brush, in a moment of unguarded candor, wishes aloud to Sylvanus that he would be very pleased if Sylvanus would do him the favor of dashing his, the doctor's, brains out. This shocks Sylvanus, who stammers a suggestion that the doctor might find happiness in a locale where joy might be experienced, but fails to find the right words. Sylvanus pauses: “. . . feeling confused, puzzled, how to convey to this man, . . .


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inspirations that came from Something so 'deeply interfused' as was the spiritual Presence he referred to”. (Powys 1984, 528) This is probably the most obvious and direct reference to Wordsworth in the book, and it reveals that Sylvanus's character, as Powys perceives him, is based on a certain Wordsworthian assumption, as Powys understands it. Here it seems that Sylvanus cannot understand why anyone would be impervious to the joy all about us in life, communicated through our senses. Simply put, how can one be despairing in a world of Wordsworthian joy? Thus Sylvanus becomes the hero, standing against despair in a Hardean world aptly named Hell's Museum. Nevertheless, at the end of the novel he is still an inmate in Hell's Museum. Magnus Muir is an altogether different character. He is a shy Latin teacher, haunted by the memory of an energetic, outspoken, and very proper father. He has fallen in love with a young working-class beauty named Curly Wix and becomes engaged to her, though she is in love with another man. Curly Wix is another Hardean character, born a beauty, with high dreams and doomed to frustration. At the end of the novel she surprises everyone and runs off with Dog Cattistock to be his mistress until he should tire of her. Curly's elopement causes Magnus's crisis late in the novel, but Curly is primarily a catalyst in this role. Magnus is simply decent, and the reader likes him better as the story goes on and the reader senses the dramatic irony of the fall Magnus will undoubtedly encounter well before he knows of it. He has constant internal monologues asking himself in some form whether he should dare act. He is painfully indecisive and given to comparing himself with his deceased father. He is reminiscent of T.S. Eliot's character, J. Alfred Prufrock, in not daring to dare and in engaging in long, fearful councils with himself. He is given the job of tutoring Cattistock's son and it emboldens him to come forth more and more. What is Powysian about him is his worship of beauty. His elementalism is diluted compared to Sylvanus’, but it haunts him and leads him on in tandem with his sense of propriety and duty. Like Sylvanus, he is a votive to the sensations of nature, but unlike Sylvanus, he is also a votive to the beauties of Greek poetry. He is also a creature of almost too much self-control and concern for the thoughts of others. Shortly before the elopement of Curly Wix, he has an argument with Sylvanus that seems to be an argument between two sides of Powys' own philosophy--the disciplined and the inspired. Just before this argument, he has a rush of joy upon seeing a bit of fisherman's cork resting on the sand while admiring the beauty of sand and sea and thinking about how he followed “the religion of Homer”. (478) Yet Magnus Muir's finest moment comes

John Cowper Powys


after he hears Curly has betrayed him. He is in shock, and yet even though in pain, he is intensely aware of the scene around him and able to move on, bearing his pain. Like Sylvanus, these final scenes establish Magnus's heroic dimensions just as the argument with his jailer establishes Sylvanus as heroic. One way to look at this development of character from Wolf Solent to Weymouth Sands, from Wolf himself to Sylvanus Cobbold and Magnus Muir, is as a development which illustrates how Powys views his “dominant cult” of limited Wordsworthian thought. Sylvanus is perhaps the most successful at sustaining his optimism and his love of nature. Wolf and Magnus must eventually cave in to long dreary lives of disappointment. Sylvanus does not, but he is confined to a madhouse. Though Powys may view these characters as bearers of his philosophy, he does not seem to see in them any great advantage or increased potential in living out Powys' limited Wordsworthian ideal. Jobber Skald actually lives a fuller life of sensation, which he neither worships nor contemplates. Except for his vendetta against Dog Cattistock, his life is almost ideal, and he finds a true soulmate in the end in Perdita Wane. He must suffer for her and repent of his vendetta, but his life promises more fulfillment than either Sylvanus's or Magnus's. Still, though one might envy Jobber, one doesn't admire his stand in the face of suffering. It is less admirable than that of both Sylvanus and Magnus. Under the suffering of the loss of Perdita, Jobber wastes away, only to be rescued by her reappearance. If Powys in these novels is trying to “sell” his philosophy, it is neither facile nor optimistic. Still, with Sylvanus, he seems to expect the possibility of sensing the, “inspirations that came from Something so 'deeply interfused' as . . . the spiritual Presence . . . ”, that is, the possibility of inexplicable and untraceable joy to be just enough motive for any man to wade through the painful, bewildering, Hardean maze of existence.

A Glastonbury Romance In between Wolf Solent and Weymouth Sands, the novel, A Glastonbury Romance was published in 1932. The two Welsh novels of Powys can be best understood in the light of A Glastonbury Romance. For A Glastonbury Romance forms a transition, a bridge, not only between Powys’ major ‘realistic’ novels and the Welsh novels, but between the simple elementalism of Wolf Solent and the mysticism of Porius. Though A Glastonbury Romance is technically a realistic novel,


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at least in its initial presentation, it is more a fantasy, perhaps even an early prefiguring of magical realism. The mystical and magical world for Powys in Wolf Solent was limited to Wolf’s almost supernatural appreciation for nature around him. But nature is still a thing, an impersonal force, for all her beauty, in Wolf Solent. And certainly in Weymouth Sands, it is only the eccentric Sylvanus who regards it as something more. Robin L. Wood has traced Powys’ deep belief in imaginative illusion and Powys’ belief that this is a necessary corrective to the materialist view of life. Wood points out that Powys uses the word “mythology” variously as a description of his own philosophy and values. He has called the experience of joy in Wolf Solent also a “mythology”. Most likely the joy experience shaped his values over time. This naturally raises the question about Powys and his slow movement across his life to a more mystical understanding. Weymouth Sands is possibly a last experiment with realism for Powys, an attempt to divert himself from the direction he had begun to take in A Glastonbury Romance, and ultimately, a failed attempt. For when one enters the world of A Glastonbury Romance, one has left behind the strictly materialistic interpretation of the universe that is supposed to underlie realistic fiction. Indeed, the materialistic and scientific view of life is embraced by perhaps the least sympathetic character in the novel, Philip Crow. But more revealing is the so-called “Powys character”, that is, the character that most resembles its maker. In Wolf Solent it is Wolf; in Weymouth Sands it is Sylvanus and Magnus. In Owen Glendower it will be Rhisiart ap Owen, and in Porius it will be Porius himself. Often, it is these characters, as with Wolf, who are either the “conveyors” of Powys’ “propaganda”, or function as point-of-view characters for significant portions of the novel that help us see the world through Powys’ eyes and justify to some degree authorial intrusion that might otherwise be considered preaching. That character in A Glastonbury Romance is clearly John Crow, cousin to Philip Crow and a tramp, a very typical Wordsworthian type. Like Powys himself, John Crow rejects any form of orthodox Christianity but embraces an elemental belief in natural forces that borders on animism. On his journey from Norfolk to Glastonbury, John is able to stop at Stonehenge, where placing his forehead on the stones and touching them gives him a religious, even sacramental experience. The most interesting thing about John Crow in terms of his being a propaganda conveyor and reflecting his creator, is that he has a conversion in the course of the story from being a total skeptic to having some sort of belief in the supernatural world. John Crow, upon coming to Glastonbury, goes to work for Johnny Geard, the mystic prophet at the heart of almost all the conflicts in the

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novel. And though he considers Geard a humbug, he is drawn to him. In the end, Geard gives him an annuity, which allows him to move back to Norfolk with his wife and cousin, Mary Crow. Instead of feeling relieved that he is out and away from the humbug he works for, John Crow begins to miss Geard. And all this is witnessed by the powers above. Indeed, the central theme of the novel, if there is one at all, is the power of the supernatural to overcome the scientific, materialistic world. Morine Krissdotter argues that Johnny Geard represents the forces of supernature and Philip Crow the forces of scientific materialism. (83) This is probably true as far as it goes, but it is inaccurate in that it tends to oversimplify the complexity of the novel in a way that sees it in the same terms which one would see a realistic novel of social criticism. But this novel, in spite of the later reversion to realism in Weymouth Sands, represent Powys’ step away from the skeptical realism of Dreiser and Hardy, and a step into a religion of his own invention, as his character Geard invents his own religion. However, any resemblance between Powys and his creation, Geard, ends there. Geard is a tool of the supernatural powers that surround Glastonbury, trying to construct a new Gnosticism based on reverence for the Grail fountain, but in the end, his revelation is futile, and he chooses to destroy himself, thinking it an act of spiritual advancement to the afterlife. It is the spiritually maturing John Crow, and conversely, the spiritually maturing Sam Dekker, a sort of ‘Grail Knight’, that actually achieve Powysian spiritual maturity. The problem with the bi-polar view of the novel, that opposes Geard to Crow, is that in the novel, the human characters in fact have little ultimate say over the course of events. The dualistic “First Cause” and a host of other minor supernatural powers manipulate the characters almost as puppeteers manipulating puppets. These powers are mythic and pagan. Powys’ “First Cause” resembles Shakespeare’s Oberon more than it does the Christian God the Father, more fairy than Yahweh. It is not a trinity of love, but rather has two natures, one good and one evil. Philosophically speaking, Powys’ theology is pure Dualism, but that is only the beginning. For Powys, the chief difficulty in assenting to the orthodox Christian doctrine of his Anglican clergyman father is the problem of suffering. Powys believes dualism to be the solution: God, or rather, the “First Cause” is the origin of both joy and suffering. Christ, as Sam Dekker will discover, is opposed to him. This is classic dualism, where the forces of pure good, Powys’ Christ, are opposed to the forces of evil, Powys’ First Cause. This might be mistaken for Manichaeism, but Powys does not make the Manichee connection of good with spirit and evil with matter. The second part of the solution is the adoption of the pagan Celtic


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worldview in which animistic forces control the world and the individual is buffeted on the sea of their chaotic whims. This is more than facetious humor on Powys’ part, but rather, for him, an explanation of the problem of suffering in the world and the negation of the human desire for a happy life. And this is the vital point of transition for Powys. He has pursued his “dominant cult” and spun off his version of what he called Wordsworth’s elementalism, but with this novel, he is developing that elementalism in a way that Wordsworth did not. This is the dovetailing of Powys’ earlier Wordsworthian elementalism with his absorbing interest in Celtic myth and Wales. Four years after the publishing of this novel, Powys returned to Britain after a long exile in the United States, moved to Corwen, Wales and left his native Devon behind. In A Glastonbury Romance, the reader sees the fictionalized form of John Cowper Powys’ mental preparation for his coming home to Wales. Thus too, A Glastonbury Romance, as a fictionalized record of the transition, is the key to understanding this transformed Wordsworthian elementalism that is to become an elemental Powysian Celtic animism in Owen Glendower and Porius. The two characters who spiritually mature the most, who most “convey” the “propaganda” for their creator, are John Crow and Sam. Powys deserted his clergyman father’s faith; both John Crow and Sam Dekker are respectively the grandson or the son of Anglican clergymen. Both have rejected their father’s or grandfather’s Anglican orthodoxy. With the possible exception of John Crow’s cousin and bride, Mary, it is only to John Crow and Sam Dekker that it is granted to see visions and live to tell of them when so many others are washed away in one sense or another by the final cataclysmic flood at the end of the novel. And this is precisely why the Geard versus Philip Crow view of the novel is too shortsighted: for Geard and Philip Crow are effectively destroyed at the end, with Crow hoping to rebuild from his destruction and Geard seeking his own death. It is John Crow and Sam Dekker who achieve their quest. John Crow leaves Glastonbury for Norfolk with his bride and his friend’s child and enough money to live comfortably. Sam Dekker is restored to good relations with his father as they poll about the flood, rescuing people. Geard and Philip Crow exist to provide a backdrop for the actions and the quests of John Crow and Sam Dekker. John Crow is given the brief vision of Arthur’s sword being thrown away and Sam Dekker is given a clear vision of the Grail and a new understanding. But neither of these visions is as important as their roles as chief vehicles for Powys’ thought at this time of transition.

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Lest this sound as over-simplistic, as the Geard versus Crow view of the novel, it needs to be said that like any Powys novel, A Glastonbury Romance is an ensemble performance with a large and colorful cast. Certainly Mary Crow, John’s cousin, paramour, and then wife, is significant in her pure and undiverted love of John, and she too, as his alter ego, experiences some of his spiritual quest, probably with more ease than he does because she is not so closed-minded as he is in the beginning. Mary has an experience of hiraeth, or joy, midway through the novel, the experience of Wordsworth’s “blessed mood . . . . and the deep power of joy,/ [in which] We see into the life of things” that is the thread running through so much of Romantic experience. For Powys it is his “dominant cult”, and here in A Glastonbury Romance he gives the experience to his character, Mary Crow. As with all experiences of hiraeth, the joy comes unannounced while Mary sees light reflected off an arch in the Glastonbury Abbey ruins. Her soul had come back with a violent spasm, like a rush of blood to her head, and her whole nature seemed to pour itself out towards the reddish light on that tall column. Her pulse of happiness was intense. What she experienced was like a quivering love-ecstasy that had no human object. . . . Whatever it was that stirred her so, the effect of it soon passed; . . . . The invisible Watchers however of human life in Glastonbury noted well this event. “She has been allowed to see It,” they said to one another. “Will she be the only one among all these people?” (Powys 1932, 556)

The description is intimately physical: Powys describes the effects of the experience on Mary’s posture, skin and breasts. The intrusive narrator is cluing the reader in to the intentions of these puppeteer gods or fairies that control and watch human life in Glastonbury. Powys implies that this is a vision of the Grail; if so, it is the first in the novel, and is inextricably tied to Powys’ “dominant cult”, hiraeth. And Mary, as John’s alter ego having more faith than he does throughout most of the novel, is able to experience the fuller vision of the Grail, or at least the joy, the hiraeth of some sort of ‘Grail-light’, whereas cynical John is only permitted the warning vision of the reality of the Arthurian legend in catching for a moment Arthur’s sword being cast away. Owen Evans, though he is not permitted a Grail vision, is a harbinger of new directions in Powys’ novels. He is distinctly and furiously Welsh, and foreshadows the characters in Powys’ Welsh novels to come. He, in fact, experiences that moment of hiraeth quietly, in the limited that way he is capable of, in his constant search for something elusive in the Grail


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legends and in writing his book about the life of Merlin. In one instance he is finishing reading Mallory for “exactly the twenty-fifth time”. Powys then writes: “An indescribable sadness of those final pages was wrapping him round in a delicate melancholy, . . . .” (176) This is the longing for the distant and unattainable beauty, which, as I have pointed out previously, is one of the hallmarks of joy or hiraeth. But the experiences of these supporting cast are minor compared to the quests of the two protagonists John Crow and Sam Dekker. Sam, in fact, does come to something like the end of his quest with his vision of the Grail, though it results in no overarching good to anyone in Glastonbury but himself. Many of the characters he tells about it think him mad or don’t believe him. Really it is a very private revelation, as was Mary’s. John Crow too, achieves basically a private revelation. This is really very Powysian, for there is a tenor in many of Powys’ writings that one can trace back to Wordsworth in The Prelude, and that is the story of the author’s spiritual growth and development. Powys’ prime subject is Powys. If there is a quest in A Glastonbury Romance, it is ultimately a quest for spiritual maturity and self-knowledge. Indeed, it is only “Bloody Johnny” Geard who deals largely in Arthurian relics being brought to the larger world when he builds his “Saxon arch” and rotunda over the Grail fountain on Chalice Hill, and these largely turn out to disappoint him as he tries to launch his own brand of Gnosticism. This is indicative of Powys’ intense spiritual privacy, and a resulting disdain for public spiritual parading. For Powys, individual persons find the real spiritual experiences. If these spiritual experiences are ever shared, they are not shared by the vehicle of an established religion, but rather in autobiography and in fiction. The quest of John Crow is very different from that of Sam Dekker. Dekker is searching for the Grail, for something holy and meaningful outside himself, in spite of his rejection of his father’s Anglican faith. John Crow, a tramp, has come to the point where he is solely interested in feeding his small, intensely hardened inner self. He says: What I really am is a hard, round stone defying the whole universe. And I can defy it, and get what I want out of it too! It’s a lovely feeling to feel absolutely alone, watching everything from outside, uncommitted to anything. Why should I accept the common view that you have to ‘love’ other people? Mary belongs to me; but sometimes I wonder whether I ‘love’ even Mary. I certainly don’t love myself! I’m a hard, round, glass ball, that is a mirror of everything, but that has a secret landscape of its own in the centre of it. O great Stones of Stonehenge, you are the only gods for me! (370-1)

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Powys draws the reader back to Stonehenge, imbuing it with an animistic significance. Early in the novel while traveling to Glastonbury, John is picked up by Owen Evans and taken to Stonehenge, where he worships abjectly. For him, the powers above as found in nature and in the primitive temple at Stonehenge, essentially the gods of good and bad luck, are the only powers in the universe. This is echoed by the speaker’s regular interruptions with the meddling of small supernatural powers, and in the speaker’s telling the reader of the dual nature of the First Cause. John, as a “propaganda conveyor”, is sharing the novelist’s philosophy here, but he is certainly not the only victim of the dual nature of the First Cause. For John, the carefree life and the possession of Mary are his only desires. Both he and Mary, upon falling in love, send up prayers for duration and happiness in their union. (77) But as Powys’ narrator explains at some length, the First Cause is dual, and a prayer may be fortunate enough to strike the good side, or unfortunate enough to be “intercepted” by the bad side. John and Mary’s prayer is intercepted by the bad side.(77-8) The narrator tells the reader that it is wise to pray to lesser gods, who are better natured. Certainly John Crow is one to spend his days trying his luck with the lesser gods. And all this is a fictionalized account of John Cowper Powys’ own developing thought dealing with the problem of suffering. Furthermore, the simple Wordsworthian elementalism in Wolf Solent is now developing into a full-blown animism, a direction Wordsworth did not take. In his autobiography, Powys admits to wanting to be a magician very early in his life. (Powys 1968, 7) This is the fruition of that early desire in combination with his elementalism. Thus, it is not only the characters of A Glastonbury Romance who are drawn to the Grail legend, it is Powys himself. And like his character, Owen Evans, the quintessential Welsh character, Powys is drawn specifically to the magician, Merlin, as in the later Welsh novels. In Merlin is combined the supernatural power and the contact with nature. Nature becomes the source of supernatural power in the Merlin character in Porius, and in the character Owen Glyndwr in the novel Owen Glendower. But John Crow at first holds to his simple reverence for nature and dislikes a more robust supernaturalism. He takes a job with Johnny Geard for the sole purpose of sabotaging all of Geard’s mysticism in public, in which Crow does not succeed. He is given a sign, a vision, to warn him. He briefly sees Excalibur, Arthur’s sword, thrown away while he stands on the historic “Bridge Perilous”, Pomparles Bridge. (361) The vision shocks him, but nothing really derails his plan so much as his employer’s ability to profit by all that John Crow has done for ill. Finally, as Geard senses his own impending death, he buys an annuity for John Crow that


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allows Crow to leave Glastonbury with his Mary and the widow of his friend, Tom Barter and Barter’s child. In a twist of Powysian irony, the fate that the evil side of the First Cause has assigned to John, being murdered with an iron bar, is deflected by Tom Barter’s jumping in the way of the murderous blow. The First Cause is certainly not ‘almighty’, for it cannot even effectively carry out the death of John Crow. The final irony, of course, is that it is only in taking leave of Johnny Geard that John Crow comes to believe that there was something to his master’s mysticism after all. In troubled thoughts he reflects: But John thought to himself, “Evans would say that the real cause of old Geard’s getting on the rocks and talking of suicide is his disregard of Arthur and his Welsh Demons. I wonder if it’s possible that--” and his mind went back to that inexplicable event that had happened to himself at Pomparles Bridge. John’s hatred of Glastonbury and its traditions was betrayed to the end by his incorrigible interest in psychic problems. Mr. Geard’s mysticism had always influenced him more than he was willing to admit; and in any case he was a temperamental heathen rather than a materialist. He was quite as sceptical of materialistic explanations as he was of the occult occurrences that gave rise to them. The fancy came into his head that in his daily visits to Chalice Hill and his constant disturbance of that dangerous earth Mr. Geard might have come under some deliberately evil spell prepared long ago by these old Celtic magicians. (1046)

In this passage all the elements dovetail together. This is John’s moment of quest fulfillment, and it occurs moments before the attempt on his life, which is deflected by Tom Barter. John Crow, when last seen, leaves Glastonbury a troubled man, but more heathen and animistic than materialistic. Morine Krissdottir has argued that the theme of the novel was this supernaturalism versus materialism and the exaggerated respect for science, as embodied in Johnny Geard versus Philip Crow, (Powys 1932, 83) but the real battle that interests this novel’s author is the quieter battle taking place in the hearts of characters like John Crow. Sam Dekker’s quest for the Grail was the focus of Krissdottir’s study, but it is not of greater importance than John Crow’s, and in fact, parallels it. John Crow is making the journey from sceptical materialism with a thin elementalism to a full Celticized animism, while Sam Dekker is making the journey from a post-Christian agnosticism to a full understanding of the nature of the First Cause and the reason for human suffering, according to Powys. Sam, the aimless son of the local vicar, is obsessed with another man’s wife, Nell Zoyland, though he is too

John Cowper Powys


uncertain of himself to just run off with her. This leads to tensions with Nell, and also with his beloved father, the vicar, Matt Dekker. But Sam is singled out to follow the Grail quest, if one accepts Krisdottir’s reading, or perhaps to experience the ‘truth’ as Powys sees it. Powys’ truth is first delivered by the intrusive narrator, as he describes the silent invasion of Glastonbury by “the Image of the Man-God of the West”, who suffers “the cruelty of Man and the cruelty of Life and the cruelty of the First Cause . . . .” (376-7) However, this is not the second member of the Trinity, the Son of God, but rather yet another of the lesser powers that hover invisibly around Glastonbury. Matt Dekker is the only representation of orthodox Christianity in this novel, the faith of Powys’ father, and he is generally nice but ineffective, just a friendly, bumbling, country vicar and not a representative of the Christ who challenged Pharisees and whipped money changers out of the Jewish temple. Powys’ Christ in this novel is more closely related to Oberon and the spirits that hover over Glastonbury just outside the power of the First Cause than the Christ of orthodox Christianity. He is not any sort of “ultimate mystery”; in fact, Powys’ intrusive narrator in a small sermon denies that there is any ultimate mystery or ultimate power beneath the dualistic and arbitrary First Cause.(665-6) Powys’ Christ is another of the minor powers that love to meddle in human affairs, though they are generally more benevolent than the First Cause. This Celtic fairy Christ calls Sam to a task (387) which Sam cannot discern. But the spirits or powers about Glastonbury will meddle. Then, while helping the local madwoman, “Mad Bet” to return to her home from Wirral Hill one night, Sam comes to the conclusion that he must follow this Christ and take on his suffering. (405) Sam repudiates his adulterous liaison with Nell Zoyland, though she is with child by him, and eventually leaves his comfortable life in his father’s vicarage to toil in physical labor in Glastonbury town. He is given the derisive name of “Holy Sam”, though Nell Zoyland and his illegitimate child are living with his father and creating tension between father and son. Ironically, Sam does not really understand what this minor power, Christ, wants of him, (551-2) and his suffering over his dilemma is long. He has a distinct sense that this Christ of his is not his father’s Christ, nor Johnny Geard’s Christ either. He tells Owen Evans: “I’ve been thinking lately, Evans, that our Glastonbury Christ is like Osiris. They’ve cut him into fragments; and out of each fragment they’ve made a different person. . . . My Christ’s utterly different from Geard’s,” Sam said, “and different from my father’s. My Christ’s like Lucifer—only


Chapter Three he’s not evil . . . at least not what I call evil. But he’s the enemy of God. That is, He’s the enemy of Creation! He’s always struggling against Life, as we know it . . this curst, cruel self-assertion . . .this pricking up of fins, this prodding with horns . . . this opening of mouths . . . this clutching, this ravishing, this snatching, this possessing.” (815-6)

What Sam is slowly discovering is that the Powys Christ—and as Sam is the “propaganda conveyor” here, his Christ is the “correct” piece of “Osiris” according to Powys—is the spirit of human suffering that is opposed to the cruelty of the First Cause, God. The Gnostic tendency of finding the activities of the flesh to be disdained as somehow repulsive and evil comes in here. Nevertheless, Sam repeats this theological conversation a couple of more times in the book before he has his Grail vision. The tortured Christ, he realizes, is really tortured humanity. (930) Yet, the experience which precedes the Grail vision is a moment of joy, of nature-induced hiraeth, such as Powys draws from Wordsworth. Sam began to be aware that some subtle barrier between his inmost being and certain particular objects in Nature had begun to give way. . . . Sam had found out that when a person is liberated from possessiveness, from ambition, from the exigencies of desire, from domestic claims, from every sort of authority over others, he can enjoy sideways and incidentally, as he follows any sort of labour or quest the most exquisite trances of absorption into the mysterious essence of any patch of earth-mould, or any fragment of gravel, or any slab of paving-stone, or any tangle of weeds, or any lump of turf that he may come upon as he goes along. (30)

After this, Sam has his painful vision of the Grail and excitedly he tells Crummie Geard and others of his discovery. “Behind the tortured Christ, behind that other Christ, behind the people we love and the people we’ve hurt . . . behind everything that’s sacred to us . . . is Eternity.” (74) This appears to be a rather vacuous discovery on Sam’s part, but it allows him with the divulging of this bit of apparently abstract theology, to return to his adulterous lover and his illegitimate child. That would certainly be true if it were just theology. But Powys is struggling to convey through Sam his own experience of his “dominant cult”, his experience of joy, of hiraeth, that is so central to his life. In fact, the vision of the Grail is mainly mythic window-dressing to what for Powys is a central spiritual and physical experience of reality, the experience that induced him to call Wordsworth his “master”. What is more, he is connecting that experience

John Cowper Powys


and his early elementalism with the Celtic mythology and preparing himself to make the transition to Wales.

Powys and Welsh Homeland: Owen Glendower and Porius Though the Wordsworthian influence is far less pronounced in the other novels, there is the practice of a kind of elementalism by characters in Powys’ Welsh novels, Owen Glendower, and Porius. This is because ,as in A Glastonbury Romance, this Wordsworthian elementalism of Powys’ has been augmented with a sort of fatalistic Celtic paganism, or perhaps Celtic animism would be the more accurate term. To understand this subtle influence, one must see in Powys’ 1936 move to Wales as a home coming somewhat in a similar sense to Wordsworth’s return to the Lake District in 1799. The act of Coming Home has deep emotional, mythic and archetypal dimensions that were lost on neither Wordsworth nor Powys. In Wordsworth, the product of that arrival was “Home in Grasmere” and many sections of The Prelude where the poet’s raising and final return to the Lake District frame the lengthy poem. Indeed, all of The Prelude might be viewed as a poem about Wordsworth’s ‘coming home’ in a wider sense to his place in life, physical as well as social and vocational. Powys wrote of the experience in his volume of essays, Obstinate Cymric, in an essay titled “Wales and America”, Why did I come to live in Wales? Why did I thus isolate myself, so far from my brothers and sisters? Not, I think, from my mania for solitude and independence, but as the fulfilment of an early and youthful longing— ”hiraeth” is the Welsh word for this obscure stirring of some secret destiny—to return to the land of my remote ancestors. (Powys 1947, 55)

This is an admission of Powys’ “dominant cult”, here so dominant as to give Powys his life-direction. Elsewhere, in the essay previously cited, “My Philosophy Up to Date As Influenced by Living in Wales”, Powys sums up the primary element of living his elementalist philosophy by saying, “I have resolved . . . to make a fairly constant practice of living in the first place for my own pleasurable sensations . . .”. (36) The most pleasurable sensation of all is joy, or hiraeth, the longing for which all other pleasures are but a substitute. Furthermore, this is Wordsworth’s “ . . . blessed mood . . . In which the burthen of the mystery,/ In which the heavy and the weary weight of/ Of all this unintelligible world,/ Is


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lightened . . .” (Wordsworth 1988, 36) Powys goes on in his essay on his philosophy, to describe the practice of his elementalism. In pursuit of such ends [pleasurable sensations], . . . I have discovered that the great thing to do if you are to get what you want is to be always telling yourself stories about this particular state of things, imagining yourself, in fact, and in the utmost detail and with the most precise realism, enjoying the particular situation you are so desirous of enjoying. (Powys 1947, 138)

This sounds remarkably like Wordsworth’s emotions recollected in tranquility. The concept here is that one pursues this joy, this hiraeth by placing one’s mind to the time or place that calls up that joy. Thus, to want the sensation is to have it. This is what Powys is thinking of when he refers to Wordsworth’s elementalism. Indeed, this power of imagining is so influential on John Cowper Powys that it draws him from the home of his childhood in Devon into the home of his imagination in Wales. In Owen Glendower, the most Powysian character is Rhisiart ap Owen, a young half Welsh, half Norman Oxford scholar who has left Oxford to join with Owen Glyndwr, his cousin. The majority of the novel is seen through Rhisiart’s eyes, though the narration occasionally switches to Owen himself or the page boy, Elphin. But the elementalism that is uniquely Powys mainly comes through Owen himself. Owen Glyndwr, in legend, is thought to have had some sort of magical powers. But the powers that Powys’ Owen has are Powys’ fictional projections of his elemental philosophy in pursuit of pleasant sensations, and primarily that sensation of joy. What’s more, this elementalist philosophy is now found in the context of mysterious Celtic gods that are older than, and superior to, Christianity, just as this situation was the backdrop for A Glastonbury Romance. Powys advocates imagining states of mind to create them, to make them reality. (139) Owen’s magic consists of doing precisely this. Powys describes it through Owen’s thoughts, as sending his soul out of his body. Powys has Owen describe it at first in terms of Owen’s self-knowledge resulting in not only mental “detachment”, but also a spiritual-physical “detachment”.(Powys 1947, 392-3) However, this is Powys trying to marry psychology and magic for the purposes of creating a post-Freudian fantasy. His “soul/body separating” reveals itself most clearly in a later chapter titled “The Goosander”, where, during a break in a particularly tricky bit of diplomacy, he sticks his head and neck out of a small window in the wall of Harlech Castle and detaches his soul to fly over the beaches with a type of seagull known as a “goosander”. A short time later, in

John Cowper Powys


making a decision whether or not to use the maid, Tegolin, to further his military ambitions, he says to himself: But what had he done with his soul—that live thing within him whose freedom from his body had been the secret struggle of all his days? . . . . “If I had the will to let her [Tegolin] go, and to let this supreme chance of victory go, it would be a proof to me forever that my soul is outside my body and is able to be as free as that goosander I saw on the waves!” (6945)

Owen is counting on sending the maid, Tegolin, to rally his armies to a Joan-of-Arc figure. But Rhisiart cannot let her go and the silent conflict between Owen and Rhisiart over the maid becomes, for Owen, a choice between putting personal and political ambitions first—he desires the maid for himself sexually as well as a symbol—or being true to his better nature, that side of him that can “detach his soul” and send it. After an internal struggle, he chooses the latter. There was one flickering second when he might have broken down; but not for nothing had he played his games with his soul since he was a child. In absolute desperation he now went through the long-practised motion, the motion which, though none knew it but himself, was his real claim to being a magician. He did what felt to himself—though it would be easy to pretend he “imagined” the whole thing—like taking his soul, the entity within him that said to itself, “I am Owen Glyn Dwr,” and flinging it—through one of those open widows through which Sieur Gilles had skipped like a devil—far out to sea. There, on the rocking waves, though there was no goosander to rock by its side, his soul floated now—free, detached, stripped of all desire—. . . . (713)

This is perhaps the last major instance of Owen’s ‘magical’ souldetachment except for the final chapter of the book, where the reader is freed from doubt that this is a purely imagined experience on Owen’s part. While Rhisiart and a party of men from King Henry IV spend the night near Owen’s final hiding place, waiting to deliver to him the King’s pardon, for a moment they glimpse him in the room. (904-6) This is Powys teasing the reader late in the novel with the notion that what the reader may have taken for subjective feelings on the part of Owen, are somehow, in fact, objective enough to be visible to others. The more notable thing about these “soul-detachments” is that for the most part Owen finds comfort when he flings his soul out onto a natural vista. Like


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many of Powys’ characters, he is refreshed in a Wordsworthian way, by nature, away from the machinations of humanity. Perhaps the most Wordsworthian final touch in this novel is in the final pages, as the narrator passes from Rhisiart and Owen, who had been almost exclusively the narrators, to Owen’s favorite son, Meredith. Meredith is walking away from the ancient ruin of Mathrafal, where Owen’s body has been cremated. As he sees the sun rising in the east, he ruminates: Life had to be lived. A person had to go on. To force yourself to enjoy endurance—that was the pleasure of life! Yes, you must beat the day’s burden, thankful when the day ended. . . . Dark, dark, dark—the life of the living, the life of the dead! How dark it was underfoot! But the East was transforming itself now in receding gulfs of golden light. It was as if some huge planetary portcullis had been lifted, and the base-court of the Infinite exposed to view! Night and dawn! So the cycle revolved, so the wheel turned. . . . But comfort from that golden light was an illusion. He knew that well enough. And yet he was comforted! What was it about such golden transparency that drew the soul out of its body and carried it down such an infinite regression! Illusion! Illusion! But why should man be so made that the mere sensation of the boundless in this particular depth of transparent gold should have such an effect? The effect was upon him now; and what did he know? Perhaps the effect was nearer the truth than the cause! (936)

At this point Meredith spots a stag in a clearing. The stag is traditionally associated with the magician Merlin, or Myrddin, and here is implied to be the released soul of Owen Glyndwr. Meredith watches the stag until it vanishes, and then contemplates the many similar sights in his memory and ponders why they bring comfort, as had the vision of the sunrise. Powys’ answer through Meredith is Wordsworthian both in the sense of “something more deeply interfused” and in its identification of Wales as a romantic homeland. This is similar to Mary Crow’s experience of hiraeth, her Grail vision in A Glastonbury Romance. Meredith’s response is more like Sam Dekker’s in that he must analyse the experience for Powys, operating in the absence of Rhisiart on stage as the “propaganda conveyor”. “It’s their impersonality,” he thought. “It’s the fact that they’re the visions of thousands of generations of men living in these hills. They’re mine; and they’re not mine! With a host of other, commoner, simpler things they’re the experiences of our people throughout the generations.

John Cowper Powys


Something stores them up; a spirit that is more than just ourselves; and each one of them brings more than we know to what the spirit stores up!” (938)

The “spirit in the woods” here is the spirit in the Welsh woods. All the visions that move Meredith and, one suspects, Owen and Rhisiart too, are visions of the natural world. Powys’ final answer to life and death is found in the sensations of nature around us, in what he perceives as a Wordsworthian elementalism now attached to the “magic” of souldetachment and the Welsh woods, that is the woods of home. Powys’ Porius is something like a “prequel” to Owen Glendower, in that it is set on the same location a thousand years earlier. It is a story of the Dark Ages buried under an avalanche of authorial intrusion and psychologizing that effectively suffocate the story for the reader. This would not be so bad if, in a quieter moment of the narrative, the reader was treated to a paragraph or two of the musings of a principal character’s mind, but Powys insists on stopping frequently, in action scenes and quiet scenes, to psychologize, so that the reader occasionally loses track of the narrative action in the long, inward soliloquies. Powys’ editors forced him to cut 500 pages in the original draft. But this writer can only be glad. For this is a very long and convoluted novel. This is Ulysses run amok in the Dark Ages. One might argue that A Glastonbury Romance and Owen Glendower both suffered from the flaw of more length than story, but they did not suffer to this extent. Powys has admitted to using his fiction to convey propaganda, but the chief fault of Porius is that the author intrudes so often and so extensively with bald pronouncements of his philosophy that this novel borders on becoming an expository essay instead of fiction. Yet, it represents a further and final development of Powys’ themes begun in Owen Glendower. In this novel the elementalism drawn from Wordsworth, distilled in A Glastonbury Romance and Owen Glendower, now comes to its full Celtic and animistic flowering. Porius himself lives in a world of religious confusion: his half-brother, Rhun, is a devotee of Mithraism; the local Pictish population follows a Druid; the Brythonic Celts, Porius’s own people, follow a demonically presented Christian priest; Porius himself leans toward the Pelagianism of the saintly Brother John. But in the end, Porius reaches a conclusion that is an odd mixture of the philosophy of William James, veneration for Merlin who more than represents nature, is nature personified, and an elementalist sort of resignation to what will come. “I’ll just enjoy the mist and the smell of seaweed and try to think how to tell Morfydd what I’ve decided about Myrddin Wyllt. [Merlin] There are many gods and I have served a great


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one.” (Powys 1994, 873) The other familiar trait here is the mental pursuit of joy by a sort of mental withdrawal that Wolf Solent referred to as his “mythology” and for Powys is his “dominant cult”. Porius calls it “cavoseniargizing”. He describes the process thus: He [Porius] used the word as one of his precious sensation symbols and to serve as a description of those recurrent moments in his life when the gulf between the animal consciousness of his body, the body of a youthful Hercules, and the consciousness of his restless soul was temporally bridged; so that his soul found itself able to follow every curve and ripple of his bodily sensations and yet remain suspended above them. (87)

Notice how similar this is to Owen Glyndwr’s magic. So though the novel is concerned with mythological themes and other avenues of Powys’ thought that do not concern this study, Powys’ hero, Porius, is inevitably endowed with Powys’ own philosophy as “propaganda conveyor” and therefore conveys Powys’ Celtic/animistic elementalism and his interest in his “dominant cult”. In the early chapters, Porius views a statue of Cronos with snakes wrapped around him in his brother’s cave devoted to the worship of Mithras. Shortly thereafter, Porius encounters Myrddin Wyllt, that is, Merlin, and finds him to be ‘trans-elemental’; that is, Merlin is so in touch with the elements that he appears animal himself. He is described as having long hairy ears and the ability to draw animals to him. He goes in and out of trance-like states of consciousness. In one of these states, Porius is obliged to wrap himself around Merlin to support him and keep him from falling. During this embrace, Porius senses Merlin’s life and power, and strikes the exact pose as the statue of Cronos he’s just seen in Mithras’s cave. (63-5) Porius is deeply connected to Merlin. Later on, Porius experiences a casting out of his soul exactly in the manner of Owen Glyndwr in the earlier novel. Porius ponders his ability to send his soul and then concludes a very Wordsworthian thought about it: “Man’s imagination and not God’s will is what creates.” (152) This echoes Wordsworth’s lines in the “Tintern Abbey”, where the speaker speaks of, “Eye, and ear,--both what they half create,/And what perceive”. (Wordsworth 1988, 165) Here Wordsworth is speaking of his imaginative ability to create meaning from what he sees in nature, and Porius is close to this in his statement. This experience is then echoed at the end when Porius is required to free Merlin from burial under a rock at the summit of Mt Snowdon, where Nineue has placed him. In the mystical experience, Porius wakes to find himself miles away, by the sea in Harlech, oddly the

John Cowper Powys


exact location where Owen Glyndwr casts away his soul in the previous novel. Porius is a tremendously long book, but in it Powys has gone far beyond the simple elementalism of his Wolf Solent days, and therefore far beyond Wordsworth’s influence. This is the most accurate summation: Powys started with Wordsworth as one of his ‘masters’ but moved beyond him into a Celtic and animistic mysticism connected to Wales. In Confessions of Two Brothers, which he co-wrote with his brother, Llewellyn, he admits: I see the universe as an enormous sponge through which the “spirit,” of whatever they call it, pours seething and fermenting, like cider out of a vat. The “something far more deeply interfused” of the Wordsworthian ecstasy leaves me contemptuously frigid. I am tempted to give to this great pantheistic emotion the grossest and most material causes. . . . I was not born a Pantheist. The idea of worshipping God in Nature, or worshipping Nature as God, has never had the remotest appeal for me. My instincts are all Polytheistic. (Powys 1916, 61)

In spite of this protest against tendencies to nature worship, the difference between Wolf Solent worshipping in nature and John Crow worshipping the gods of Stonehenge, reflects a transition in Powys’ thought. Ultimately the Wordsworthian influence on Powys failed to maintain his attention and he slowly diverged into a more mystical channel. The irony is, of course, that he has dissected out what, for Wordsworth, was a spiritual experience and ultimately discarded what he took from Wordsworth because it lacked something spiritual. And though Wordsworth influenced the younger Powys, his influence is ultimately marginal, and a deeper understanding of the sources of Powys’ inspiration must be sought in other springs than Wordsworth.


One of the most undeniably Welsh and Wordsworthian poets in this study, apart from Huw Menai, is Idris Davies. More than even Huw Menai, Idris Davies is by his own admission a Wordsworthian. Davies’ diary records that Wordsworth was a powerful influence on him. However, on reading Davies’ work, there are more voices than Wordsworth’s in the echoes. Keats and Shelley also had a great influence on Davies, and though it is a slight overgeneralization, the most accurate thing to be said is that there are two Idris Davies, or rather two poetic voices in Idris Davies: the Wordsworthian devotee of nature religion, and the strident, sardonic, and bitter critic of the mine owners and the capitalistic upper class, as well as “demagogues”, both the chapel and the unionist/Marxist varieties. On rare occasions the reader can hear both voices in a single poem, but more likely they alternate. The first voice clearly has its origins in Wordsworth, as well as to a lesser degree in Shelley and perhaps Keats. This second voice is more of Shelley, the Shelley of “Ozymandias”, with the righteous, or maybe even self-righteous, disdain of the powerful and cruel. Dafydd Johnston’s Complete Poems of Idris Davies is organized into three distinct sections. Section A consists of poems published in his four volumes. Section B consists of poems scattered through magazines and newspapers and Section C is Johnston’s choice of the unpublished poems. Within each section, the poems are arranged chronologically. Understanding this organization, it is remarkable that the great mass of poems with traceable Wordsworthian influence are found in Sections A and B. The unpublished poems in Section C are far more likely to be in a satirical vein. One wonders if Idris Davies himself regarded his Wordsworthian voice as better, or perhaps more profound, than his satirical voice. And yet his satirical gifts are considerable. He has an excellent ear for simple, short and pithy stanzas, with surprising light irony, similar in some ways to the American humorist Ogden Nash. In a


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few short lines he can deliver a smashing blow with feather-light verse. For example, this poem from the unpublished poems: A ‘Glamorous’ Politician It is no wonder good men weep To hear his praises sung, For he was born when flesh was cheap And he was bred on dung.(Davies 1994, 212)

There are many such pithy four line verses, in various degrees of mirth or bitterness. Idris Davies is a natural balladeer, as can be seen in his “Ballad of a Bounder”, or in his “Singing Sospan Fach”, a witty lyric about three Welshmen who charm their way out of Hell by singing the unofficial Welsh national anthem, “Sospan Fach”, for the Devil--a Rugby supporter’s twist to the Orpheus myth. These poems bear mentioning simply because they constitute a large and significant body of Davies’ poetry, which will not be discussed in this study. If Idris Davies writes under the influence of Wordsworth, and it’s clear that he does, it is only half the time. This influence manifests itself in similarities of image and thought. And the poems with the influence of Wordsworth dominate the published poetry. Though the distinction between Idris Davies the satirist and Idris Davies the poet is not entirely clear, the derivation of influences from Wordsworth is clear. For Davies clearly finds moral value in Wordsworth’s vision of nature. And his satire necessarily begins with this very moral indignation. Davies is in agreement with Wordsworth’s assessment in “The World is Too Much With Us”, especially the lines, “Little we see in Nature that is ours;/ We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”(Wordsworth 1988, 206) The difference between the two poets is that Davies will go to satire to point this out and Wordsworth generally will not. Davies will explore with humor and light verse that “sordid boon” when Wordsworth will rather look upon it in sadness.

Davies and Wordsworth In Davies’ diary for 11 February, 1940 he wrote: When I wrote Gwalia Deserta I tried to give a full poetic picture of those years, [while he was unemployed] but I failed to convey my own personal spiritual agony or to mention my unpayable debt to the mighty Wordsworth. When I look back on it now, it was a bitter-sweet time. I had

Idris Davies


plenty of freedom to roam and read, thanks wholly to my incomparable parents, but my life at the time was a mixture of much humiliation and a great deal of silent Wordsworthian joy. Bitter-sweet, O bitter-sweet.7

As with many writers in this study, the issue of joy, of hiraeth, is central to their understanding of Wordsworth. The joy is silent; the experience of hiraeth is ultimately beyond words, and Davies recognizes that no writer ever entirely captures it. In the same diary entry, Davies also says: I can say honestly that in those bitter years of unemployment [the 1926 strike and the aftermath] Wordsworth was my patron saint; he was ‘the nurse, the guide, the guardian of my heart, and the soul of all my moral being’. I can never forget those two or three hopeless years in Rhymney, and I can never forget the poetry of Wordsworth in connection with them. It was my manna in the desert. I had no work and my parents had to keep me in food and clothes and shelter and books. I had no faith in the religion of my childhood, but I found Wordsworth who was greater than the creeds, the Wordsworth of ‘Tintern Abbey’ and the majestic sonnets.8

Idris Davies here speaks very much in terms of replacing his boyhood Christianity with a Wordsworthian natural religion, but he also reveres the sonnets, many of which are political. Here again the two sides of Davies, his socialism and his lyrical satire, would be foreign to Wordsworth. However, he finds some roots for that verse in Wordsworth’s political verse, in the stirring and righteous tone Wordsworth takes in his sonnets on the extinction of the Venetian Republic, the subjugation of Switzerland, and in the sonnet protesting the French re-establishment of slavery in the Caribbean. This is where Wordsworth the young radical appeals to Davies. Idris Davies, in his own manner, takes Wordsworth’s principle of writing poetry in simple speech to heart, perhaps even more than Wordsworth did. Clearly it was the younger, more revolutionary Wordsworth that Davies preferred. In a diary entry of 14 January 1940, Davies wrote: Up just after eight this morning. I had intended to go to church, but after breakfast I sat by the fire to read Saintsbury on Wordsworth and Coleridge, and that was too interesting to give up for any morning sermon. Probably I gained more real spiritual feeling by musing on Wordsworth, the young, the real Wordsworth of 1798 to 1808. A very fascinating period for me. How I used to revel in Wordsworth about ten years ago – I almost worshipped him. But after getting to London I seemed to go off him. I don’t put him so high as Spenser and Milton, but I think I sometimes prefer him to Shakespeare. I am quite sure of one thing –


Chapter Four Wordsworth could make me, ten years ago, [1930] in Rhymney and in Nottingham feel more virtuous, or “religious”, than any church or chapel could. There is some quiet kind of magic in Wordsworth which no one will ever define. There’s a great deal of Wordsworth I have never read, but I am satisfied that I have read his best.9

Davies follows much of the literary world, and is like R.S. Thomas in his admiration for the younger Wordsworth over the older one. And though here in 1940 he is somewhat more skeptical of Wordsworth and of his own worshipful attitude of ten years before, he still places him above Shakespeare and attributes to him the ability to produce “some quiet kind of magic” that will always elude definition. The reference to Saintsbury’s A History of Nineteenth Century Literature reveals Davies’ response to what he has read. Saintsbury writes a quick seven page survey of Wordsworth’s life and work, which lauds Wordsworth but does not excuse his weaker work. Saintsbury, however, does take pains to point out that Wordsworth was freed from holding a regular job, which allowed him the time and space to become a poet. This point may well have appealed to the unemployed Davies. Saintsbury argues for “one principle of valuation”(Saintsbury 1931, 52), when “the poetic moments seize us, the poetic flash dazzles our eyes, and the whole divine despair or not more divine rapture which poetry causes comes upon us.” Saintsbury’s language describing Wordsworth’s achievement in terms of “divine rapture” echoes Wordsworth’s joy. Davies responds to this in the earlier quote in his speculation that “Probably I gained more real spiritual feeling by musing on Wordsworth.” Saintsbury concludes that Wordsworth, at least in his sonnets “stands only below Shakespeare and on a level with Milton”.(55) Davies responds to this passage with his own evaluation “I don’t put [Wordsworth] so high as Spenser and Milton, but I think I sometimes prefer him to Shakespeare”. There is an undated manuscript in the National Library of Wales, which sheds a little further light on Idris Davies’ regard for William Wordsworth. It is included in a folio with other odd pieces of prose.10 It is five pages of lined notebook paper with a handwritten imagined dialogue between Wordsworth and Swedish screen actress and star, Greta Garbo. Why Davies would see fit to pair the Romantic poet with the cinema star is a bit perplexing. It could be as simple as Garbo being more to Davies’ taste than other film stars he was able to see. But the dialogue itself suggests that Davies saw some sort of kindred spirit in Garbo and Wordsworth. Wordsworth as a character is rather static and predictable in the dialogue. His complaints about angels imply that he is in Heaven.

Idris Davies


Garbo is a friend with whom he speaks easily. He admires her greatly and refers to her as “O my idyllic daughter!” and as one who has, “eclipsed all the goddesses of antiquity, all the madonnas of the middle ages”. These effusive descriptions probably reveal more about Idris Davies’ regard for Greta Garbo than her understanding of William Wordsworth. However, in the dialogue, Garbo dismisses the descriptions of her as some sort of goddess. The main thrust of the dialogue is that Wordsworth is trying to persuade his “idyllic daughter” to use her mass influence to move people to love poetry and nature more. Garbo is resigned that her public are more interested in her body and “smut” than poetry. She is in Sweden throughout the dialogue and Wordsworth is trying to convince her to return to America to use her considerable influence as a film “madonna” [sic]. It is not certain, since the document is not dated, but possible that this was written sometime after 1941, when Garbo made her last film and retired in her mid-thirties. If this is the case, it is interesting that Davies projects her as being a movie star “in retirement” in the forest and lake country of Sweden. In fact, Garbo retired to New York City and led the life of a socialite under an assumed name, disappearing near the height of her popularity and creating a mystique that still holds the popular imagination. It seems that Davies views her, like his fictitious Wordsworth, as someone superior who felt the need to get away from the bulk of humanity and seek solace in nature. This, of course, is Davies’ projection, but it may have been the fact of her noticeable Swedish accent and the dark and tragic roles she often portrayed that caused Davies to view her as something of an intelligent outsider in a shallow world, beyond her physical attraction as a woman. Not only does he see this in Greta Garbo and William Wordsworth, but ultimately he projects that role for himself: the uneducated coal miner who becomes a school master and a poet, who writes about the Welsh people and their struggles, only to find that few of the people whom he writes about have sufficient education or income to appreciate his poetry. But perhaps the clearest indication of Idris Davies’ debt to Wordsworth is Davies’ sonnet to Wordsworth. The sonnet is titled “Pro Patria”, and it is rather obviously in respectful imitation of Wordsworth’s sonnet to Milton, “London, 1802”. Davies is holding up the virtuous Wordsworth in the light of what he sees as wrong with Britain, much as Wordsworth did with Milton in his 1802 sonnet. In both sonnets, the speaker is praising the virtues of the older writer and appealing to them for some sort of guidance or goodness to be transmitted from beyond the grave. Wordsworth declares to Milton, “Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour/ England hath need of thee . . . . We are selfish men;/ Oh!


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raise us up, return to us again;/ And give us manner, virtue, freedom, power.” (Wordsworth 1988, 244) Davies, on the other hand, is not so insistent that Wordsworth return to life, but that Wordsworth’s spirit, or perhaps philosophy, would pervade British culture. In Davies’ sonnet, “Thy land doth need thee now: her rural scene/ Is sullied by an ugly, selfish power/ That passeth by the beauteous for the mean.” Both poets are concerned with selfishness and the degeneration of culture on a moral level. However, Davies is less concerned with a renewal of virtue, as is Wordsworth, than he is with the Wordsworth who protested against the encroaching ugliness of the Industrial Revolution. Davies writes: Let Nature’s noblest English voice protest, Protest against the fops mechanical Who fill our land with dins most hearts detest, With structures base, our air with stench and pall. Wordsworth of England, thy land must e’er be Home of the beautiful, worthy of thee. (Davies 1994, 108)

It is vital to see that central to this poem and many others, is the concept of the supremacy of beauty. Davies spoke in the diary entry quoted above of finding his “creed” in Wordsworth, even quoting the lines from “Tintern Abbey”, and attributing to Wordsworth, as Wordsworth had attributed to Nature, the role of “‘the nurse, the guide, the guardian of my heart, and the soul of all my moral being’”. Beauty is the pinnacle of Idris Davies’ hierarchy. It would not be too great an exaggeration to say that if Davies has any god at all, that god’s name is Beauty, and for him Wordsworth is the prime example of a man who lived rightly in relation to that ‘god’. His anxiety is the degree to which the society and culture of Wales and Britain in general deny that beauty and degenerate in an industrial, selfish and inhumane capitalism. For the early Davies, Wordsworth was the prophet crying out against this degeneration, and Davies inherits his mantel. There are several other references to Wordsworth in Davies’ poetry, but the only other poem specifically addressed to Wordsworth is a short poem from Dafydd Johnston’s selection of the unpublished poems. Only four lines and dated around 1950, some twenty years after the publishing of “Pro Patria”, “Wordsworth” takes a different turn: The mind of man was his main theme And not the face of Nature, And at the core of his great dream

Idris Davies


Dwelt duty’s legislator. (Davies 1994, 269)

This, at first reading, seems to contradict the sonnet of 1930. However, it is not really a contradiction to Davies. As a Socialist Davies criticizes British culture for the selfishness of a small, wealthy class in control of the nation’s resources, and the large, impoverished class, such as the Welsh coal miners, who effectively are slaves in the economic system, working hard under dangerous conditions to support a non-working upper class with legal title to ownership. Davies recognizes that socialist legislation through Parliament would not be enough to make Britain the place he thinks it ought to be. “. . . at the core of his great dream/ Dwelt duty’s legislator.” Nature is the “face”, but not therefore less. It is, after all, the face of Beauty. But the mind of man here refers to the “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads”, where the “. . . mind of man . . . [is] naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature.”(…Works 738) Wordsworth’s metaphor of the mirror here relates to Davies’ ‘face’ of Nature. This face is not façade, but rather the outward manifestation of inner virtue. And that virtue includes duty to the freedom of one’s fellow man, even, and especially if, one has power over one’s fellow man, as a mine owner would have over the miners he employs and sends into dangerous conditions for little pay. Davies, as has already been mentioned, has perhaps equally great admiration for Shelley and Keats. And Davies here is not admiring Wordsworth in his entirety. The Wordsworth of “Tintern Abbey” and the great sonnets is Davies’ Wordsworth. Idris Davies’ Wordsworth is the humanist Wordsworth, who finds a virtue and a moral power in contact with Nature, who opposes the ravages of the Industrial Revolution, and therefore, by implication, of capitalism. There are other passing references to Wordsworth in Davies’ poetry. In his published poem, “I was Born in Rhymney”, and in the unpublished, free verse version, “Young Man from Rhymney”, Idris Davies marks the encounter with Wordsworth as a milestone in his development as a poet. In the forty-third stanza of “I was Born in Rhymney”, Idris Davies is narrating in verse the story of his discovery of the Romantic poets while unemployed. His speaker says: With Wordsworth and with Shelley I scribbled out my dreams, Sometimes among the slag-heaps, Sometimes by mountain streams. (Davies 1994, 81)

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The passage, as I have isolated it here, is rather an unremarkable restating of the biographical information above. But provided with the full context of the stanzas not so much adjacent to it, it becomes telling. The three stanzas preceding place this stanza within the bleak view of the unemployed life. I stood in queues for hours Outside the drab Exchange, With my hands deep in my pockets In a suit I could not change. I stood before Tribunals And smothered all my pride, And bowed to my inferiors, And raged with my soul outside. And I walked my native hillsides In sunshine and in rain, And learnt the poet’s language To ease me of my pain.

Only after these three four-line stanzas do Wordsworth and Shelley appear. Like Wordsworth, and like Shelley too, rejection at the hands of the social elements in power, whom he deems “inferiors”, is followed secondly by ‘retirement’, to use Wordsworth’s word, to a secluded parley with Nature, which is healing (“ease me of my pain”) and a Romantic equivalent to learning a whole new language and way of thought. Thereafter follows a moment with Shelley where Shelley leads Davies’ speaker “To the heart that would not burn”, (82) and beyond that to a catalogue of great names in English literature. Stanzas 50 and 51, following the list, complete the picture. But season followed season And beauty never died And there were days and hours Of hope and faith and pride. In springtime I went roaming Along the Severn Sea, Rejoicing in the tempest And its savage ecstasy. (82)

Idris Davies


All this is the polar opposite of the indignity of standing in a queue. And for Idris Davies, the pursuit of natural beauty is central; it is the road out of despair and the humiliation of unemployment. Of course, it not only became so as a psycho-spiritual refuge, but in more mundane terms as well it led to a career in teaching that suited Idris Davies somewhat better than mining. It is small wonder that he speaks of Wordsworth and Shelley as some kind of saviors. In the earlier free verse version, apparently composed in November, 1939 as opposed to the stanzaic version above, which was published in the Autumn of 1943, these autobiographical facts are echoed in much the same terms if with less poetic skill. A, 1926, I will never forget you! You brought the long, long strike And a wonderful, wonderful summer, And freedom for me to roam on the hills, To lie in the mountain grasses and read Keats and Shelley and Stevenson and Hazlitt! You brought me the divine, invisible nectar, And I drank of the waters of joy! And late in your wonderful summer You led me to Wordsworth and Shakespeare, And you sent me in search of the queen called Beauty!

And later: In the summer of 1926 I sat in the sun . . . . And drenched myself in traditional English verse— . . . The tragedies of Shakespeare and the lyrics of Wordsworth, The vigorous essays of Hazlitt, and Lamb’s meanderings, And Cobbett’s clean cut sketches of rural life— These were my joy in those summer days As I spent the hours alone on the sunlit hills, (203-4)

The language here echoes the enthusiasm in Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”, rejoicing in the natural features surrounding him. However, Davies does so in a manner unique to himself, in that what for Wordsworth is “something more deeply interfused” and vague, is for Davies simply Beauty. Davies does not complicate his search; he wants Beauty. There’s no evidence in the poetry that he attempts to find anything transcendent; Beauty is sufficient. In comparison with other writers in this study, Idris Davies, like Wordsworth, is not tormented in his search for beauty. R.S. Thomas searched desperately for it. Davies, on


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the other hand, knows exactly where to find it and is content when he has it. I think one may read this as a kind of spiritual health, that Wordsworth and his friends seemed to also be capable of achieving. Of course, for Wordsworth, beauty is not all-sufficient, not in the sense that surrounding oneself with pleasant scenery answers the tougher questions of life, especially the problem of suffering and social injustice. If Idris Davies is able to enjoy beauty without experiencing some kind of angst, it is because his life is spent in teaching and before that in the struggle for social justice. He is not hoping to isolate himself in rural beauty and trying to write poetry, a sort of hiding away from the world in a found paradise. Davies is not writing about his own struggles to find joy in life and make sense of his existence. When his poetry is not appreciating the beauty he finds in great literature and in nature, it is graphically critical of the social injustices that surround him. Davies, in short, is turned outward. Thus Idris Davies can be at easy peace with beauty. As Kenneth Johnston argues in The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy, (705-11) Wordsworth did live “in retirement” after 1799 when he and Dorothy moved permanently to the Lake District. But the futility of merely surrounding oneself with beautiful scenery made it impossible to continue The Recluse in the form he began in his incomplete “Home at Grasmere”. Finding a gorgeous place in which to live cannot fill a life. One inevitably must deal with humanity and its ills; one cannot just run away. And so Wordsworth does not limit his vision to mere descriptions of verdant countryside. He must give us the political sonnets and the poetry like “Resolution and Independence” that deal with the issues of suffering and injustice. Indeed, these two are related in Wordsworth’s poetry, giving it its depth. In this regard, Idris Davies is like Wordsworth in struggling with joy and the sense of longing. It was Wordsworth’s poverty and sense of hospitality to passing vagrants that kept him in contact with the simple folk around him, in which he saw a certain degree of virtue and inherent nobility, through their tragedy. This is not to say that Idris Davies does not portray the longing, the hiraeth side of joy. In his poem “The Ceaseless Call”, Davies’ speaker describes the longing of joy. But that longing will not be accompanied by any sort of grasping despair. For Idris Davies, it is the road that is the symbol of the Romantic longing, the road that leads to classical and archetypal images of ‘the undiscovered country’, or the ‘Happy Isles’, that is that distant shore that pervades human mythology as the incarnation of what it is that is always longed for. Davies’ speaker mentions “tinselled tales/ That lead to lands of gold,” and:

Idris Davies


Roads that lead to the vast white North, And to the crimson West, Pathways to the ends of the earth Which breed a great unrest; And mythical roads to fairy isles Beyond the mermaid’s sea— But the long white road o’er home’s green hills Is dearer far to me. (Davies 1994, 99)

Davies here has placed his sense of longing within the context of fairy tales and legends, a source of interest to some of the Romantics. This is the longing to find adventure, meaning and the heart’s desire just down the road and over the next ridge. Having placed his longing in this traditional context, he then denies it its force. Davies knows not to look for happiness far down some road. It is here in his home in Wales. Again, this is one of the strongest resemblances of Davies to Wordsworth: his ability to find home and to love it. Of course, it is clear from his biography that his reality was more complex. He detested living in the Rhondda Valley and was even somewhat disappointed in Rhymney when he had a chance to return.(xxviii) But these irritations did not add up to anything like R.S. Thomas’ love/hate affair with Wales. You might say he hears the ‘sirens’ of longing and enjoys their ‘song’, but is not tempted to throw himself into pursuit of this Romantic longing and dash his heart on the rocks. He recognizes home and where it is. It is in South Wales. He does have darker moments, but, they do not dominate his poetry. In “Pontwelly, Landyssul”, he records a moment of brooding. On a bridge above the Teify I would sometimes pause at eve And gaze upon the landscape Until my heart would grieve. (Davies 1994, 139)

This grieving though, is mainly for the “broken dreams of Life”. This is longing transferred into his real troubles, the poverty of the mining communities of South Wales and not the mythical road to some longed-for place. It may be in his nature to pursue a better world through political means, through his socialism and his advocacy of the cause of the poor, a theme which would have not been foreign to Wordsworth. But it is not in his nature to pursue his longing for joy, but rather to accept it thankfully when it visits him. One of his simplest and finest poems is “Platform Five (St Pancras)”. The narrative set-up of the poem is unique, and becomes a powerful but simple metaphor. The speaker boards a train at night, rides it


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throughout the day, and gets off it again in the dark. Or, as Davies puts it so well, “Long train that starts from this dark town/ For a dark town far away”. The image immediately suggests the darkness of birth, the light of a life and the darkness of death at the end. That much alone would make it a metaphorically novel poem, but Davies finds joy in the light between the darkness. Between the two there are sundown And fields of corn and hay, And wooded hills, and castle towers, And village gardens bright with flowers. O life, I praise you where I stand That ‘twixt dark hour and dark I, too, have sight of a fair land Whose bounds I cannot mark, Where those I meet are brave and kind, And quiet are the heart and mind. (140)

The land between dark and dark has an ethereal, ungraspable quality to it (“a fair land/ Whose bounds I cannot mark”) for which he gives praise to life itself. And he goes on in the last two lines to define that fairness in terms that echo “Tintern Abbey”, “ . . . that best portion of a good man’s life,/ His little, nameless, unremembered acts/ Of kindness and of love.” (. . . Works 163) For Davies this becomes: “I, too, have sight of a fair land/ Whose bounds I cannot mark,/ Where those I meet are brave and kind,/ And quiet are the heart and mind.” The essential connection here is the connection between having sight of a “fair land”, whether it is the Wye Valley or somewhere else in Wales, and achieving a quiet heart and mind capable of acts of kindness and love. Beauty induces virtue. Idris Davies is making the connection between virtue and beauty that Wordsworth does, with the same vague sense that somehow the beautiful will drag the good in with it. In another “Tintern Abbey”-like moment, Idris Davies’ poem “The Road to Brecon” illustrates a moment of emotions recollected in tranquility, of remembering a youthful encounter with nature and finding joy in the memory. The speaker is “On the mountain road to Brecon, when I was twenty-one,/ My heart sang Halleluia to the mountains in the sun,” and he observes “My heart was wildly joyous with the summer and the sky.” In his second stanza he veers in almost a naturalist direction, noting that the mountains pay no heed to those who wander over them. Given the tone of the first stanza, this is a bit of a mystifying direction for Davies’ speaker to

Idris Davies


take. But Davies is trying to keep the reality of joy separate from a platonic world where joy comes from beyond the human reality. Davies only believes in God in occasional reluctant lapses. He takes very seriously Wordsworth’s statement in The Prelude that we must find our happiness on earth or not at all. In the third and final stanza his speaker is remembering “. . . a wild enchanted ground;”. Davies’ point is clear: accept the joy that is here now, and like Wordsworth, remember that joy to renew it. But don’t expect more. Be happy with that much. This is probably a fair statement of what I would call Idris Davies’ ‘natural religion’, something very like that of the younger Wordsworth. In his long autobiographical poem, “I was Born in Rhymney” he narrates his rejection of the ‘Chapel culture’ for nature, and the belief in a Calvinistic Jehovah for an “unknown Artist”. I learnt of Saul and Jesus In the little Sunday School, And later learnt to muse and doubt By some lonely mountain pool. I saw that creeds could comfort And hypocrisy console But in my blood were battles No Bible could control. And I praised the unknown Artist Of crag and fern and stream For the sunshine on the mountains And the wonder of a dream. (80)

Again, the centrality of beauty is his spiritual focus. Beauty is capable of answering questions, of making one good, and ultimately, “Beauty shall not die”.(90) As for the Artist, he is “unknown”, but beauty is enough. Additionally, the “dream” world, as opposed to the modern, ugly, industrial world is preferred here. This theme is echoed in other poems. His poem “Respice Finem” is a statement of his belief of the duties of the poet. Sing of high things in perfect form, Then shall thy work outlast the storm. Be as a child on Beauty’s shore And list not to the robot’s roar, (113)


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The rest of the poem develops this theme of the world being too much with us and the need to avoid the fashions of the modern, industrial world. The robot is a symbol of the dehumanized industrial machine. Along with this motion is the accompanying motion of getting away from the crowd and the roar of the busy city, the city that, as in Wordsworth, seems to consolidate all the ills and negative consequences of the Industrial Revolution. After several disdainful lines for what seems to be a football match, Davies’ speaker concludes by escaping: And far away from all the din All joys shall come to me, For I shall watch the round red sun Drop down into the sea. . . . And I shall fill my soul with song, While th’ dusty city raves, And homeward, homeward, shall I wend, Beneath the orange moon, ‘Mid echoes from the long blue hill That fade away too soon. (97)

Idris Davies’ lyrical version of natural religion, though similar to the effusive sense of purpose derived from beautiful country of the early Wordsworth, has peculiar qualities all its own. It is a near certainty that recognizes that no more certainty is possible. In his poem “One Silver Night”, there is this hope which is almost certainty, and he is apparently comfortable with that level of certainty. The speaker begins by describing the moon as round and “The vale like fairyland”. The equation of fairyland to the beauty of the night is fairly traditional, especially when the moon is involved. Wordsworth speaks of his “elfin pinnace”.(Prelude 1.324) Certainly Shakespeare built an entire play around the concept. But this is not a cliché use on the part of Davies. Images of mythic enchantment and magic here convey a sense that there is something larger than mere physical beauty here. Just as Shakespeare’s pairs of lovers and Nick Bottom stumble onto something far beyond their comprehension when they steal into the wood by moonlight, so Davies would have the reader sense that there is something larger here than meets the eye. The black oaks in his description become gods and a “sad and silver sound” covers everything, leading the speaker to lament: “Could I but understand/ The spirit all around!”. This is that powerful hiraeth, the joy that sets the heart longing for the beauty that has triggered the joy. He concludes in the last stanza:

Idris Davies


O once my heart would say Unshadowed by one doubt: ‘This speaks of one great day When the last truth is out.’ To-night I gaze and sigh, Trusting I did not lie. (112)

There are two times here: the past where “once” his heart would attach “the last truth” to such a “fairy” night, and the second time, which he characterizes as “To-night” where he sighs, “trusting I did not lie”. His belief in beauty as the ultimate source of meaning suffers doubt here, but then his ‘hope’ rises above the doubt. One hears again the influence of Keats’s lines on the single identity of truth and beauty. (Keats, Poetical Works 210) In his poem, “Adieu”, Idris Davies takes this thought a step further. Despite his loss of faith in the Christianity he grew up with in the chapels, he has moments when he resumes something like a faith in God. This God is the unknown “Artist”, and most likely Davies thought in these terms and rejected the Calvinistic Jehovah of chapel theology. But it is rare for Davies to break down and address this God. All this is very similar to the early Wordsworth, who speaks in the 1799, two-part Prelude of a God separate from nature, but barely knowable, and visible through nature.11 In the first stanza the speaker posits the idea that when good men die, they see “A vision of eternity”. They see “the truth that they/ Had yearned to grasp throughout their day”. In the second stanza, uncharacteristic of Idris Davies, he addresses God directly, saying: O God, who gave the earth so fair, And friendships strong, and pleasures rare, Let my moor murmur when I pass, The South sing thro’ the happy grass, And I shall prove thy ecstasy, Regardless of eternity. (Davies 1994, 114)

First, God is mediated through nature, through “the earth so fair”, through moors and “happy grass”, and secondly through the other pleasures such as friendship. Davies’ speaker needs only these experiences of the beauty in nature and then he can refuse or ignore the prospect of eternity. “And I shall prove thy ecstasy,/ Regardless of eternity.” If Heaven be not as beautiful as nature, Davies implies, then eternity is hardly a tempting offer. I suspect this poem is Davies’ response to the images of Heaven he may have grown up with in chapel, absurd images in lyrics of hymns of


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anthropomorphized angels with harps singing a perpetual round of Methodist tunes. Davies rejects this tawdry imagery in favor of the concrete reality of beautiful nature around him. This ability to be satisfied with the moment’s joy or beauty, is the mark of Idris Davies’ nature religion, and perhaps one of his most Wordsworthian traits, wherein, as in The Prelude, book eleven, where, “ . . . 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”.(11.144-5) Perhaps the most blatant statement of Davies’ nature worship is his poem “Thanksgiving”. The poem is a repetition of the opening phrase, “All these . . .” followed by lists of natural images. But more important to the issue of Wordsworth’s influence is line twenty, where Davies addresses Nature, “All these snow-flakes curling,/ Nature—all are thine”. (98-9) But one misunderstands Davies if one assumes that he is not capable of exploring his beliefs and his doubts as well. The foremost doubt, logically, to one who finds ultimate meaning in the beauty of nature is the question Tennyson raised in the poem, In Memoriam, (Tennyson 36) that is, how does one find ultimate good in nature when some of the natural world itself relies on death and the preying of some species upon others for survival. Davies decides to accept and overlook the cruelty of nature in favor of her beauty. In his poem, “The Leopard”, Davies praises the leopard as “A dazzling hymn of centuries to be,/ A cloth of gold against a purple sky.” He goes on to claim that “All man’s recorded history was mild” in comparison with the dazzling beauty of a leopard. In the final stanza, he pulls his argument together. I pardoned all the jungles of the earth For all the slaughter and the waste and crime Because his [the leopard’s] flesh was mighty in its mirth, A scarlet anthem to the end of time, A savage sun that stabbed the eastern crest And shocked the little peddlers in the west. (Johnston 144-5)

Though a socialist and one who doubts the very existence of God, except perhaps as the great “Artist” behind nature, Davies’ speaker takes on the authority of God to pardon all the “jungles” and the “waste and crime” of the earth. Even the savagery of the animal is beautiful, and therefore in some sense, at least the sense that Davies deems important, is good. The final line is Davies’ assessment of those who still cavil at “nature red in tooth and claw”. Davies’ speaker characterizes them as “little peddlers”, implying that their fear originates in their perception that their world of

Idris Davies


buying and selling and the material comforts is threatened by the existence of something as fierce and beautiful as a leopard. This is reminiscent of Wordsworth’s complaint that “getting and spending we lay waste our powers,/ Little we see in Nature that is ours . . .”(Wordsworth 1988, 206) As Wordsworth would rather be a pagan in “The World is Too Much With Us”, so Davies prefers admiration of the savage and beautiful to all the comfortable, safe world designed to benefit only human economic ambitions. Like Wordsworth in “Tintern Abbey”, the beauty of nature, and the joy that it generates, are the cure for the ills of the urban wasteland. In his poem “Suburb of Jerusalem”, Davies mixes his Wordsworthian disdain of the city with his socialistic utopian idealism. The speaker envisions the London suburb of Hoxton, most likely for its associations with the mundane and the stultifying, as a paradise: Built of white marble, radiant in the sun, And there were children laughing, waving flowers, And there were beautiful women and sturdy men, And a music that the twentieth century heard only in dreams, And at dusk there were arrows of joy in the heart . . . (259-60)

The imagery in lines two through four is strongly reminiscent of the imagery used in both Nazi and Soviet propaganda of the mid-century: the images of strong men and women standing in inspirational poses with their gleaming children in a fascist or socialist paradise. Idris Davis, who is quite capable of cynicism about socialist demagogues and to some degree, socialist dogma, portrays this standard image from socialist propaganda. One wonders whether Davies is being facetious here or absolutely sincere. Most probably he is trying to meld his experience of joy with the socialist vision of paradise. And he does not quite succeed. The last line of the first stanza, “And at dusk there were arrows of joy in the heart . . .” ends with ellipses, indicating uncertainty. For the next stanza is a violent pulling back to the everyday reality and ugliness of urban London. The speaker, who has been imagining this socialist paradise, finds that someone, an unnamed acquaintance, startles the speaker out of this socialist dream and into the reality, questioning if the speaker is alright as they, “. . . jolted along in the tram/ Through the erratic, impure rain”. Again, it is ambiguous as to whether the socialist dream is the falsehood in a dreary world of imperfect reality, or unrealized paradise. And perhaps this is the very point that Idris Davies is trying to make. Indeed, it is in the balance of the pursuit of Wordsworthian joy


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against the knowledge that this world will be difficult and unpleasant, and especially unjust, that the essential tension of Davies’ work resides. But perhaps tension is the wrong word, for Davies is comfortable with this ambiguity. He does not share the angst of R.S. Thomas. .

Wordsworth’s Influence in the Text Beyond Idris Davies’ treatment of the theme of hiraeth, there are clear signs in the text and the subjects of several of the poems which show Wordsworth’s influence. In Davies’ poem, “The Triumph”, the poet Shelley reigns in the clouds above the graves of dead dreamers in the ugly mining town. (182-3) And though there isn’t another poem showing Wordsworth reigning in the clouds, it is clear from “Pro Patria” that Wordsworth was held in this kind of veneration by Davies. Probably the first most Wordsworthian tendency, and also a tendency reminiscent of Huw Menai’s and R.S. Thomas’ poetry, is the creation of a Welsh ‘everyman’ character, a simple countryman who somehow stands for all the simple countrymen in Wales. For Menai this was “Alf”, and for Thomas it was “Iago Prytherch”. For Idris Davies it is “Dai”, the Welsh common nickname for ‘David’. Idris Davies’ Dai is born in irony, in Davies’ sense of the injustice of a social system that rewards the few and condemns the many to poverty and a life of drudgery. Dai first appears in Davies’ poem, “Dai’s Empire”, a satirical piece directed against the patriotic concept of the British Empire. In the first line the speaker spells out the contrast with no subtlety: “O the flags of the Empire shine in the breeze,/ And Dai endures in the dust,”. The poem develops along the same lines, drawing contrast between the “ . . . navy . . . majestic on the sea,” and Dai who labors to extract the coal the navy runs on in the “unsentimental strata of Empire”. The final stanza contrasts the miner with “The jolly old shareholder, . . . [who]/Writes out his opinions. . . /In a rose-garden in south Devon.” Yet, Dai, in the next stanza steps out of the “cage”, a double entendre signifying not only the mine elevator but the place of confinement for a dangerous animal, where Dai “. . . picks his dusty shillings from a ledge,/ And trudges home to bread and broth”. In the final irony, Dai spends “ . . . a cozy evening at the Conservative Working Man’s Club,/ Where skittles are red, white and blue.” (124-5) Thus it is implied that Dai not only resents the thankless nature of his contribution to the Empire, he feels pride in the Empire himself. But it is clear from the speaker’s tone that Davies meant this to be ironic, and not patriotic.

Idris Davies


Yet, Davies is capable of moments of patriotism too. In his short four line poem “Dai”, he lauds his everyman with the affectionate diminutive. “Dai bach, Dai bach, . . .” In this quick stanza, Dai bach is lauded with “The King of Israel, and our D.L.G.”, (143) that is, David Lloyd George, the one politician Idris Davies seems to consistently like. The poem “Cwmscwt” likewise mentions Dai in a quickly passing four lines. Cwmscwt is the small town where “. . . Dai was bred,/ And there it stands till Dai lies dead.” (150) There is no especially profound point here other than a brief celebration of this Welsh everyman. Dai shows up again in Idris Davies’ long poem, “Gwalia, My Song”. The first instance is “Dai and His Dog”, the eighteenth section of this poem sequence. Dai is always with his dog, either “. . . gone over the hill,” or perhaps “. . . on the spree”, or “ . . .out for the night”, while someone named Margaret is “heavy hearted” and “weeps in the flickering light” beside a troublesome baby. (223) The critique of the Welsh mining culture where the men go out to play and drink all night after being away at work each day, and the wife is abandoned to loneliness, is contrasted to “Dai’s Wife” where the woman speaks warmly and affectionately of her husband and sexually yearns for him. It is poem number 20 in “Gwalia, My Song”. In it she says: Out of your dust come, Dai, to me Whose blood is warm with ecstasy, Whose breasts are eager with delight To nourish your flesh throughout the night And make your nervous brain forget The hostile, angular silhouette Upon the hillside bleak and brown Above the narrow noisy town. (224)

If this is Margaret, she has forgiven Dai’s time away on a spree and uses her sensuality and sexuality as some sort of compensation for the hell of his everyday life. Dai also shows up in Davies’ long semi-political, semi-autobiographical poem series, “Gwalia Deserta”, in the 31st section. The poem starts with the speaker addressing the Welsh everyman, Dai, in a cynical tone: Consider famous men, Dai bach, consider famous men, All their slogans, all their deeds, And follow the funerals to the grave. (17)


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The poem continues with a litany of all the sorts of men that the speaker finds vain and hypocritical. Then it laments, “The world has bred no champions for a long time now,/ Except the boxing, tennis, golf and Fascist kind.” This mix of cynicism and longing is probably more in the vein of Shelley. It continues in the last two lines, “And perhaps the world has grown too bitter or too wise/ To breed a prophet or a poet ever again.” The world is growing bitter and cynical of prophets and poets, too overwhelmed by ignorance to want the role of the poet to continue. There are more textual echoes of Wordsworth in Davies’ poems as well. In segment twenty nine, Davies writes: O fine it was to be alive and young And feel the beauty of the summer hills, (16)

This is clearly an echo of Wordsworth’s statement in The Prelude, Book Eleven, where Wordsworth says, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very Heaven!” (11.109-10) The final poem, the 36th section, is reminiscent of the first book of The Prelude, especially the final two stanzas: And yet I love to wander The early ways I went, And watch from doors and bridges The hills and skies of Gwent. Though blighted be the valleys Where man meets man with pain, The things my boyhood cherished Stand firm, and shall remain. (20)

Here is a wandering boy in nature, and it is nature in its unblighted form that is in opposition to the “. . . blighted . . . valleys/ Where man meets man with pain,”. The bitter irony of class distinction may owe more to Shelley, but the restoration coming from nature is Wordsworth. There are distinct echoes of Wordsworth’s sonnet, “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” in Idris Davies’ “Rhymney Bridge”. Though Wordsworth’s sonnet is set in the intense orange light of early morning in London, and Idris Davies’ sonnet is set in the intense orange light of early evening, there is a remarkable similarity in the diction and the assonance of the two poems. For Wordsworth, This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Idris Davies


Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. (Wordsworth 1988, 214)

For Idris Davies, on the other hand: The sun is set, the cloudless sky around Is rich with hope; a bird flits by, no stir Is there; no noises harsh break on the ear. (Davies 1994, 106)

While Wordsworth describes the city of London, Davies describes a Welsh village in the fading daylight. There is a single home, and then a town with its “. . . pink-topped streets, with streaks/ Of bushy green . . .”, which recalls Wordsworth’s sleeping houses and the glittering domes and temples under extreme dawn and twilight light. Idris Davies’ “The Firs of Blaen Rhymni” carries overtones of Wordsworth’s “Nutting”, as the speaker addresses anthropomorphized fir trees that teach the speaker to “’Revere the kind and modest hearts,/ The only hearts of worth.’” (109-10) Though Wordsworth’s speaker has to commit an act of violence against the trees to reach the point where he can say, “Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shades/ In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand/ Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.” (147) Davies’ speaker seems to have arrived at the point already. Davies’ poem is a testimony to the mindset that the speaker in “Nutting” only discovers in the final lines of Wordsworth’s poem quoted above. There is a Welsh echo of the character, Margaret from “The Ruined Cottage” in “The Collier Boy: (A Mother’s Reverie)”. The speaker recounts a mother’s memories of her collier son in great detail in the first, longer stanza. The second stanza describes the motions of other townspeople in their daily rounds. Only in the last five lines does one learn . . . but on the slopes A small brown house gives faint, faint gleams, And she within still dreams and dreams Of he who coldly sleeps in earth, Beyond all woe, all rage, all mirth. (170)

Here is another character like Wordsworth’s Margaret who is lost to the present in the world of tragic memory, apparently waiting for her own death.


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There are also overtones of Wordsworth’s Lucy poems in Idris Davies’ “Celia”. Davies’ Celia is a singer, as her name implies (St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music). Through the lyrical lines, the speaker celebrates the beauty of nature in contrast to the loss of Celia, who is “at rest” and “not there”. Even the rhymes in the final stanza recall Wordsworth’s “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” where Davies takes Wordsworth’s: She lived unknown, and few could know When Lucy ceased to be; But she is in her grave, and, oh, The difference to me! (Wordsworth 1988, 86)

and makes his own final stanza read: Her singing is over for ever and ever, And silent the hill by the sea, And alone on the headland I walk and remember Celia who sang for me. (Davies 1994, 175-6)

Having imitated Wordsworth’s Lucy poems, his tragic stories, and even having produced in two separate forms, a long autobiographical poem, Davies is clearly indebted to Wordsworth for many of his poetic forms and concepts.


To delineate the exact influence of Wordsworth on R.S. Thomas may be more difficult for the fact that although he is admittedly a Romantic, (Thomas 1993, 24) he is almost reluctantly so. Whereas Wordsworth found the mind and the external world “exquisitely fitted” to each other, Thomas characteristically disparages all things in the world around him, save Nature herself. This might be thought of as Thomas’ first and perhaps only absolute, the cause for which he feels unmitigated Romantic sentiment. For Thomas there are two near-absolutes running a close second and third place to Nature. The second place is taken by Wales and Welsh nationalism. These are nearly absolute for Thomas. He is not afraid to paint the darker side of Welsh culture, yet even this chiding is the chiding of a lover disappointed and hoping for reform. Third of Thomas’ near-absolutes is God. Thomas would like to adore his God on occasion, but he is equally disposed to blame the Almighty for the introduction of viruses into Nature, or for other perceived failures of divine judgment. The parallels to Wordsworth’s thought are obvious: for both Wordsworth and Thomas, Nature is the ultimate conveyor of meaning and truth. Both men seek out the solitude of self-imposed exile from the mainstream of society in rural retreats far on the western shore of their respective lands, living as poets “in retirement”, to use Wordsworth's term.(Wordsworth 1979 12.175) There may be some parallels in the attitude toward the Divine in the two poets, but Wordsworth is much more disposed to counsel trust in God, through the mouth of characters such as the Preacher, and the Wanderer in his Excursion, while Thomas’ God is “in the dock”, on trial for mistaken judgment as often as not.


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The Interview I was able to interview R.S. Thomas about his thoughts on Wordsworth’s influence on his writing at his home in Pentrefelin. The following are the most important excerpts from the interview: JP: I’m writing about Wordsworth’s influence on twentieth-century Anglo-Welsh writers. I should qualify that statement by saying that when I say ‘influence’, I don’t mean in a slavish way in which one tries to imitate Wordsworth. Of course I don’t think anybody who is a serious poet goes about their work that way. Bearing in mind that Wordsworth initiated certain categories of thought that have reverberated ever since, and that some of us find ourselves running down those same veins of thought, my basic question is: do you feel Wordsworth’s ways of thought have influenced the way you write your poetry? RST: Probably on my later poetry, yes. I came rather late to Wordsworth. I hadn’t read him much at all when I was writing my earlier work. My later work, yes. The ideas concerned in the late Prelude books, Twelve and Fourteen, appeal to me very much. Probably some of the stuff I have written over, say, the last ten years has been more influenced by his thought. JP: Did you have The Prelude in mind at all when you were writing your autobiographical piece, Neb? RST: I shouldn’t have thought so. It’s the phrases in the . . . 1850 version . . . . I like phrases like: “It seemed to me the type/ Of a majestic intellect”.(Wordsworth 1979, 14, 66-7) He was journeying up to the mountain, Snowdon. It’s the type of thing . . . I was coming to feel about God, and his conception of God. His proposition in late twentieth-century terms seemed much more in tune with my own feelings and thought. “A mind/ That feeds upon infinity . . .”(Prelude 17.70-1) There are very much two Wordsworths, aren’t there? “Two voices; one is of the deep and one is of an old, bleating sheep, . . .” I like the one of the deep.12 *** JP: You read Wordsworth when you were in school, I take it? RST: No. I told you, I came late to Wordsworth. In my early work, when I was in Manafon, they were farmers. That’s before I ever read Wordsworth at all. And that side of Wordsworth, the pastoral side, didn’t appeal to me all that much.

R.S. Thomas


JP: One looks at Iago Prytherch . . . . He’s sort of a reverse of a Wordsworthian, virtuous shepherd. RST: Yes. I hadn’t really at that time read “The Brothers” and all that sort of thing. My favorite lines in style and subject matter come to terms with what it means to go without God in the late twentieth century. I found that the later books of The Prelude were something that I could empathize with. . . . . Some of the language in the late Prelude, one or two of the passages in The Excursion I like: how exquisitely the mind is attuned and things attuned to the mind.13 JP: I notice your own attitude toward your character, Iago Prytherch, changed with time. In one poem you ask him to forgive you for being so critical. Could that be a result of seeing as Wordsworth did, the virtues in this country person? RST: No, I don’t think so. I think Iago Prytherch grew up in Manafon as a symbolic figure. And then I realized I’d sort of wrung that whole thing dry. I wanted something else. As you know, my move out to the Llyn Peninsula area, with its geological time scale—it was that, I think, that brought me more in sympathy with Wordsworth. JP: The sea birds . . . RST: Yes, and the geological time scale is a thousand million years old. Even the Welsh peasant farmers are only a few centuries there.

I am pressing Thomas here and for a reason. Thomas says he finds Wordsworth late, though that raises the question of why characters like Prytherch, a variation on a Wordsworthian theme, come into his work at all. Also, as Thomas was in his eighties, at the time I wondered how well his memory was coordinating time. He estimates during this 1999 interview that Wordsworth has influenced him for some ten years. But his A Choice of Wordsworth’s Verse was published in 1971. If one can safely assume that Wordsworth influenced him from the first reading, then the influence goes back at least 28 years, and probably longer. In his autobiography he says that his time of learning Welsh and pursuing Welsh culture in his pursuit of hiraeth, was like the experience of Wordsworth and Coleridge, “Unknown to him [Thomas, at the time]”.(Thomas 1971, 55) Also, in the interview he traces his awareness of Wordsworth to his move to the Llǔn Peninsula, which according to his autobiography, was in 1967. This predates all but the first seven volumes of his poetry, in a career that spans from 1946 until his death in September of 2000, roughly


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the first third of his poetic career, leaving two thirds of his career in the awareness of Wordsworth. Lastly, despite his denials of reading Wordsworth in youth, I find it difficult to believe a boy who read Tennyson in British schools never read any Wordsworth as part of the standard curriculum. Furthermore, the research mentioned in the first chapter makes it clear that it would have been difficult to pass through Welsh schools without a fair acquaintance with Wordsworth. It may well be he read the lyrical poetry, for which he admittedly has no taste, and it made no impression on him. In any case, when Thomas thinks of reading Wordsworth, it is the deep poet of lofty blank verse he thinks of, and that undoubtedly came later. And though he doesn’t believe The Prelude had any influence on Neb, the English version of Neb was published only in 1997 and Thomas admits to reading Wordsworth, and presumably The Prelude sometime after his move to the Llǔn Peninsula in 1967, and was excerpting pieces from it before 1971. All this leads me to wonder about subconscious influences if not conscious ones. The most telling piece of the interview is when Thomas mentions what in Wordsworth really does appeal to him. He admits that The ideas concerned in the late Prelude books, Twelve and Fourteen, appeal to me very much. Probably some of the stuff I have written over, say, the last ten years has been more influenced by his thought. It’s the phrases in the . . . 1850 version . . . . I like phrases like: “It seemed to me the type/ Of a majestic intellect”. He was journeying up to the mountain, Snowdon. It’s the type of thing . . . I was coming to feel about God, and his conception of God. His proposition in late twentieth-century terms seemed much more in tune with my own feelings and thought. “A mind/ That feeds upon infinity . . .”

Thomas is sensing what Jonathan Wordsworth has mentioned in his essay on the two-part Prelude, that Wordsworth is flirting with transcendental claims but never quite stating them, and that Wordsworth is “vitally dependent on this double awareness”.(567-585) This is wandering into what may be theological grounds, but then the wall between poetry and theology doesn’t really exist for Thomas. Thomas, as a clergyman and simply a poet who has spent his poetic career wrestling with his grasp of God in public, appreciates the younger Wordsworth who is not so sure of Anglican orthodoxy, but on the side of Mt. Snowden has something like an empirical encounter with the Creator of the beauty beneath him. Thomas, by his own account, is fascinated with the naked touch of the “majestic intellect”, the “mind/ That feeds upon infinity”. For Thomas, never comfortable with orthodox Anglicanism, this direct revelation

R.S. Thomas


carries an excitement born of direct experience. For whatever doubts he expresses about God and the way that God is allowing the world to turn out, the intimate encounter promises something closer to a certainty. Thomas wishes to see in order to believe, not with his eyes, but with his mind; touching directly the “absent God” could in fact make him present. There aren’t really similar passages in Thomas. From Wordsworth, Thomas draws this “double awareness” of the transcendent God that is never quite present to the senses or the mind, leaving Thomas room for doubt and angst. Like Wordsworth climbing Snowden and suddenly seeing clearly a new and magical world as he ascends above the clouds, so Thomas in his poetry is striving to reach that clear, moonlit slope where he can sense the “mind/ That feeds upon infinity”.

A Choice of Wordsworth's Verse The most profitable way to discern influence will be to make a close study of the introduction and choice of poems in Thomas’ A Choice of Wordsworth's Verse, of his essay “Abercuawg”, and in the text of his autobiography, Neb (translated from Welsh, “No-One”). Holding these three texts up against the body of his poetry will give us a clearer picture of what Thomas took from the poet he calls a “literary genius” in his introduction to Wordsworth's verse. (Thomas 1971, 18) Though there are undeniably Wordsworthian themes running through Thomas’ work, it would be an error to claim that Wordsworth was a primary or singular Romantic influence on Thomas. In Neb, Thomas claims Tennyson as his favorite poet. (32) In discussing the imagination and the proper understanding of it in “Abercuawg”, Thomas cites Coleridge, not Wordsworth. (168) In his essay “Words and the Poet”, Thomas praises Wordsworth's diction, but goes on to cite Coleridge's criticism of the selfcontradictory nature of Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction. (77, 82) Throughout Neb Thomas is most likely to draw comparison between himself and Yeats, never Wordsworth. Yet, in a typically Thomasian contradiction, in his poem, “Tastes,” he lightly disparages Chaucer, Spenser, Donne, Pope, and Swift, and even faintly praises Tennyson, but in the seventh stanza states: “But Wordsworth, looking in the lake/ of his mind, him I could take”. (Thomas 1993, 284) In the poem “Groping”, Thomas refers to Wordsworth as the introspective poet who explored the “ . . . precipice/ of his own mind, . . . .”. (Thomas 1985, 113) Wordsworth is not Thomas’ mentor in his system of thought nor even his optimistic faith. But Wordsworth, in the same poem, is Thomas’ model of a poet courageous enough to know that “The best journey to make/ is


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inward. It is the interior that calls.” Mainly one finds in Thomas echoes of Wordsworth's thought in frequent paraphrases and quotations, as if Wordsworth's works were a distant strain of music woven into the background of Thomas’ work, as Thomas makes his own journey inward. I will start with a close reading of Thomas’ introduction to the volume of Wordsworth's verse that he edited for Faber and Faber, published in 1971. This is Thomas’ most direct published statement on Wordsworth, and from it, I hope to find those channels in which Thomas’ understanding of Wordsworth runs. After a brief sketch of Wordsworth's life, Thomas expresses a preference for an earlier portrait of Wordsworth, “ . . . showing the large, fleshy nose and full lips, . . . more suggestive of the willful, sensuous writer of the great poetry”. (Thomas 1971, 12) Thomas goes on to discuss Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction, pointing out Coleridge's criticism of the self-contradictory nature of the theory, and the difference between Wordsworth's theory and his actual practice. The preference for Coleridge as the reliable critic on Wordsworth echoes Thomas’ comments in the above cited essay, “Words and the Poet”. As a philosopher, Wordsworth's influence on Thomas is, at most, very limited, and at least subordinate to the influence of Coleridge. Thomas claims that Wordsworth's devotion to his theory is the source of the “ . . . flat, rather featureless, often mawkish verse, most of which I have endeavoured to exclude from this selection”. (13) Therefore, the “choice” of verse that Thomas has chosen represents what Thomas considers to be Wordsworth's better work. Proceeding on this assumption, one finds that Thomas has included most of Wordsworth's well known verse: “Tintern Abbey”, the “Ode to Duty” and the “Immortality Ode”; six of the best known sonnets; the “Elegiac Stanzas”, and “Resolution and Independence”. He has included edited selections from the 1850 Prelude and the Excursion, generally passages that are more directly, powerfully, and objectively descriptions of nature. Little of the Excursion's long story of the discussion between the Preacher, the Solitary and the Wanderer are included. Two of the more striking “spots of time” episodes from The Prelude are included, but Thomas prefers to present the more vaulting passages of the sort of verse that contradicted Wordsworth's theory and that Coleridge, with Thomas’ agreement, thought Wordsworth's best. In fact, in the selections from both The Prelude and the Excursion, Thomas favors the most dense, powerful, economic verse, similar to his own style of poetry where powerful natural images are thrust on the reader with a minimum of well-chosen words. The remaining selections are a cross section of Wordsworth's lyric poetry, heavily favoring the work from Lyrical Ballads. Within this

R.S. Thomas


selection, Thomas favors poems that express Wordsworth's delight in nature, or Wordsworth's concept of the superiority of childhood perception. Though a priest in the Anglican Church in Wales and an editor of another volume of religious verse, Thomas avoids Wordsworth's more religious and later poetry. As his comment above on Wordsworth's portrait indicates, Thomas apparently prefers the earlier work, and the earlier Wordsworth. He is almost apologetic for his use of the 1850 Prelude over the 1805 Prelude. (18) Ironically, Thomas, the poet who often explores his struggle with God, hesitates to select Wordsworth's later, more conventionally religious verse. Whatever Thomas may think of this verse, it is safe to assume that he does not consider it among Wordsworth's best, and may not find that Wordsworth's spiritual experiences late in life speak to his own. Thomas, in fact, declines to discuss that aspect of Wordsworth's life and verse. He will only write, “The years that brought the philosophic mind brought also a certain modification of his romanticism, and his near idolatry of nature became tempered, some would say adulterated, by orthodox Christianity or even churchmanship”. (15) This is an extremely careful, commonplace observation. Thomas mentions briefly the arguments over Wordsworth's change but refuses to be drawn in to the debate. Perhaps this is why he chose to leave out much of Wordsworth's later verse. All of this gives us few clues as to how Thomas regards Wordsworth. But the most telling part of the introduction is the final two paragraphs, beginning with the words, “Finally, a word about Wordsworth's message for today . . . “. (18) Of Wordsworth's poems he writes, They speak of the peace that is to be found in solitude, the sublimity of earthly moments, the movement of the spirit of man. They extol beauty and love and natural wisdom at the expense of shallow meddlesomeness. They set a 'wise passiveness' to nature above the need to put her to the question. They decry too great an indulgence of the scientific spirit, which 'murders to dissect' and which would 'botanise upon a mother's grave.' As Wordsworth reclined in a grove sometime in 1798, it grieved his heart to think 'what man has made of man'. To many in these islands nearly two hundred years later, it may be grievous to think what man has made of nature. It is the editor's [Thomas’] hope that a re-reading of this selection may at least re-open our eyes to the price we pay for our socalled progress, and, at best, remind us where we truly belong. For, as Coleridge said, 'the medium by which spirits understand each other is the freedom they possess in common'. (18-19)


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Amusingly, in this introduction to Wordsworth, Coleridge gets the last word. But the other main points can be listed here and then applied to Thomas’ own prose and poetry as a source of understanding Wordsworth's influence. The points are that Wordsworth's poetry: a) speaks of peace that is to be found in solitude; b) speaks of the sublimity of earthly moments; c) speaks of the movement of the spirit of man; d) extols beauty, love and natural wisdom, at the expense of “shallow meddlesomeness”; e) prefers a “wise passiveness” to nature to questioning her; f) decries too great an indulgence in the scientific spirit. Lastly, Thomas admits to the hope that in reading this verse, an audience will have its eyes opened to “the price we pay for our so-called progress”. These points can be loosely grouped into three main points: first, a), the need for solitude; second, b) and c), the experience of what Wordsworth calls 'joy' and Thomas 'hiraeth'; and thirdly, d), e), and f), the attitude towards nature and technology and the so-called scientific advance of humanity. My method here will be to explore these three traits which Thomas is on record as admiring in Wordsworth, and then to look for them in Thomas’ own work.

The Peace that is to be Found in Solitude In his autobiography Neb, Thomas states directly that “ . . . because of his [Thomas’] unadulterated love for the countryside, throughout his career R.S. chose the care of small parishes, thereby securing the conditions that are essential to a poet, namely time and peace”. (Thomas 1997, 80-1) As for Wordsworth, solitude for Thomas is the necessary condition of his creative art. He must live “in retirement”. He is fond of long, silent walks. And like Wordsworth, the advantage of solitude is that it allows one to listen, particularly to nature. For Thomas, as for Wordsworth, nature is the voice of God. Though this theme runs throughout his poetry, he best expresses it in his poem “Suddenly”, . . . He addresses me from a myriad directions with the fluency of water, the articulateness of green leaves; . . . as at some second Pentecost of a Gentile, I listen to the things round me: . . . all speaking to me in the vernacular of the purposes of One who is. (Thomas 1985, 183)

R.S. Thomas


Yet Thomas’ relationship with God is troubled with frequent doubts, unlike the earlier Wordsworth's which, at least as far as the written record will reveal, is vague about his relationship with God except for his specific experiences of nature. The poems do not make as direct a statement about solitude as does the quotation above from Neb, but it is almost the uniform background of the poems. Thomas’ stance is that of a poet commenting from the solitude of his own mind, his own interior spaces, looking out on the confused mass of humanity. Wordsworth took a somewhat similar stance, especially in his more political sonnets, but Wordsworth always exudes a confidence of tone that Thomas will not indulge. Wordsworth is ever expecting great joys, or at least the comforts of a love that transcends suffering; Thomas is ever expressing his doubts and fears, interrupted on occasion by the beauty of nature which holds him back from complete nihilistic despair. Solitude is also a mixed blessing in Thomas’ work, for whereas Wordsworth has an ultimate faith that “nature never did betray the heart that loved her,” (Poetical Works 164) and that a simple man, in constant contact with nature, will grow in virtue, Thomas does not. For Thomas, solitude is the medium for the mental vacancy of Welsh peasants like his Iago Prytherch. In the poem “Gone” he asks, But where is the face with the crazed eyes that through the unseen drizzle of its tears looked out on this land and found no beauty in it, but accepted it, as a man will who has needs in him that only bare ground, black thorns and the sky's emptiness can fulfill? (Thomas 1993, 348)

Prytherch draws no Wordsworthian virtue from the beauty of nature, but at least he adapts to the solitude and exists in it. But Thomas, in his searching, worries little about consistency. At times, Thomas will draw a more Wordsworthian character, such as Job Davies in the poem, “Lore”, who at eighty-five is still alive “After the slow poison/ And treachery of the seasons”. But Job does not wallow in misery. “What's living but courage?” he asks. In the last two stanzas of the poem he is mowing grass at dawn, “Bearded with golden dew,” where the “Rhythm of the long scythe/ Kept this tall frame lithe”. And finally, Thomas’ speaker addresses the audience with, “Live large, man, and dream small”. (114) Such a clearly Wordsworthian character joys in the simplicity of nature experienced in solitude. He dreams of nothing more, having found the


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better part in “Liv[ing] large, . . . and dream[ing] small.” Or, as in “The Moor”, Thomas’ speaker finds that What God was there made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In movement of the wind over grass. There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart's passions--that was praise Enough;. . . . (50)

The exploration that both Wordsworth and Thomas make of their inner silence has as its prerequisite an outer silence and solitude as well.

“Hiraeth,” or, ‘the Sublimity of Earthly Moments’ and ‘the Movement of the Spirit of Man’ Just which earthly moments Thomas is thinking of here and what exactly is sublime, Thomas does not explain. But a close reading of his poetry and autobiography, and especially “Abercuawg” in the light of Wordsworth's poetry, strongly indicate that the experiences Thomas isolates here are the intense and revealing moments of our existence that Wordsworth experiences as joy. Thomas speaks in similar terms of the Welsh hiraeth, or longing, that comes unbidden and unexpected. Of the connection between this and “spots of time”, I will speak later. It is necessary here to establish the connection between Wordsworth's “joy” and Thomas' “hiraeth”. This phenomenon appears widely in literature and is, I strongly suspect, a universal human experience, and common to more than one writer. J.P. Ward, in The Poetry of R.S. Thomas, calls it, “that place to which we may never come, so that it remains for ever the object of our desire”. (Ward 1987, 81) Reiterating Lewis’ definition from the first chapter, the distinguishing marks of the experience are as follows: first, one is struck unexpectedly by an intense longing which seems more meaningful than life itself, or perhaps is life's meaning, and that longing is so intense as to cause a physical sensation. Thomas states that life would be bleak without Abercuawg. (Thomas 1986, 166) This longing can take various forms, but mainly it is a longing either for something one does not have and wishes for, or for a return to a pleasant time remembered from one's past. Second, this phenomenon is usually triggered by intense aesthetic pleasure and beauty, or even more often, the anticipation of intense aesthetic pleasure and beauty.

R.S. Thomas


The next distinguishing mark is that this experience refuses to be induced by the one who wishes for it--it invariably surprises one from some unseen quarter. Thomas experiences this unexpected quality when reading that in “Abercuawg the cuckoo sings”. (166) He searches out the actual place only to discover none of the ecstasy of beauty he experienced when he read a poem about it. Though one cannot induce the experience, invariably most of us try--or perhaps one seeks substitutes for it. One thinks of a time when one enjoyed beauty and often, unexpectedly, the memory of joy launches another experience of it, even at second hand. This is the basis of much nostalgia, a word also translated as hiraeth, in Welsh. In Thomas’ experiences, nature in her beauty is most often the catalyst that induces unexpected joy and ecstasy. This is found in Wordsworth, not so much in The Prelude, though he is swept into ecstasy often enough by nature there, but in “Tintern Abbey”. There he has an experience of longing. He describes how, when he is locked in the city, that he “owe[s] to” the memory of the Welsh countryside around the Wye, “. . . sensations sweet,/ Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart”. The sensation here for Wordsworth is at least in part a physical one. Such memories cause “tranquil restoration” and are responsible for “feelings too/ Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,/ As have no slight or trivial influence/ On that best portion of a good man's life,/ His little, nameless, unremembered acts/ Of kindness and of love.” Nature here has a positive moral influence of a kind that one will not find anywhere in R.S. Thomas. But more important to our line of argument, Wordsworth mentions another gift possibly bestowed by these memories, “. . . that blessed mood,/ In which the burden of the mystery,/ In which the heavy and the weary weight/ Of all this unintelligible world,/ Is lightened . . . . “. It is in this mood that our bodies and the motion of our blood are “Almost suspended, we are asleep/ In body, and become a living soul:/ While with an eye made quiet by the power/ Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,/ We see into the life of things.” This state of perception ultimately results in the ability to “see into the life of things”, and this for Wordsworth is “joy”. In Thomas’ writing, direct references to Wordsworth’s poetry or patterns of thought are few, and two have already been cited. The third direct reference in Thomas’ poetry occurs in his unconventionally structured volume, The Echoes Return Slow, in which on the left hand opening of each spread is printed a prose-poem followed by a free verse on the facing page, the whole working as a loosely-connected inner monologue that wanders topically from the beginning of the book to its end. On the page spread 26 and 27, Thomas begins the prose-poem with


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an awkwardly constructed topic sentence, that, like many of Thomas’ lines, disorients with fragmented or strained grammar, while at the same time it strikes the reader's imagination with startling and powerful imagery. In this first sentence, the subject, “voices,” is so far separated from the principal verb, “questioned”, that it is not certain until one looks closely, if this is a sentence or another fragment. In this, Thomas’ work is reminiscent of The Prelude, where Wordsworth's sentences wander wildly through masses of dependent clauses, causing readers to float in a sort of grammatical vertigo that forces them to pay closest attention to the string of images, uninhibited by the devices of conventional form and composition. Thomas’ poetry, in a different fashion, often shares this sense of dislocation coupled with intense imagery. Thomas is not given, like Wordsworth, to masses of dependent clauses, but rather to clipped sentences, intensely loaded with images and uncertain grammar. The first sentence on page 26 is a case in point: “The voices of temptation to disregard Wordsworth's advice to the poet questioned his shining alone in such murkiness of spirit. How much is a bird's song worth? What market value has fresh air?” The context here is of a preacher in conversation with his parish. The speaker criticizes himself for imagining “enlightened parishes” over the heads of “his peasants” sitting in the pews before him. It might be presumed that the advice of Wordsworth's referred to here is that a poet must compose in an atmosphere of “emotion recollected in tranquility”. The implication is that the peasants before him tempt him to some sort of “murkiness of spirit” that he might come to share with them if he is not careful. This “murkiness of spirit” is a danger to the “emotion recollected in tranquility” that Thomas, as a poet, requires. Thomas’ autobiography, “Neb”, is notable for its similarities to The Prelude. One wonders how much of this is intentional, although in the interview, Thomas said that he thought it was not. Nevertheless, like The Prelude, it has a chronology dictated by a very intrusive narrator, the poet himself: Wordsworth’s final 1850 Prelude was finished in his sixties, while “Neb” was first published in Welsh in 1985, at age 72, while Thomas occupied his final pulpit in Aberdaron. Episodes are sorted and placed by their importance as an image, almost as if whole sections of prose were chosen in the manner in which a poet might choose a single word for a single image in a shorter verse. The first person voice coupled with the powerful imagery ties the reader very closely to the poet's vision of these incidents. Like Wordsworth, Thomas recalls his love of the outdoors as a dominant force in his early life and on through his university days. Like

R.S. Thomas


Wordsworth, for Thomas, this time of childhood was a clear time of innocence and ability to appreciate the beauties around him with no notion of the larger adult world and its concerns. He wandered the headlands of Holyhead much in the same manner as the young Wordsworth wandered the Lake District, a wild and lone boy. This image of the frail innocence of childhood is echoed in other Thomas poems, as in “Children’s Song” We live in our own world, A world that is too small For you to stoop and enter Even on hands and knees, . . . You cannot find the centre Where we dance, where we play, Where life is still asleep . . . (Thomas 1985, 21)

Thomas inevitably grows out of this world, past the protective bonds of his mother, and, unlike Wordsworth, into a life tormented with doubt and misgivings. This causes Thomas to be ambiguous about the value of even the paradisaical state of childhood in his later poem, “Sorry”: Dear parents, I forgive you my life, Begotten in a drab town, The intention was good; . . . It was not your fault. What should have gone on, Arrow aimed from a tried bow At a tried target, has turned back, Wounding itself With questions you had not asked. (44)

For Thomas, life sours with the coming of the knowledge of the real world, and childhood’s paradise is fenced around with the good and protective intentions of parents. But when that fence is breached with age, the child is ‘expelled from paradise’, and the person is subject to all the shocks and dangers of this earthly life. Wordsworth likewise discovered this, but he never lost his faith in the transcendent nature of the childhood experience, as the “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood” shows, nor in the transcendental nature of joy: Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We grieve not, rather find


Chapter Five Strength in what remains behind; In the primal sympathy Which having been must ever be; In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering; In that faith that looks through death, In years that bring the philosophic mind. (Wordsworth 1988, 462)

Wordsworth’s “faith” here is looking “through death” and beyond, bringing the “philosophic mind” to that person who can be the child, the “seer blest”, even past physical childhood. He regarded the transcendental reality which childhood and joy reflected as more than compensation for the pains of this world. Thomas is not so optimistic, nor is he so sure that this life is worth the pain, his parents needing forgiveness for the trespass of having given him birth. Toward the end of “Neb”, as in the beginning, Thomas breaks the narrative flow to present what Wordsworth called “spots of time”, those crystal clear moments of memory that are crucial turning points in one's life. (Thomas 1997, 100-2) But the most important Wordsworthian trait is the longing that accompanies memory of past joy. For Thomas it incarnates itself in longing for that boyhood paradise of dreams, that for him is Holyhead on Anglesey. As he became an Anglican priest, he took a series of parishes that constituted a slow journey back to something like his boyhood home in the far west of Wales. For this longing he uses the Welsh word hiraeth (35, 43, 62, 88). But the longing is more complex than a mere wish to return to childhood or the west of Wales, for Wordsworthian joy inevitably refuses to be ultimately pinned down to any earthly location. In describing the events of 1938, Thomas, referring to himself in the third person, recalls a “spot of time” in which he felt drawn to the life he saw represented in Yeats and other writers, “ . . . among the peat and the heather of the west coast . . . .”, of the life of fifty years before in Ireland and the Hebrides. He admits to being influenced by novelist Fiona Macleod. “One of her books came to his [Thomas’] attention accidentally and it echoed the hiraeth for the west that he was experiencing at the time. He went to look for other books by the same author and for months he was under the spell of the Hebrides of which the author wrote”. (45) As a result, he persuaded his then girlfriend, later to be his wife, to take him in her car to the Hebrides. Finding a ride over to one of the islands, he left her behind and went to his anticipated Heaven-on-earth, only to be disappointed. At the end of the episode he concludes about his experience,

R.S. Thomas


“He [Thomas] had been completely disillusioned. He did not get one glimpse of Fiona Macleod's magical land.” (47) This is the pattern behind both his and Wordsworth's thought: first, the visionary gleam that is associated with a place or an event, or perhaps a time in the past. As is invariably the experience of all Wordsworthian “joy”, upon achieving, or arriving at this place or recreating the event, one finds that the thing one longed for lacks the quality that set one to longing in the first place. Thus, eventually, Thomas finds his way to remote Aberdaron. But even there, his poetry reflects his own puzzlement with existence. Neither is he tempted any longer to find his solution in Ireland; nor is his native Wales this longed-for paradise. This is reflected in the details of his westward search. While serving as rector of Manafon, near the Welsh-English border, Thomas relates how he got involved in the Welsh nationalist movement, and began to learn Welsh. He characterizes that time, interestingly enough: And yet behind and around everything there was the beauty and freshness of nature. Unknown to him [Thomas], his experience at this time was the same as that of Wordsworth and Coleridge. There was a dew on things. An odour came from off the wet earth that would remind him of Holyhead, when he was a boy there. At night the valley echoed with the cry of owls. The fox barked and the vixen screamed very close to the rectory, and the river ran past, murmuring to itself under the stars. (55)

In this passage, nature is the vehicle of this joy. Thomas is unaware of the full significance at the time of the nature of his experience, before the “visionary gleam” has fled.

“Abercuawg” and the Absolute Need for Joy It may seem from the textual evidence reviewed so far that Thomas’ concern with this matter of ungraspable joy is, at best, a peripheral matter with him. But in his essay “Abercuawg” Thomas makes it unmistakably central to his thought. The essay was originally given as a lecture to an audience at the National Eisteddfod. The title refers to a line from Welsh poet Llywarch Hen, which translates into English as “In Abercuawg the cuckoos sing.” Though the line seems unremarkable, to Thomas it is tremendously evocative: “ . . . through using a word like Abercuawg, Llywarch Hen has caused something to ring like a bell in my ear and my heart for all eternity”. (Thomas 1986, 164) Thomas admits that the line caused him to search for the place in the Welsh countryside, a quest in


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which he succeeded. Yet when he arrived there, 'the visionary gleam had fled', to put it in Wordsworth's language. Or, as Thomas puts it, “ . . . I went and found the spot . . . . again a very fine place. There were no cuckoos to be heard, though other birds sang there. But where was Abercuawg? It was there without being there. I had arrived and yet not found it.” Elsewhere, he comes close to defining it and reveals the depth of his longing for it: “Because whatever Abercuawg might be, it is a place of trees and field and flowers and bright unpolluted streams, where the cuckoos continue to sing. For such a place I am ready to make sacrifices, maybe even to die.” (166) This once again is the search for the magical land, the thing longed for, but once one achieves it, one finds that the longing is unsatisfied. Thomas makes it apparent that though he has given up trying to find that source of joy, that longed-for something in the Hebrides or Ireland, he still cannot cease to look for it in looking for an unpolluted, pre-industrial, proudly nationalistic Wales of which he constantly dreams. This is Thomas’ most prevalent theme in later life. Yet, Thomas recognizes to a degree that the search is futile. (166-7) This, however, does not dissuade him. First, he recognizes that Abercuawg must be sensed through the power of the imagination as Coleridge understood it, (168) and secondly, he believes that, . . . we shall have to build and rebuild Abercuawg anew, . . . . Nor will he [mankind] ever see Abercuawg. But through striving to see it, thorough longing for it, though refusing to accept that it belongs to the past and has fallen into oblivion; through refusing to accept some second-hand substitute, he will succeed in preserving it as an eternal possibility. In what other way did miracles take place in the history of the world? In what other way have people ever succeeded in carrying on in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties? (172)

For Thomas, the experience of the visionary gleam that he draws both from Wordsworth and Coleridge is one of the central motivations by which mankind will “succeed”. This would mean growing into some more utopian state that for Thomas would include a rejection of the impersonal industrial-technological society and a Welsh nation rallied around these pre-industrial values, and defined against them in its very Welshness. Nothing less for Thomas would be Abercuawg. And this Abercuawg would be a place of open nature and freedom as he experienced as a boy in Holyhead, or Wordsworth experienced as a boy in the Lake District. The primary difference in this conception between Thomas and Wordsworth is that Wordsworth accepts that the visionary gleam has

R.S. Thomas


faded, and is replaced by the philosophic mind. Thomas, unaccepting of the present reality, holds out his utopian vision of Abercuawg before him as he goes. This for him is the proper use of hiraeth.

Nature and Technology and the So-Called Scientific Advance of Humanity If Abercuawg, Thomas’ longed for but lost utopia in Wales, is not realized, Thomas is still very clear on what forces in society are opposed to Abercuawg's realization. Thomas focuses all the forces of impersonal mechanization and industrialization in the image of “the machine”. This is an objective correlative for all the forces of unwelcome change, depersonalization and modern, twentieth-century English invasion in money and in language of Thomas’ pre-industrial Welsh utopia. Wordsworth's biographer, Mary Moorman, tells us that Wordsworth's own opposition to the industrial revolution was restricted to his opposition to what industrialization would do to the working classes. (Moorman 1965, 459, 471) Furthermore, Moorman cites Wordsworth's defense of the passages in The Excursion (4.941-4) that condemn the arrogance of science. As quoted above, the context of Wordsworth's defense is the expressing of those sentiments to a friend, William Rowan Hamilton, himself a scientist, while Wordsworth was touring Ireland in 1829. Moorman recounts in the words of Hamilton's daughter: “He defended himself . . . from the accusation of any want of reverence for science, in the proper sense . . . 'when legitimately pursued for the elevation of the mind to God.' But science as the mere accumulation of facts, . . . was worse than useless.” And Moorman quotes Wordsworth as stating that he would rather be a “superstitious old woman than have his mind engrossed with knowledge that was merely material in its aims and uses.”14 If Wordsworth was very clear on what he condemned about the industrial revolution and what he did not, Thomas seems almost intentionally vague with his image of the machine. Yet Thomas, as quoted above in his introduction to A Choice of Wordsworth’s Verse, sees in Wordsworth a condemnation of “too great an indulgence of the scientific spirit, which 'murders to dissect' and which would 'botanise upon a mother's grave.'“ Both quotations advocate the wisdom of direct appreciation of nature as opposed to indulging in “our meddling intellect”, and the wisdom of not making scientific inquiry devoid of spiritual perception. Thomas would agree with this, but he goes far beyond it in his own perception of “the machine” being almost the sum total of man's

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sins incarnate, or at least those things Thomas perceives as sins. Most of the following references are from Experimenting with an Amen (1986) and A Mass for Hard Times (1992). Thomas’ “machine” is at one time an impersonal force, yet it contains a malicious consciousness, as in his poem, “Fuel”: And the machines say, laughing up what would have been sleeves in the old days: 'We are at your service.' 'Take us', we cry, 'to the places that are far off from yourselves.' And so they do at a price that is the alloy in the thought that we can do without them. (Thomas 1993, 532)

The machine here is willingly and cleverly duping the human race into believing that humans need machines. In “One Life”, the machine is responsible for breaking the genetic code, an indication here that, for Thomas, “the machine” is not so much impersonal technology, but, as in Wordsworth, scientists pursuing technology in an immoral, or perhaps amoral fashion. “Growing up/ . . . is to perceive/ that knowledge of him [God] comes/ from the gene's breaking of an involved code,/ from the mind's parallel/ at-homeness with missile and scalpel”. (Thomas 1992,56) The missile image is more impersonal, but the image of the scalpel is not, for it must be manipulated by the human hand. It symbolizes the increasing knowledge of surgeons and medicine in general. In the second stanza of this same poem, Thomas indicts the machine for “Literature is on the way/ out. . . . At the mouth/ of the cave is the machine's/ whirlwind, hurrying the new/ arts in, advancing the threshold/ of our permitted exposure to/ its becquerels and decibels”. The machine is replacing Thomas’ beloved literature, hurrying the process as a “whirlwind”, and replacing poetry with the noise of “becquerels and decibels”. In “Bleak Liturgies” he inserts two stanzas: What Lent is the machine subjected to? It neither fasts nor prays. And the one cross of its Good Fridays is the change over of its gears. Its Easter is every day when, from the darkness

R.S. Thomas


of man's mind, it comes forth in a new form, but untouchable as ever. ( 62)

The machine is a creation of man's mind, coming “from the darkness”, and immune to any sort of exorcism. As opposed to the God-become-man rising from the dead to redeem humanity, on this Easter the machine rises from “man’s mind” in a new form to threaten humanity. Or again in “The Seasons”, in the section titled 'Winter', The machine is our winter, smooth as ice glassing over the soul's surface. We have looked it in the eye and seen how our image gradually is demoted. Without the tribute we must bring it from our dwindling resources it grows colder and colder. It is our January and our December, a two-faced God on an unreal threshold directing its eyes back at the hand's blindness, but forward also towards the defeat of time. (69)

The machine here is the harbinger of death; it is man's fall in its modern form. It is also the bringer of the apocalypse. In Thomas’ apocalypse, mankind is totally divorced from nature and floating in space, where scientists preach a new gospel. In “Eschatology”, God has been abandoned: “As though/ coming round on a new/ gyre, we approached God/ from the far side, an extinct concept.” (48) He has been replaced by, . . .Our scientists, immaculately dressed not conceived, preached to us


Chapter Five from their space-stations, calling us to consider the clockwork birds and fabricated lilies, how they also, as they were conditioned to do, were neither toiling nor spinning.

The allusion to Christ's sermon on the mount completes the thought of the previous stanza, where God and the Virgin Mary have been abandoned for “immaculately dressed not/ conceived” scientists, preaching their new gospel from orbit. Thomas returns to this image in “What Then?”, questioning the validity or even possibility of a spiritual life divorced from nature in a space capsule. You chose the natural timber to die on that the natural man should be saved. What boughs, then, will need to be crossed and what body crucified upon them for salvation to be won for the astronauts venturing in their air-conditioned capsules? Will artificial living give birth to the artificial sin? What prayers will they say upside down in their space-chambers? Are you prepared to reveal the nuclear brain and the asbestos countenance to deserve their worship? They are planning their new conurbations a little nearer the stars, incinerated by day and by night glacial; but will there be room there for a garden for the Judas of the future to make his way through to give you his irradiated kiss? (75)

Clearly in Thomas there is more fear of the future, though one may argue that Wordsworth, in his later years, had a great fear of the future that animated his actively conservative politics. Wordsworth does not fear science so much as the arrogant misuse of science. For Wordsworth, science is never a threat to God. Thomas’ God is not quite so competent. He is inexplicable and silent, and ultimately either unwilling or helpless to prevent his worship being supplanted by the scientists of the machine, preaching their new gospel from the empty void of space.


As with Huw Menai, and Idris Davies, there is the repeated pattern of the minimally educated, working class poet who finds in Wordsworth and the Romantics what he believes a poet should do and be. The revolutions of the imagists and the poetic influence of Pound and Eliot did not seriously penetrate the school curriculum in the early half of the twentieth century and even poets educated in mid-century, like Leslie Norris, found that the Romantics were part of the assigned poetry curriculum in primary and secondary schools. William Henry Davies is another example. He is included in Georgian Poetry: 1918-1919, and is thus associated with the Georgian movement. He made a few attempts to publish poetry in his youth. But upon reaching adulthood, he rejected the life of working class Newport and became a tramp in the United States and Canada. It is possible he would have never left this lifestyle, or perhaps he would have settled in the United States if he had not lost a foot in a mismanaged attempt to board a moving train. This injury forced him to cease wandering. In his The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) he maintained an aloof separateness from his family centered around his mother in Wales, and essentially decided to live as a tramp in London and pursue the dream of his youth, a poetic career. Fortunately, after some years of attempt, he was able to get some recognition for his work and became enough of a minor celebrity that he was able to return to Wales and later to England, and live comfortably on a modest income with his wife. In his Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, he rarely mentions what he was reading while spending his years on the road. However, he does mention at one point the content of his pockets while tramping north of London in order to save money to print his poetry. Now it happened that when I left London, I had made room in my pockets for two books which, up till that time [while tramping, not while in London], I had very little opportunity of reading. One was the bible, and


Chapter Six the other was a small printed and cheap paper cover edition of Wordsworth. (Davies 1917, 245)

That Davies, with a wooden leg and reluctantly on the tramp, would choose Wordsworth to take along when apparently he cannot carry more than two books, is an indication of the reverence which he held for the older poet. Moreover, he is writing this at the same time as he is writing much of his published verse. There is another reference to Wordsworth in The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, very early on in the book when Davies is writing about his reading in his youth. “I read Shelley, Marlowe, and Shakespeare, indifferent to Wordsworth, but giving him since the attention of wiser days.” (15-6) The “wiser days” here are presumably the time nearer the writing of The Autobiography of a SuperTramp. Reading through Davies’ work as laid out in his Complete Poetry, it is clear that Davies is certainly influenced by Wordsworth, taking him as one of his primary models. Wordsworth has influenced Davies in the use of language and textual similarities, the portrayal of the pursuit of joy, in his reverence for common people and their trials and in subject matter for poetry. Davies’ reaction to Wordsworth is simpler than some of the other poets in this study: for Davies, Wordsworth is the model of what a poet should be and do. Davies’ anxiety is similar in some ways to that of Menai: he must find a way to resolve the tension between this modeling on Wordsworth and the darker experiences of the rugged life he lived.

Wordsworthian Language in Davies’ Work William Davies’ poem “The Soul’s Destroyer” is a complex and long blank verse poem that adapts Wordsworth’s technique in several places from different Wordsworth poems. The long, blank verse form of the poem, coupled with the apparently autobiographical nature of the poem immediately suggest The Prelude. And indeed in several passages Davies’ speaker eulogizes on the beauty of nature and how it shaped the speaker. Such joy a hundred times a day was mine To see at every bend of the road the face Of Nature different. And oft I sat To hear the lark from his first twitter pass To greater things as he soared nearer heaven; (Davies 1965, 46)

William Henry Davies


The language of joy, of nature, and of the lark, are suggestive of Wordsworth, as is the sweeping memory of intense events of natural beauty. Nor is this the only Wordsworthian echo in this poem. The opening immediately reminds us of Wordsworth’s sonnet to Milton, as do others, such as the one to Calvert that begins with an emphatic address: London! What utterance the mind finds here! In its academy of art, more rich Than that proud temple which made Ophir poor, And the resources famed of Sheba’s Queen. (5)

The image of “that proud temple” resembles Wordsworth’s sonnet on Westminster Bridge. The poem goes on at length to praise London, followed by a lengthy apology and explanation, as if he feels the need to justify any positive sentiments about the city to his poetic mentors in Romanticism. Ironically, he uses Wordsworth’s own poetry as a defense for this love for London. We hear distinct echoes in this poem of Wordsworth’s sonnet from Westminster Bridge. Out leapt and on my heart threw its sweet weight— When strolling in the palace-bounded parks Of our great city on a summer’s morn. Now, one who lives for long in London town Doth feel his love divided ‘tween the two— A city’s noise and Nature’s quiet call: (42)

The “great city on a summer’s morn” is reminiscent Wordsworth’s image of the early morning light on the city of London. Again, later in the poem, Davies echoes Wordsworth in the description of “summer’s morn” light on the city. To see it [the world] rolled at morning when the sun Makes lamps of domes and lighthouses of fanes, (48)

Wordsworth’s lines from “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” are, The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; (Wordsworth 1988, 214)

The similarity is in the controlling image here. Davies has set his poem in morning London. And as with Wordsworth’s reaction of inspiration to the


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unexpected morning beauties of London, Davies’ speaker finds that London causes his heart to leap out and to feel its “sweet weight”. Nevertheless, for all these Wordsworthian similarities, Davies is writing his own complaint against the world. England is one more time a fen of vices, but for Davies it is the poverty of London and the alcoholism that results from it, which is contrasted to beauty. The poem turns in form from an ode to a recollection, much the same way Wordsworth’s long, blank verse poems move from the abstract to the specifics of a sad tale. In Davies’ case, it is a story of the speaker recalling his first love for a woman whom he lost. He then accidentally confronts her years later when he is compelled to help her drunken, quarrelsome husband home from the pub. In between these two encounters with the woman he loves, the speaker describes his joy in tramping among the beauties of nature. The poem is uneven, as the speaker reverts back to the ode form from the narrative form, addressing a personified nature: Let others praise thy parts, sweet Nature; I Who cannot know the barley from the oats, Nor call the bird by note, nor name a star, Claim thy heart’s fullness through the face of things. The lonely shepherd in his hut at night Will dream of Beauty in the feverous towns, Of Love and Gaiety, of Song and Dance; With fore-paws on his master’s crook, the dog Sleeps dreaming his life’s duty—though his flocks Are countless, and the hills on which they roam: So faithful I to thee, like shepherd’s dog, To follow thee with joy in all thy moods. (Davies 1965, 47)

This takes on some of the qualities found so often in the ringing passages of The Prelude, when Wordsworth makes statements of his belief in nature as a morally guiding force. This is also a weakness in the poem, as Davies mixes the influence of The Prelude freely with the influence of the odes and the righteous sonnets. In the final, and poignant irony, the speaker brings the drunken husband home and witnesses the look on the face of the woman he loved, “A look regretful, part resigned, as if/ Some retribution was my right to claim.” (51) The speaker remarks that she was already a widow without death. All too conveniently, in the very next line the husband actually does die. The final lines are a stern lecture against drink, and lose the grandeur of the poem’s original conception. This is certainly a flawed piece, but it may well be that its flaw lies in its inability to decide which Wordsworthian form it is meant to imitate.

William Henry Davies


Davies’ poem “Catherine” focuses closely on a revealing conversation between adult and child in the tradition of the children poems in Lyrical Ballads, such as “Anecdote for Fathers”, and “We Are Seven”, oddly mixed with a morbid and sudden ending, as in the Lucy poems of 1799. The speaker and another little boy are waiting outside the “garden gate”, competing in their imaginations with thoughts of all they will do to win Catherine when she grows up. But the poem takes a different twist when a man comes out suddenly and tells them, “’Go, children, to your school,’ he said—/ ‘And tell the master Catherine’s dead.’” (57) The shock of the death against the humorous portrayal of the innocent infatuations of little boys is reminiscent of the Lucy poems where Lucy’s innocence and purity is portrayed but Lucy lies dead in the spinning earth, or perhaps Wordsworth’s speaker suddenly fears for her life in the last line. Like Wordsworth’s poems, the question being asked here is precisely how does innocence co-exist in a world with apparently meaningless death. And like Wordsworth in the Lucy poems and “We Are Seven”, Davies does not offer answers, but rather hits us with the question to make us experience it through our imaginations. In “A Blind Child” there are similar images as in Wordsworth’s poems about innocent children such as “We Are Seven”. Davies is asking the same questions about the innocence of childhood and the bleak mystery of pain and death as Wordsworth. The poem could easily be placed next to poems from Lyrical Ballads. The speaker in the poem observes a blind child listening to her baby brother laugh at the play of light. Then the speaker observes: The presence of a stiffened corse Is sad enough; but, to my mind, The presence of a child that’s blind, In a green garden, is far worse. (60)

As the poem continues, the speaker walks through the garden with the blind child, trying to keep his face from betraying his emotion when the child feels his face with her hands. In the final stanza he is rendered speechless, and powerless by her condition: “But I am dumb, for she is blind.” (60) The form is much the same as Wordsworth’s; the child is without the questioning of her ironic situation, innocent of the stark implications of her blindness, just as the little girl in “We are Seven” has an innocent faith that is untroubled by the death of her siblings. And this is contrasted with the heavy-hearted perception of the adult speaker of the


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blindness of the child in Davies’ poem, and the death of the children in Wordsworth’s. Davies’ poem “A Happy Life” has, in its final stanzas, a picture of pastoral joy that comes from Wordsworth. The poem, as a whole, is a justification of the simplicity of the tramp’s life. In the final stanza, Davies’ speaker idealizes the rural life over urban life, as Wordsworth and his sister chose to live in Grasmere. Lord, who would live in towns with men, And hear the hum of human greed— With such a life as this to lead? (85)

Of course, this is ironic because Davies himself, when he settled again in England, chose to live in London, when he might have lived easier among his family in Wales. The personal and biographical reasons for doing this may be outside the scope of this study. But when one considers poems such as “A Happy Life” and Davies’ opportunities to live the life described in the poem, away from the urban environment of London, it is notable that Davies chose the urban environment without exception until the time of his marriage. If Davies became a ‘poet living in retirement’, it was not in the country; his retirement was into the life of the unemployed and marginally employed poor for whom six shillings meant food, shelter, and alcohol for one more night or maybe two, depending on their way of spending it. Of course the poem is art and the demands of life can be tremendously prosaic. Yet still, one wonders why Davies perpetrated this idyllic image in more than one poem when in fact he had no intention of pursuing the so-called “happy life” he describes. Is his poetry an exercise in fantasizing, or did it come from a deeper spring of experience lived, as did Wordsworth’s? One must suspect it of being fantasizing, if one reads the roughness of his homeless life as portrayed in the Autobiography of a Super-Tramp. Thus, when in “The Boy”, there is an image of a little boy who rolls in a field of flowers, ignoring the excitement of a parade of passing horses and men for the beauties of nature, the image seems contrived and artificial for the self-proclaimed “Super-Tramp”. The poem concludes with: Time is to thee Eternity, As to a bird Or butterfly: And in that faith True joy doth lie.(90)

William Henry Davies


This poem rings with Wordsworth’s faith in the innocence of a small child as portrayed in poems such as “We Are Seven” in Lyrical Ballads. But for Davies, this is plainly an abstraction, the symbol of archetypal innocence and purity that Davies sees in Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets. And he seems to feel compelled to repeat it in his own poetry, even if he knows nothing of this lonely and hard sheepherding life. Perhaps this is why so much of this sort of poetry in Davies’ repertoire rings hollow. Wordsworth encountered his poor shepherds living their meager existences, and has walked through high Cumbria meadows where lambs sport. Davies tramped roads from town to town, focused on begging for his next meal. His nearest contact with animals was the hard months he spent working on livestock boats going between the US and Britain. In “The Sea”, the first line alludes distinctly to Wordsworth’s poem, “Her Eyes are Wild”. Davies’ first line reads: “Her cheeks were white, her eyes were wild.” (93) Like the mad mother in Wordsworth’s poem, there is a mad mother in Davies’ poem, and a strangeness of imagery. Davies’ story is different. A mother is searching for her drowned sailor son. The difference is that in the Wordsworth poem the strangeness of perception is due to the fact that the reader is seeing the world through a raped mad woman’s eyes. The madness in Davies’ poem is supernaturally attributed to a heavily personified sea with malicious waves and winds that rejoice in smashing their victims against the rocks. There is an odd parallel poem to Wordsworth’s “Idiot Boy” in Davies’ “The Idiot and the Child”. Davies’ idiot boy is a grown man who lives with his normal brother, and that brother’s wife and daughter, as well as his mother. Though the story lines are different, the tone is much the same; it is the irony beneath that is different. For Wordsworth, the boy’s idiocy is something that is endured with love by the boy’s mother, demonstrated when the boy gets lost on a simple errand. The mother’s first concern is his safety and she is relieved when she finds no harm has come to him. In Davies’ poem, the niece of the idiot man dies and the idiot is unharmed. Davies’ sense of the wrongness of this result is revealed in the third stanza. Death came that way, and which, think you, Fell under that old tyrant’s spell? He [death] breathed upon that little child, Who loved her life so well.(100)

The final stanza is more ironic in that the grandmother of the child, mother of the idiot, makes the silly remark that “Ah, well; thank God/ It is no


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worse!”. This is a different attitude than in Davies’ “The Boy” where innocence is celebrated without reservation. This poem is very much an unanswered question for Davies, and one suspects that it is based on actual incidents, due to its irony and unfinished chain of events. One expects the death of the idiot instead of the little child, but it is not so and that is the end. The grandmother’s facile remarks at the end only leave the reader more unsatisfied, which is Davies’ intention. Wordsworth, in contrast, in the Fenwick notes finds considerable glee in his idiot boy poem, (Wordsworth 1993, 10) indicating anything but an ironic intention.

The Pursuit of Joy Davies too, like many writers in this study, and like Wordsworth, finds himself haunted by the longing for joy, the Sehnsucht, or hiraeth, as I have described it in the introduction. However, he, as a tramp, has learned to live most of the time with low expectations, and thus he finds that joy comes to him very readily in nature. Unlike R.S. Thomas, or other writers in this study, he is not inclined to pursue joy with such vigor that he would search the Orkneys for it, nor the desperation that would cause him to become brooding and angry at anyone around him when he does not have it. He does not often write about the agony of the longing. Rather he knows that it comes for him when his possessions and expectations are the least, and this is his preferred experience to put into poetry. This parallels Wordsworth’s own tendency to launch out for long walks into nature and experience joy without quite the longing for a Welsh utopia in the poems of R.S. Thomas. Davies identifies with the Wordsworth that traveled across England, Wales, France, Germany and Italy, carrying little and eating where food was offered to him, and later living frugally in Dove Cottage. Happiness requires little and a life lived simply finds more occasions for joy. Yet, on occasion, he too will find that despair has replaced joy and the longing of joy is upon him. In his poem, “Early Morn”, the speaker rises early and takes in the morning air. The experience is a powerful one and Davies’ speaker describes this golden morning world in mythic terms, with ships of gold, and animals sleeping in what feels like a magical sleep. It is all a sort of dream. But still, this is Wordsworth’s exuberant sense of a glorious world, most glorious in the first hours of morning. In the third and last stanza, the speaker spells out that mythic, numinous world:

William Henry Davies


It seemed as though I had surprised And trespassed in a golden world That should have passed while men still slept! The joyful birds, the ship of gold, The horses, kine and sheep did seem As they would vanish for a dream. (Davies 1965, 81)

There is a sense here that one has seen something forbidden to mortal men, as if it were a fairy world, “That should have passed while men still slept!” Davies’ poem “Joy and Pleasure” defines a distinction in his mind and reveals what Davies considers to be the true source of joy. Through a series of analogies and personifications, pleasure becomes a rich child with no voice to sing, a day-sleeping moth, a greedy wasp, a friendless cuckoo, and one who needs company to sing and laugh. Pleasure clearly here is defined by Davies as social, clearly identified with socializing and “partying”, the pursuit of pleasure. Joy, however, is analogous to a poor child who can sing, a butterfly that loves “Nature’s light”, a bee that sucks nectar, a beloved lark, and one who sings alone without a care. Thus joy, by Davies’ definition, comes unsought and comes from nature. Occasionally Davies is ambivalent from poem to poem on the matter of being married or not, and how one’s situation, single or tied to relatives, enhances or inhibits living with joy. In his poem “The Philosophical Beggar” the speaker goes through a long blank verse soliloquy about the advantages of being free of all ties in the life of a tramp. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker breaks into a lyrical dimeter that addresses the search for joy and the life of desire: Out, life of care! Man lives to fret For some vain thing He cannot get.

And later in the same verse: If beggar has No child or wife, He, of all men, Enjoys most life. When rich men loathe Their meat and wine, He thinks dry bread And water fine. (123-4)


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Happiness is clearly a function of expectations, or the lack of expectations. Joy comes to those who do not look for it, who are easily satisfied. However, even this lack of expectations does not guarantee freedom from longing. This is echoed in the first part of his poem “Fancy”, a blank verse poem of some length where ‘Fancy’ is personified as a woman that Davies’ speaker is committed to. It is almost as if Fancy could replace a real woman. In the opening verses he describes the noise and confusion of the city, presumably London, in terms reminiscent of the passage in “Tintern Abbey” where Wordsworth talks of “the sneers of selfish men”, “greetings where no kindness is,” and “all/The dreary intercourse of daily life”. Davies tells the reader: There, men were sat with neither home nor hope, Ungreeted—save by some lost dog or cat. There saw I cold and ragged, hungry men Sit at the feet of statues which the rich Admired, nor heeded those poor men of flesh. . . . Where’er I looked I saw no beauty there; Plenty of shops and markets with dead meat, And other stuff to satisfy man’s flesh, But little for man’s soul. A dreadful life, To live in that stone town without a change; As though men’s souls did not need Nature’s charms, And putting out to grass, like common beasts, To keep life healthy, fresh and of good cheer. (125)

This could arguably represent an expansion of the themes in Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much With Us”, and the sprawl of urban, industrial places like London, where, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”. Though Wordsworth writes extensively of London in Book Seven of The Prelude, much of it is in a more positive tone than Davies’ sad summation of the urban environment. The young Wordsworth is rather wide-eyed and awed by the pageantry of London. However, there are moments of bleakness in Wordsworth’s perception of London in The Prelude, as where in line 637 and after, Wordsworth views the blind beggar wearing a sign telling his story, who makes Wordsworth feel that “This label seemed of the utmost we can know,/ Both of ourselves and of the universe”.(Prelude 7.645) Wordsworth takes this as an admonishment to his youthful vision of London. Yet, for Davies, as in Wordsworth, Nature is personified with a capitalized name. And Nature is the right and proper food for men’s

William Henry Davies


souls. Should they lack that food, they lose their spiritual health. Also in Davies, having material goods in abundance, as in the New Testament, often is a sure sign that one is spiritually impoverished. The shops are full of “dead meat”, hardly a description of prosperity, but rather one of unhealthy excess. But then, for Davies, the road to joy lies in letting go of worldly goods. At this point Davies’ speaker courts “Fancy”, personified as a woman. She promises Davies’ speaker a way out of the miserable urban poverty surrounding him. . . . He who can sit alone In solitude, content with his own thoughts, Can have life’s best and cheapest joy; which needs No purse of gold, no pride of outward show, Like joy that’s purchased from society; And only by my power canst thou do this; (126)

Fancy goes on to promise and paint far more. Davies does not hold back from lavish Romantic description. The language is close to the Authorized Version, the “King James” version of the bible. Using the archaic ‘thou’ form alludes powerfully to that influential translation that Wordsworth well knew, with his Church of England upbringing, but also that Davies probably heard often, growing up in Welsh chapels in the Newport area. It is, to the English ear of Davies’ time, the traditional rhythms of the speech of Christ, even though Christ in fact spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew. So with the use of this ‘divine’ form of English, Davies has not only personified Fancy, he has clad her in the linguistic garments of Christ. Davies works this “affair” with Fancy for many lines of blank verse, piling on image after Romantic image, such as larks, nightingales and phantom ships, to such a degree that the poem threatens to be buried under the weight of verbiage. Then Fancy, as an archetypal faithless lover, deserts him. Davies’ speaker bemoans his loss, and in so doing, provides us with Davies’ poetic picture of hiraeth. . . . Alas! Soon she began to make her absence known. Then to my heart came dark Despondency, And perched on it, e’en as a Hell’s black rook . . . Ah, misery! that I should think this Maid Would answer to my call whene’er I wished; That when my Heart desired her she would come

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And set my Mind in motion—foolish thought! (133)

Elsewhere he describes the fleetingness of joy and its irregular arrivals: When she was near, I could not hear the clock Cry out the hour; but, in her absence, heard Its smallest whisper, every tick it made. And so I grieved, but she no sooner came Than I with joy forgave her with a kiss; (135)

Davies’ speaker tires of this and resolves to live a life of hedonism, and to forsake the pursuit of ‘Fancy’. As the speaker is making his long declaration of his resolve to pursue Fancy, she returns and possesses his mind. “Pleasure can give no true and lasting joy;/ . . . But Joy has her own light—and thou art Joy./ . . . Come then, sweet Fancy—surnamed Joy by me.” (136-7) He has narrated this moment of growth by surrendering his demanding behavior, his insistence that Fancy provide him with feelings of elation at all times. Once he gives up the pursuit of pleasure and the demand for constant joy, joy is able to return to him, and he becomes more like Wordsworth in that he takes joy where he finds it and therefore is willing to be “surprised by joy”. And yet he presents this superficially only as a surrender of living life for pleasure. His change in his relationship with Fancy is mostly conveyed by his resigned tone and the implications of his acceptance of her nature as it is. The theme is echoed in the following poem, “Songs of Joy”. The speaker encourages the reader to “Think not of Death”, and to “Strive not for gold”. (137) Then he advises: Train up thy mind to feel content, What matters then how low they store? What we enjoy, and not possess, Makes rich or poor. (138)

Of course, this can be read on the level of the advice of a tramp not to be attached to the things that money can buy, but there is also the deeper reading, alluded to in the first line of the stanza. The mind must be trained to expect little, accept poverty of both goods and of the spirit, as when joy seems far away, and to find contentment in all situations. Probably the most succinct of these ‘fleeting joy’ poems worth attention is “Hunting Joy”. Davies speaks ironically of the sorrow that accompanies one who hunts joy, who discovers:

William Henry Davies


How easy is an Eden made, How hard to keep the Serpent out! How easy to create a Joy, How hard to hold it safe and fast; (417)

The speaker’s conclusion is that by “wear[ing] a mask of care” he will not “hunt a Joy to death”. This was the balance that Davies achieved.

The Common Man in Davies’ Work When Davies chooses to represent the common man in his poetry, he draws on characters that he knows well: the inmates of a lodging house, that is, a cheap residence for itinerant homeless people such as Davies was after the loss of his leg on a tramp in Canada sometime after 1890 until the publishing of his first volume of poetry in 1905. In his poem “Saints and Lodgers”, Davies provides a picture of the men around whom he spent most of his early life. The saints here are not the lodgers, but rather the alcoholic beggars and homeless wandering tinkers that represent the men who could not adapt to the financial customs of society. These men live on small amounts of money that allow them to acquire bed, food and liquor on a day-to-day basis. At the time Davies was writing, the population of these homeless men in both Britain and America had swollen due to the worldwide economic depression, and so Davies found that he had a lot of company among these itinerant wandering men who lived between small, low paid jobs and various forms of begging. Indeed, it was only his accident that forced William Davies seriously to consider settling down again in Britain. Thus there is an ambiguous tone in this poem; Davies does not doubt the conventional wisdom of his time, that these men are in some sense ‘fallen sinners’ for having failed to live up to late Victorian moral standards, and more importantly late Victorian customary economic prudence. Yet, he also exhibits a compassion for these, his fellow travelers. One suspects that had Davies been writing in the mid twentieth century, he would have described these men unapologetically and portrayed them as victims of society. But Davies is only incidentally twentieth century. His formative experiences occurred in the last decades of the nineteenth century and in this poem, as in his Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, the tramps Davies has known, and their lifestyle, is described with an undertone of apology for their failures to live up to Victorian standards. And it is this tension between the standards of economic behavior of his day, and his compassion for his friends, that gives a sad, ironic power to his writings about his fellow tramps.


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It is with trepidation then that Davies’ speaker asks the saints in Heaven in the first stanza of “Saints and Lodgers” whether they want to “consecrate” the souls in the lodging house. Immediately, in the second stanza, he makes apology for their profanity, as if this were the most dire sin they had committed. Thereafter begins a litany of tramps, basically one tramp to a stanza, where oddly, Davies either discusses the eccentricities of a particular tramp, or his alcoholism, or both. One realizes quickly that it is not the traditional ‘seven deadly sins’ of Christian theology that Davies is concerned with in blocking the entrance of these fellow tramps into Heaven with the saints. Qualities such as pride, lust, avarice, envy and hatred do not really come into his litany of tramps at all. What these tramps lack is respectability—Victorian respectability. Their deadly sins are profanity, snoring, alcoholism, lack of “breeding”— that is Victorian middle class manners, lack of education and the arts, lack of large scale industriousness, satisfaction with simple and basically adequate food and housing, and above all, an incomprehensible lack of interest in social climbing. These are the ‘sins’ that stand in the way of the saints “consecrat[ing]” these tramps for Heaven, as if Heaven were a place where Victorian morals are perfectly adhered to, and where God is some sort of bearded, glaring, angry Victorian father, dressed in a black dinner jacket and starched white collar, who insisted that his children be ‘proper’. Surely, Davies is being ironic here. The speaker’s first apology is for “Such language only they can speak,/ It juggles heaven and hell together;”(38) This, on a superficial level, refers again to the profanity of using religious terms as clichés: “Swear to God” and “Go to hell”. On a deeper level, it suggests that there is an ambiguity of perception, suggesting Blake’s marriage of heaven and hell, and the ambiguity of good and evil. When the litany of tramps begins, we are seeing that Wordsworthian common man, the independent wandering beggar, the quintessential low-born, noble hearted, simple Englishman, kin to Ben the Waggoner and Wordsworth’s low-born neighbors in Grasmere village, that sometimes made their way into poems such as “Michael” and “The Thorn”. In this particular poem, there is “sporting Fred”, a small time gambler on horses; “Davie”, who is more steady when he is drunk than when he is sober; “Brummy Tom”, a small man who acts big when he is drunk, and a parade of similar futile drunks portrayed with some humorous sympathy. But the poem shifts from merely finding clever ways to describe drunks. The thirteenth stanza reads: ‘Australian’ Bill, ta’en sick away,

William Henry Davies


Came home to find his wife hath slid To other arms; he’s done with Liz, But in his heart he wants the kid. (40)

This backlights the drunks in the litany up till this moment and the reader realizes that there may well be other tragic causes behind these other men who have failed to conform to proper Victorian society. However, Davies’ speaker passes the moment on, giving the reader a hint of compassion without emphasizing it heavily. Thus Davies places his characters in the tradition of Wordsworth’s wandering poor, often, like the Solitary in “The Excursion” and Leonard in “The Brothers”, who live on the fringes of society due to some tragic loss in their lives. The next beggars on the list suffer from nothing worse than begging and snoring. But then there’s “Sailor”, who paces the lodging house wordlessly, as if he were still on watch, implying a deeply troubled soul. But more remarkable still, and so subtle that it might well go unnoticed, is the next to last stanza, which seems very likely to be a description of the poet himself, who became very well read though a tramp. Here’s gentle Will, who knows most things, Throws light on Egypt and the Nile— And many more to consecrate, If, Christian folk, ye think worth while. (41)

The ostensibly unassuming last line of this stanza must be read as ironic, if indeed the poet is offering himself for some sort of consecration. Its supreme irony is that it places the “Christian folk” who are not poor tramps, above and judging these tramps, a complete reversal of Christ’s blessing of and preference for the poor, and the concept of “the last shall be first and the first, last”. It is difficult to believe that Davies would have missed the full implications of his stanza and its seemingly deferential final line. Thus, though it takes an apologetic tone and seems to claim little, this poem in fact is a sharp criticism of any reader who would consider himself or herself somehow morally superior. Australian Bill shows up in his own poem of the same name. The poem is a more complete development of the story in “Saints and Lodgers”. Bill is hospitalized and leaves hospital without any money, only to find his wife and child gone. He becomes a tramp and an alcoholic. But still, every day he watches outside different schools in hope of recognizing the child, on the logic that his former wife will send the child to school somewhere. But the poem ends with Australian Bill still going between alehouses and standing outside schools.


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William Henry Davies: A Final Analysis in the Light of Wordsworth’s Influence Wordsworth’s influence on Davies was powerful, early and shortlived. To attribute all of Davies’ more blithe, nature-loving poetry to Wordsworth’s influence would be inaccurate. Davies is clearly his own man, and he sees the world through very different eyes. Though there are apparent similarities, the tone of the two men’s work is quite different. Both poets find solace in nature and on occasion explore the dark side of human existence and the philosophical problem that death creates for the Romantic vision: that is, if the world is such a good and beautiful place, why is there death and brutality and ugliness in it. Wordsworth faces this problem especially in 1805 with the death of his beloved brother, John. But Wordsworth by nature reaches for thoughts of immortality and an existence beyond the one humanity knows. Wordsworth, in short, soars when faced with the adversities of life. Davies, the ‘super-tramp’, is far more earthy, much more likely to stay rooted to the ground with the common people around him. Oddly enough, this earthiness in some senses works against him because he combines the vision of the possession-free, happy tramp with a sort of Wordsworthian bliss at the beauties of nature. The voice strikes the reader as odd, that a man whose most likely thought is where his next meal might come from, is contemplating songbirds. Truly, if Davies was such a tramp, he was a remarkable and rare one. It may be just this earthy quality about him, which makes his joyous nature poetry ring just a bit hollow. It is as if he were struggling to assume a voice or an accent that was not his by birth, as if he’d just learned a language but not learned the turn of phrase used by native speakers. But perhaps this is too harsh on Davies. His greatest virtue, and perhaps his poetic downfall, is his simplicity. He is included in the volume of the Georgians, a school of poetry remarkable for its similarity to the poetry of the nineteenth century. But then, whatever dates Davies lived, he was, in his bones, a nineteenth century man. Perhaps he should be seen as a late Romantic and not an unappreciated echo of a passing century. And if in his simplicity, he lacks the elegance of Wordsworth, or the strong imagery of Huw Menai, he is still capable of arresting phrases. Wordsworth grew more optimistic and more Christian in his old age. Davies, put off by his chapel upbringing, was less able to face his waning years in such a cheerful faith. Perhaps this is why his more blithe verse rings a little false; he seems to write it in willed ignorance of any darkness around him. But there are moments when Davies breaks through this ‘cheerful nature poet’ persona he seems to feel is necessary and writes to

William Henry Davies


the bone. Such a poem is his long piece, “The Song of Life”. In stanzas fourteen through eighteen he writes with more candor or even attention than he usually pays to his critics: I hear men say: ‘This Davies has no depth, He writes of birds, of staring cows and sheep, And throws no light on deep, eternal things’ – And would they have me talking in my sleep? I say: ‘Though many a man’s ideas of them Have made his name appear a shining star, Yet Life and Death, Time and Eternity, Are still left dark, to wonder what they are ‘And if I make men weigh this simple truth, It is on my own mind the light is thrown; I throw no light on that mysterious Four, And, like the great ones, nothing I make known.’ Yet I believe that there will come at last A mighty knowledge to our human lives: And blessed then will be the fools that laugh, Without the fear Imagination gives. Aye, even now, when I sit here alone, I feel the breath of that strange terror near; But as my mind has not sufficient strength To give it shape or form of any kind, I turn to things I know, and banish fear. (294-5)

The most interesting turn here, and even perhaps an anti-Romantic moment for Davies, is the condemnation of “Imagination” in stanza seventeen as the source of fear. It is the fools that will ultimately be blessed by their “mighty knowledge”. What that is, Davies does not make clear. In stanza nineteen he implies that all human effort ends in the grave, a theme that recurred more often in his poetry as he grew older, tended by a young wife. But the final line of stanza eighteen quoted above is probably about as close to a credo as he will get. “I turn to things I know, and banish fear.” Thus there never really is a ‘soaring’ William Henry Davies as much as a soaring William Wordsworth because he finds himself unable to wrestle with these terrifying mysteries beyond simply portraying them and raising questions about them. As already mentioned, the poetry of his final years increasingly contemplates death. Rarely there


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is a blithe poem stating something like faith in the Christian afterlife, but for the most part, Davies turned his back on the Calvinistic Christianity of the Welsh chapel and never really looked back. There are glimmers of a return to faith, as in the short poem, “Trust”: Once I was wise when, in my Youth, I went my way alone; Before this world betrayed my trust, And turned my heart to stone. Or is it all in God’s good time, In keeping with His plans— That I may put more trust in Him, The more I lose in Man? (497)

But if this is a return to faith, it is by the road of cynicism. Occasionally his cheerful faith in Nature, so stoutly maintained, will crack a bit, as in “When We Forget”: When we forget that Nature gives No other home to lovers than The haunted house of Death— Let us then call our love immortal, Nor think we waste our breath. But Love, still looking for a place To lean her head against, and sing, Should never have her childish brain Vexed by a thought so cold and grave, To turn her joy to pain. (457)

This lacks the sort of cheerful tone that turns its back on death and darkness. It is almost a confession that he is shielding ‘love’, which gives the strained cheer and unconvincing tone to much of his poetry. Davies’ most convincing voice is when he, a man who had seen so much poverty, witnessed indifference in the upper classes. One of his most powerful and devastating poems, laced with bitter irony, is “Whom I Know”. The first two stanzas are clearly the most arresting: I do not know his grace the Duke, Outside whose gilded walls there died Of want a feeble, poor old man, With but his shadow at his side. I do not know his Lady fair, Who in a bath of milk doth lie; More milk than could feed fifty babes,

William Henry Davies


That for the want of it must die. (577)

Here is a power not found often enough in the poetry of William Henry Davies. It is a rare moment when he finds an unstrained, authentic voice, and the evasive philosophy of the super-tramp is replaced by the fury of the abused, impoverished super-tramp. Davies in his poetry never strays too far from his wandering self of his early years. And though he spent little time there as an adult, perhaps because he was uncomfortable with his mother’s second family, in the poem, “A Familiar Voice” the reader discovers that perhaps it is not too much of a strain to label Davies an ‘Anglo-Welsh’ poet. For Wales remained in his blood. Ah, what fond memories that voice doth bring! Even to strangers sweet: no others sing Their common speech, like men of Cambria’s race; How much more sweet to me then was that voice! It filled me with sweet memories; as when I heard one hum the March of Harlech Men, Dying five thousand miles from home! . . . (528)

This attachment to place is rare for Davies, who moved several times and never quite established a permanent base, even after marriage. It is probably the last thing wherein he echoes Wordsworth: as Wordsworth spent many of his early years wandering and, even after establishing his home in Grasmere, traveled until his last years. Davies here too, if for a moment quickly forgotten, yearns for a home in the mountains of western Britain. And in so doing, these poems strike a chord of restlessness in the restless reader all this time later—always journeying outward and paradoxically, always looking for home.


I was fortunate to be able to interview Leslie Norris and put the question of Wordsworth’s influence to him directly.15 Norris followed this up with a letter further explaining his perception of Wordsworthian influence.17 And finally, I was able to interview Norris in person at his home in Orem, Utah. In the letter, Norris denied any great influence by Wordsworth, though he mentioned a great many parallels, what he calls “an affinity, or perhaps a considerable similarity of experience and temperament, which I can recognise”. I propose to explore those points at which Norris sees affinities. Norris’ first response was that Wordsworth and other Romantic poets were the poets that were principally read in Welsh schools. In the letter he writes, “At school our anthology was the well-known Mount Helicon,16 heavily flavoured with Romantic poems (nothing earlier than W[ordsworth], and Coleridge, in fact) so that my young idea of poetry was obviously based on this experience”. Yet, Norris is careful to note that “Keats was my favourite poet for years when I was young, and I still think him much better than W[ordsworth].” In the interview he adds that poets of his day, “. . . thought of nature as the required milieu for poetry”. This point has implications for this study that reach beyond the consideration of Wordsworth’s influence on Norris. Norris was educated in south Wales schools in-between the wars. The predominance of Romantic poets in the curriculum in Welsh schools may account, as Norris feels, in part, for those many writers influenced by the Romantics. Norris states of Wordsworthian influence in the first telephone interview: I don’t know that it’s more really than the general fact that Romantic feeling poets were heavily influential on the Welsh writers in English, and in Welsh as a matter of fact. . . . I think the obvious correspondence of feeling between the Lake District and Wales, and Wordsworth’s great awareness of Wales, as a matter of fact, probably means that that kind of


Chapter Seven feeling influenced us greatly. I’m not so sure that his poetry influenced me very much, but it may have influenced my attitude to poetry.

In the later, personal interview, Norris attributed the Welsh influence on Wordsworth to Henry Vaughan’s influence on Wordsworth. Yet, there is great affinity in Wordsworth and Norris’ poetry and to some degree their world views. Norris acknowledges this in his letter: But there is an affinity, or perhaps a considerable similarity of experience and temperament, which I can recognise. Both Wordsworth and I are hill boys, brought up in very similar environments of open mountains, lakes, rivers. Both, for different reasons, see the natural world as the moral, perhaps even “religious” landscape, and the industrial world as one in which men walk at their peril, both temporal and eternal. (I moved from the natural world through slum dwellings and the fallen ruins of the steelworks, in opposition, every day.) Both have used nature as a symbol of eternity, or accepted anyway the Platonic ideal that it stands as God’s promise and vision of eternity although in my case this is not as strong a premise as it is say for Vaughan and Vernon Watkins. (Wordsworth recognised the resemblance between the Welsh and Lake District landscapes. Staying with his friend Robert Jones for significant periods in North Wales, he knew Wales well. Although when young he naturally preferred the lake district [sic], he later changed his mind.) It is my boyhood preference for the natural world which means that Keats has not influenced me, since he did not share such a preference. And it is because Edward Thomas sees the world in much the same way as I that has caused his work to be recognisable in mine.

Norris’ interpretation is one of feeling, as well as image and character as this study will show. Though Norris is not drawn to Wordsworth the man, he does find affinity in the connection Norris makes between the concept of landscape and the world view of both himself and Wordsworth. Norris also admits in his letter to focusing his writing on what Wordsworth has called “spots of time”. Of this he was aware at least some years before. In an interview published in An Open World, dated 9 October, 1991, between Stan Sanvel Rubin, Bruce Bennett and Norris, (England 1994, 14) Norris tells his interviewers of his short story writing that, “I never have believed in explaining anything in my stories. I put it down as it happens. And now, I don't connect my Wordsworthian 'spots of time'. I leave them as they are, and I leave the connecting to the reader”. Before delineating the Wordsworthian affinities in Norris’ work, it will clarify matters to compare the sense in which Norris uses the term

Leslie Norris


“spots of time” with Wordsworth’s own definition. In book twelve of The Prelude Wordsworth writes: There are in our existence spots of time, That with distinct pre-eminence retain A renovating virtue, whence, depressed By false opinion and contentious thought Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight, In trivial occupations, and the round Of ordinary intercourse, our minds Are nourished and invisibly repaired; A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced, That penetrates, enables us to mount, When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen. This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks Among those passages of life that give Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how, The mind is lord and master—outward sense The obedient servant of her will. Such moments Are scattered everywhere, taking their date From our first childhood. (Wordsworth 1979, 12.208-25)

For Wordsworth then, these spots of time have a spiritually medicinal value. They are marked by some form of adversity, some, “By false opinion and contentious thought/ Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,/ In trivial occupations, and the round/ Of ordinary intercourse”. Yet, despite these negative influences, these spots of time are the medicine by which “our minds/Are nourished and invisibly repaired”. Thereafter, the spots of time that Wordsworth specifically cites are the episode of seeing the place where the murderer had been gibbeted, the episode of seeing the girl with the pitcher on her head walking against the wind, and the episode of waiting for horses that concludes with God correcting his desires. Holding these up against the poetry and stories of Norris, it is possible to apply this definition to a great deal of Norris’ work. However, Norris is not being very strict in his definition of spots of time. For Norris they are moments that strike him with extraordinary vividness, and strike him with a sense of significance, even though he could probably not explain that significance. And as he says in the quotation above, he does not try to explain them. He is not inclined to be analytical about them at all. They might be better described as Joycean epiphanies, moments of sudden and vivid realization of some great truth that one cannot fully grasp with the conscious mind. Granted, there is room for overlap between the Joycean


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concept of the epiphany and the Wordsworthian concept of spots of time. I will define the spot of time as an epiphany that does more than inform with sudden realization. It also, in its inherent adversity, causes a “A renovating virtue” in the person who experiences it. Though there is adversity in some of Norris’ spots of time, it is not the integral ingredient it is in Wordsworth’s concept. Though Norris is primarily a poet like Wordsworth, his short stories, probably by virtue of their more complete development, fit this latter definition better than most of the poetry. I propose to use Norris’ points of affinities and illustrate each with similarities to Wordsworth’s work from both the poems and the short stories. In each, I will highlight those poems and stories that qualify as spots of time by Wordsworth’s definition.

The Attachment to the Land and the Spiritual View of Landscape As is common to the work of R.S. Thomas, there is, in Norris’, work a sense of connection to the land, a trait which they both share with Wordsworth. Norris’ first statement, as cited above in the first interview, that “Both Wordsworth and I are hill boys, brought up in very similar environments of open mountains, lakes, rivers”, illuminates the similarity between the Lake District and Wales, and “that kind of feeling” that he mentions above. Indeed, Wales and Cumbria are geographically different from the rest of the southern half of Britain due to the high bare ridges (“fells” in the Lake District) that typically divide the land into a series of dramatically marked valleys. The rolling, open countryside so typical of the rest of England is split and encapsulated by the fells of both Cumbria and Wales. Both Cumbria and Wales receive the first weather that comes off the Irish Sea before it goes inland to the central part of England, causing a similarity in rainfall that most likely tends to a similarity in flora. There are also other, historical connections of Cumbria to Wales, as last strongholds of the Roman Britons against the Saxon invasion. The name Cumbria, after all, comes from the same source as the name “Cambria”, the alternative name for Wales. However, this similarity of “feeling”, whether it is drawn from land features or not, is ultimately too subjective to establish here. Norris, in any case, feels a similarity. Wordsworth was quite fond of Wales and spent much time there. But the significance of the historical links is limited in comparison to the significance of the strength of the feeling for Wales in poets like R.S.

Leslie Norris


Thomas, and Norris, that so parallels Wordsworth’s feeling for the Lake District. This connectedness to landscape results in a reverence for landscape, and in Norris and Wordsworth, a spiritual view of landscape. Moreover, Norris, like Wordsworth, is concerned with simple, common people set against the landscape they live in. This is certainly not unique to any twentieth century writer, but Norris is occasionally capable of the characterization of the ‘holy’ eccentric character that by his or her oddity lives at the margins of society or perhaps sanity and yet somehow embraces a pure and meaningful life. This probably brings us as close as possible to a definition of what Norris means when he says that both he and Wordsworth “see the natural world as the moral, perhaps even ‘religious’ landscape . . .”. For Wordsworth nature is a restorer and purifier. It distinctly serves as a moral compass, and furthermore an indicator of the truer, deeper nature of supernatural reality, what Norris refers to as “religious”. Norris is perhaps less certain of that supernatural reality, but like Wordsworth, he is willing to look for it, if anywhere, in the natural world around him. Thus he adds, “ . . . the industrial world [is] one in which men walk at their peril, both temporal and eternal. . . . Both [Wordsworth and I] have used nature as a symbol of eternity, or accepted anyway the Platonic ideal that it stands as God’s promise and vision of eternity”. If both Wordsworth and Norris are viewing eternity, they start much smaller, in their immediate natural surroundings. The secrets of eternity are found not in books of philosophy, but in the lessons nature has to teach. For Wordsworth, this could be the lesson about how carelessness and destructiveness are self-betraying in his poem “Nutting”, where the boy discovers that his aggressive harvesting of hazel nuts has seriously damaged the trees themselves, and that there “is a spirit in the woods” which he has offended with his ravaging of the trees. The spots of time are inherently lessons also, lessons by which the person who experiences them must go through some pain and difficulty of a mental nature. Note Wordsworth’s description of them as “. . . false opinion and contentious thought/ Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,/ In trivial occupations, and the round/ Of ordinary intercourse,”. It is our minds that are invisibly repaired, for it is our minds that are damaged. For Wordsworth and Norris, it is not enough to see, but one must see what is needed to repair the mind invisibly. Perhaps the story that portrays Norris’ thinking most clearly is his story “The Seeing Eye”. In this story the narrator is straining to see what is around him through a series of seemingly unrelated incidents. All around the narrator are people who seem to see better than he does. First,


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his wife sees that he has grown too old to play soccer. From this, the narrator extrapolates that perhaps he has grown too old to become a good writer. Then he is reminded of a young writer he knows named ‘Tom Bridge’, whose work is stunningly vivid, and there is a certain jealousy in the narrator’s tone as he is describing Bridge. Thereafter, Norris’ narrator spots a little pond near the railroad tracks. He is drawn to the edenic isolation of this unknown pond and asks a local wanderer how it might be reached. The local man, “Chinner Mason”, is a Wordsworthian sort of character: a simple countryman whose wisdom is drawn from his “seeing eye” and all the things he has seen in his years of wandering. He is of the same breed as Wordsworth’s wandering discharged soldiers and wandering sages, a citizen of the “Republic of Shepherds”. His knowledge is gained firsthand in his travels. And when Norris’ narrator attempts to acquire some of that knowledge, Chinner grows evasive and finally advises him, “ . . . to find your own way to places. Then you don’t ever forget. You know every leaf of the way, every stone, every blade of grass. Find the way for yourself and keep your eyes open”. (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 235) The remaining characters that Norris’ narrator encounters echo the lesson. Showing that age has nothing to do with ability to see, the narrator describes a boy, John Digby, who can locate almost invisible ducks’ nests and see the variations on the surface of the sea the way that most people know their front rooms. The narrator also encounters a dock manager who looks him over for three days before deciding to do business with him, and later re-encounters a silent, observant Tom Bridge, who cannot enjoy a party because he is too busy observing it. In a final irony, Bridge praises the narrator’s writing, which makes one distrust the accuracy of the narrator’s self-assessment, and underlines the feelings of failure and inadequacy that often accompany advancing age, a common theme in Norris’ work. Ultimately, overshadowing much of Norris’ work is this constant theme of looming mortality set in contrast to the joy of living in a naturally beautiful world. Here he differs from Wordsworth, who maintains, at least after 1802, a positive concept of an afterlife. For Norris, the question seems unanswered. In “The Seeing Eye”, the narrator begins the story by performing some species of funeral rite for his soccer shoes, which, in fact, are funeral rites for his own life and youth. Critic Bruce Bennett refers to these scenes as Norris’ “intimations of mortality”, in contrast to Wordsworth's intimations of the opposite. (England 1994, 113) Other stories which share this light and dark contrast most notably are “The Wind, the Cold Wind” and “The Kingfisher”. In both stories, a young boy is made painfully aware of death and must in some sense leave

Leslie Norris


his childhood behind and lift the adult burden of the knowledge of death. In “The Wind, the Cold Wind”, (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 173) the boy discovers that his friend, who was with him moments before, has been run over in the street and the boy must come to terms with this knowledge. In “The Kingfisher”, (151) the boy, James, must nurse his father through a realization of death using humor, and hiding the small death of a bird that symbolizes his father’s death. More than that, the dead bird, a kingfisher, is a meld of both death and of the brilliant life and beauty that is in nature. Norris seems puzzled by death, but he will not allow himself to conclude that the beauty of this world is therefore a lie and a cheat, as shall be apparent in a cross section of his work. The other theme in “The Seeing Eye” that recurs in Norris is the value of sight that is more than looking, which is, in fact, insight. Or perhaps, if I may coin a word, ‘ex-sight’, for this insight is gained in turning outward and learning to see the natural world around us truly. Tony Curtis has remarked on Norris’ constant use of birds in his poems and stories, especially herons and hawks. (England 169) Birds are the sharpest eyed of animals, and of all the animal kingdom, the most dependent on their sight for survival. And the seeing eye always, like a bird, sees landscape, or perhaps sea, and draws understanding from it. Thus John Digby reads the marshes and the sea, and Chinner Mason encourages Norris’ narrator to “. . . know every leaf of the way, every stone, every blade of grass. Find the way for yourself and keep your eyes open.” For Norris, to see is wisdom. And it is, as in Wordsworth, the simple man, the country-man, free from the “industrial world . . . in which men walk at their peril, both temporal and eternal”, that sees. The prime example of a character walking in this temporal and eternal peril from the fiction is the narrator of the story “Cocksfoot, Crested Dog’s-Tail, Sweet Vernal Grass”. (20) This young man’s father dies at age forty-two, and this catastrophe sends the narrator into a life of rootless wandering. He goes to work for the railroad, abandoning his family, but the lovelessness of the family caring for him sends him on through a series of other experiences. He works in an accounting firm but must ditch that job when he is caught embezzling. He joins the army under an assumed name and later prospers in business. Sitting in his wealthy state at the end, contemplating whether he should go back to his home, he decides against it. But he cannot burn out of his memory the death of his father and the grasses he learned to name by heart as a child. This narrator, like so many Norris protagonists, without a name, has lost his ability to see, and also he has lost something else that Norris values: he has lost his roots.


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Loss of roots, connected to loss of vision, is also a common theme in Norris. Norris, like Wordsworth, values rootedness. But whereas Wordsworth found Grasmere Vale and stayed there, or very close by, for the rest of his days, Norris divided his time between England, Wales and Utah in the United States. In Norris’ work, many characters struggle with a similar sort of rootlessness. The protagonist, Rhodri, in Norris’ story, “The Holm Oak”, (242) is driving across Wales with his wife Elizabeth, on a visit to his boyhood home from the United States where they are now living. Rhodri is visited by his father’s old friend, Phil Rees, who angers Rhodri by telling him that he should sell his father’s land and let some young family work the farm. Rhodri is unable even to consider such a project as he inspects his father’s favorite oak, an evergreen, holm oak that with “. . . the great claws of its roots, grasp[s] the land he had always thought his own.” (249) The oak is, by contrast, a potent symbol of Rhodri’s own rootedness. Other Norris stories which show the folly of ‘up-rootedness’ allow the reader to speculate that for his own good Rhodri cannot and must not listen to Phil Rees and give up the land. But though a person with a properly seeing eye may be well rooted, Norris is aware that the land may call to us from afar. As the narrator in “The Seeing Eye” is compelled to find the pond which he never can find, elsewhere in Norris’ work, characters are drawn to a distant view, to wander and look for something that lies deeper than our roots, or may perhaps be the source of our sense of rootedness. And, as in Wordsworth, it is the child’s vision that is purest in this regard. Often a poem and a story of Norris’ are paired in theme. Norris’ poem, “Water,” (Norris, Collected Poems 1996, 60) and his story, “The Waxwings,” (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 7) are probably the most apparent pairing. Both involve a child looking toward the mountains with longing. The child here sees clearly, and thus holds a kind of wisdom. In “The Waxwings”, the narrator, a seven year old boy named Alwyn, plots to go “out of bounds” (Norris, Collected Poems 1996, 8) and run up to the mountain he can see from his home, resembling the boy in “Water” who sees the mountain from his home and watches the other boys go to it. Alwyn manages to escape his mother’s set boundaries and go. The experience is breathtaking for the boy. Near the top of the mountain he encounters a young man walking a greyhound. After birds, greyhound dogs are probably the most common symbolic animal in Norris’ stories and poems. They are a symbol of pure animal power and freedom. The Norris story, “Lurchers,” (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 217) is entirely dedicated to the exploration of the free and glorious nature of the greyhound ‘lurcher’, an animal that can be found in Welsh literature as far

Leslie Norris


back as the Mabinogion, accompanying Cwlhwch. Alwyn, in a bit of dramatic irony, is conned by the young man to walk the greyhound up and back a few times. But for Alwyn the experience represents almost a magical encounter. The young man tells Alwyn that the stream the dog is wading in has healing properties, and that the dog was lame when he brought him. Alwyn, being only seven and quite innocent, believes the man and so participates in what to him is a magical healing in walking the “recovered” greyhound. Finally, Alwyn reaches a grove of trees near the top of the mountain where he encounters a flock of waxwings surging through the branches, eating berries. The experience is overpoweringly beautiful for him. He feels that somehow he can touch the birds flying over him. After this, he returns home to his worried mother, who doesn’t really scold him. For Norris, the child’s experience is unmitigated good, because the child can find pleasure in simple things an older person would take for granted, such as the opportunity to walk a dog and the sight of a flight of birds. As for Wordsworth, the young child is “nature’s priest” in that he can enjoy the glory of nature, worship, in a sense, without the more mature, more cynical vision of the adult. In the poem, “Water”, the speaker is a child who, with his aunt, puts out pitchers of water and glasses on the wall for older children who are hiking up to the higher country. Of their goal, the speaker says, “Their eyes were full of the mountain, . . . .” They are going to an “ . . . open world, too high and clear/ For clouds even, . . . / And the enormous experience of the mountain.”(Norris Collected Poems 1996, 60) The mountain here, for the speaker, has a spiritual quality. It is something longed for, an undiscovered country beyond the boundaries of the normal world that the speaker aspires to as he watches the travelers journey upward and later return. Yet, there is irony in the description of the travelers. They are burdened by their journey, on the way up “Drinking water with an engrossed thirst” and downward “They would drink tiredly at our wall, talking/ Softly, leaning, their sleepy faces warm for home”. This paradise is not easily gained, nor can one stay there, as it is not home for R.S. Thomas. Ultimately, in Norris’ vision, one has, through nature, intimations of this undiscovered country, but one cannot permanently enter there. The “undiscovered country” that is far more present in Norris’ work, and that not only can, but must be entered, is Hamlet’s undiscovered country of death and loss. Attachment to the land, rootedness, rootlessness, and loss all prominently figure in Norris’ story “A Roman Spring”. (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 107) The paired poem is “A Sense of History”. (Norris, Collected Poems 1996, 35) The narrator in the story is visiting his Welsh


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land, a place he goes to for salmon fishing. On his land is an older house that once belonged to a Welsh family that had struggled to succeed on the land. The house is named ‘Hebron’, and its existence stands in contrast to the transient nature of the way the narrator holds the land, as a sometime resort for fishing. As is true in many Norris stories, there is not so much the development of a traditional story line of rising action as a juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events and images that each illuminate when held up against another. Though this may not entirely fit Wordsworth’s definition of spots of time, it is what Norris means by the term. For Norris, the conglomeration of these images amounts to an acquiring of wisdom, and perhaps even the mental healing that Wordsworth envisions. The narrator finds a complacent pleasure in the falling-down house he owns, called “Hebron.” However, that pleasure is ruined when he discovers a young couple ravaging the house for usable tiles and cupboards. His sense of ownership is outraged and yet he had no intention of maintaining the house, but rather in romantically watching it decay. His outrage is based on his need to feel rooted to the land with the old house, as if he had grown up there. But, of course, this is purely illusion. He has no roots at all in the land he owns. This un-rootedness is then reinforced when he goes to meet his neighbor, a man with the very Welsh name of Denzil Davies, who is rooted in the land. Davies seems unmoved by the narrator’s complaints that the young people have been stripping the abandoned house on the narrator’s property. Instead, he shows the narrator an old Roman fort on the property, as if to show the narrator what rootedness really is. In the final coup de grace, the narrator discovers an old man on his property, looking over the abandoned house, Hebron. The man offers to buy the house but the narrator won’t discuss selling it. The old man in fact grew up in the house and, in terms of rootedness, has far more right to the house than the narrator who owns it but takes no care of it. When the old man has gone, in final irony, the narrator discovers a spring on the property that dates from Roman times that even the old man didn’t know about. But he chooses to cover it up; the discovery does not bond him to the land anymore than he was before, and ultimately he remains an absentee owner who comes for fishing once a year, maintaining his illusion of Welsh roots. But even if the effort proves vain, with Wordsworth, Norris finds this search for roots worthwhile and valid. Moreover, as Norris said in the quotation above, he sees “. . . the natural world as the moral, perhaps even “religious” landscape, . . ” and that both he and Wordsworth “. . . have used nature as a symbol of eternity, or accepted anyway the Platonic ideal that it stands as God’s promise and vision of eternity . . . .” So the search for

Leslie Norris


roots is more than a simple search for a piece of land, it is the search, in a platonic sense for the spiritual realities that underlie the land, nature being a transcendental “symbol of eternity,” of something more real which cannot be grasped in its abstract form. With this quotation, it would be easy to interpret Norris as a neo-Platonist here. The reference is vague. What is being transcended? And if it is nature that is being transcended, is it God then on the other side? In the later interview in person with Leslie Norris, he denied this neo-platonic interpretation. So, the reference is intentionally vague. Like Wordsworth, or at least the earlier Wordsworth, Norris senses in nature this “symbol of eternity” but prefers to leave the interpretation of this impression vague. It amounts to a sort of Romantic agnosticism, a refusal to draw theological or philosophical conclusions from experiences of beauty in nature. Thus Norris feels nature is a symbol of eternity, but he does not pretend to know how or in what sense. If he leaves us questioning it is because he is a questioner himself and has no answers to offer. In the paired poem, “A Sense of History”, one gets this same feeling from the text. The speaker in the poem is “Walking at random over the mountainous moorland / . . . At the bitter end of a swept and solitary day”. He is “Perched without purpose upon a mountain summit”. Nature here is not enough for this speaker. The transcendental echoes of eternity will not come as easily for this speaker from pure, unadulterated nature as they did to Wordsworth. However, the speaker happens upon an ancient stone circle. He begins to ask questions of himself about the ancient men who built this ring of stones. His reaction is automatic, even primitive. I only know that I was suddenly kneeling – While over me flew the torn, unheeding froth – And plugging with scales the stone the wave-worn gaps, Ten frozen fingers against the loud storm’s tooth Then heading homeward through the embracing marshland, I faithfully found with quick and unearned skill The hidden paths that lead to the acquired valley, Quite dry and hidden, away from wind, lake, hill.

The speaker is lost and windblown in the storm until he discovers the stone ring. Thereafter he is granted a sort of grace that allows him to find the desirable shelter with “unearned skill”. What the ring of standing stones may symbolize is debatable, but they certainly are the ‘portal’ through which Norris’ speaker must pass in awe in order acquire the “. . . valley,/ Quite dry and hidden, away from the wind, lake, hill”. They are ultimate rootedness, standing on the land for centuries after those who


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erected them are lost to all memory. It is not so much that Norris’ speaker is battered by a cruel nature, but rather that he is in opposition to nature until the experience with the “stones of rootedness”, as it were, somehow grants him the grace to find his way to a valley where he may be at home in a friendlier manifestation of nature. The principal difference between the narrator of the story and the narrator of the poem is that in finding the Roman spring and then covering it up, the narrator refuses the ancient rootedness and remains a transient. Covering up the well negates all possibility that anyone might find new life on this land, which the availability of water promises. The narrator is closing himself to the experience. The poem’s narrator allows himself to experience the ancient standing stones, and finds his way home with “unearned skill”. Probably Norris’ plainest statement on Wordsworth is in the story titled “Sing it Again, Wordsworth”. The narrator in this story is clearly a rootless Norris character. He recounts a series of moves and places he's lived in, from the Dysynni Valley in Wales to Seattle, which prompts his recall of a conversation with a clerk there while purchasing a fishing license. “Are you an alien?” asked the sad, middle-aged lady as she opened her book of licences. I was astonished and then ashamed. I had to admit I was an alien. . . . I went all over Washington State . . . but I was still an alien.” (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 143)

Later, after reciting a litany of Pacific Northwest places in which he could live, he concludes, “I’m deceiving myself, I know that. The . . . lady in the tackle shop [was] right; I’m an outsider and an alien. I have this insatiable thirst for other places. I cannot remain at peace for long in one place.” (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 144) The narrator then tells of a midnight ramble through unfamiliar roads in eastern Wales that terminates at Tintern Abbey. The experience rejuvenates the tired narrator in the windswept night. He celebrates: “I danced a little soft-shoe shuffle at the side of the road, in honour of William Wordsworth.” (145) As with the standing stones, the encounter with the abbey ruins in the wild night somehow purifies the narrator, and he makes his way home to bed shortly thereafter. The tone here is very reminiscent of Wordsworth’s taking stock of his small world of Esthwaite Vale in Book IV of The Prelude and discovering himself to be home in what seems familiar yet alien with the change of one year.

Leslie Norris


The rambling early part of the story is set then against another narrative detailing the narrator's friendship with a college mate, Arthur Marshalsea. After detailing the warmth of the friendship, the narrator finds that Marshalsea has suffered some sort of viral attack to his brain that has put him in a coma, and subsequently has left him as helpless as a child. The narrator determines to visit the recovering Marshalsea and wonders where his friend really was while in a coma. Where was he then? He must have been away somewhere in some solitary darkness, weightless, without senses. I imagine him moving on some dark beach, so lightly he does not disturb a grain of sand. He can feel nothing. I should like to know where he was then. I am consumed with curious pity for Arthur Marshalsea, his useless legs, his halting speech. I see in him a terrible general fate about which we shall know very little. The still, sad music of humanity . . . wasn't it? Sing it again, Wordsworth. (150)

This internal monologue that ends with Wordsworth’s words connects the rootlessness of the narrator with the undiscovered country of death. And yet, after leaving Tintern Abbey, Norris’ narrator safely arrives home to bed. Wordsworth, like Norris, is frequently concerned with the inexplicable mystery of human suffering, but Wordsworth is more certain that one will grow from it and that the joy of creation is a larger fact. Wordsworth’s Preacher and Wanderer in The Excursion spend many lines wrestling with this mystery. Norris seems to sense something behind the mystery, and perhaps that is why he cites Wordsworth here in the story, but he leaves us less certain, and satisfied with something more humble like making it home to bed on a stormy night. About this “terrible general fate,” he admits he knows “very little”. Wordsworth shows far more confidence in the person who transcends nature when he speaks of a time “When . . . the mind experienced in herself/ Conformity as just as that of old/ To the end and written spirit of God’s works,/ Whether held forth in Nature or in Man”. (Excursion 4.348-52) This is a more specific statement, which seems Platonic, though like Norris, Wordsworth is just as inclined to be undefined about his beliefs on the existence of a supernature and the life of the world to come. Though Norris admittedly knows very little about the eternal fate of humankind, he continues to explore this junction between the mystery of death and “. . . nature as a symbol of eternity, or accepted anyway [as] the Platonic ideal . . . as God’s promise and vision of eternity”. He probably becomes most specific about the mystery in poems like “Now the House Sleeps” (Poems 63) and “The Hawk Climbs”. (175) “Now the House Sleeps” is a complex poem about the speaker taking an early morning

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walk. Once again Norris returns to the theme of seeing, for he writes in the second stanza: Of winter dawn. I contemplate The wealth of day that has to wait The recognition of my eye. Reality is what we see, Or what my senses all achieve; What they believe, so I believe.

The poem then continues with a very rich description of what the walking speaker sees. At first this appears to be a statement of empiricism, but as the poem progresses, this is not so. In the fourth stanza the speaker says, “ . . . Closing the door,/ I leave the white fields desert for/ The loss of my descriptive eye”. The fifth stanza turns the meaning further in this different direction, for in it Norris’ speaker admits: And yet, although my sight must stop At the solid wall, a world builds up, Feature by feature, root by root, The soft advance of fields, daylight Reaching west in the turn of life, Personal, created word, half Ignorant, half understood. And I Complete from faulty memory And partial complexities of sense Those images of experience That make approximate rivers move Through the wrong world in which I live

The world is wrong in part because his ‘eye’ creates a personal world “half/ Ignorant, half understood” and made of “faulty memories”. The full import of this confession is hard to discern, but it is clear that Norris’ speaker identifies himself more with the noisy human world severed from nature than of that “perfect world” of the final stanzas. Of it he writes: Yet all Are Plato’s shadows on the wall, Noises drifting among shadows, Shadows dying among echoes, While clear eternities of light Shine somewhere on a perfect world We cannot know. My shadowed field Lies in its flawed morning, and dirt

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Falls in the slow ditches. Sunrise, And the house wakes among its trees.

Instead of an empirical world, Norris is giving us a platonic world, in which the world humanity lives in is but shadows, “While clear eternities of light/ Shine somewhere on a perfect world/ We cannot know.” This idea is echoed in “The Hawk Climbs”, one of a series of later poems in which Norris focuses on the central image of the hawk and what the hawk sees. Once again, the sharp, in this case predatory, eye of the hawk provides a vision, which is wisdom. Norris’ speaker “look[s] through the hawk’s lens/ for an essence I guess at,/ the place where his circling ends/ and nothing turns into the dark.” Then the speaker asks: But where are the lean young men who live for ever? How far are the fields where broken ponies run, their legs made whole? Where is that green country which put an end to time? Until that land is found I search with the hawk’s eye. (175-6)

Leslie Norris may have no specific answers about eternity to put into the mouths of the characters in his poems, as Wordsworth did, but he is drawn to believe that there is a place beyond the shadows, “that green/ country which put an end to time”. And of course, all this echoes Book XIII of The Prelude where Wordsworth writes: Thus moderated, thus composed, I found Once more in Man an object of delight, Of pure imagination, and of love; And, as the horizon of my mind enlarged, Again I took the intellectual eye For my instructor, studious more to see Great truths, than touch and handle the little ones. (Wordsworth 1979, 13.4852)

Yet, as to the question of the value of the land to the poet, these almost platonic supposals on Norris’ part do not replace rootedness. It may well be that being drawn to the land has a platonic meaning that transcends land, but in Norris’ work, much like Wordsworth’s, the land is there for us to be attached to. Nature may prove in the end to have been, for


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humankind, a cosmic metaphor, but she is the metaphor common people speak daily, and in both Wordsworth and Norris, to slight her is to fall out of spiritual alignment with the cosmos. Here Norris aligns himself with Wordsworth in fearing, “. . . the industrial world as one in which men walk at their peril, both temporal and eternal. (I moved from the natural world through slum dwellings and the fallen ruins of the steelworks, in opposition, every day.)” And yet Norris is wary of being totally neoplatonic in his philosophy. In the later, personal interview Norris agreed that he was not a neo-Platonist like Lewis, Tolkien and Williams. “I am a writer of this world”. In his poem “Concrete”, (47) Norris closely inspects the substance named in the poem, starting off by praising its permanence. But the praise is ultimately ironic. Norris’ final stanza celebrates the impermanence of humankind’s ‘permanent’ works such as concrete. The speaker observes four sparrows fly to a set of concrete columns and muses: I saw Their moulded buttresses as trees. Fond birds, are you wrong to roost on concrete? Men fashion its pillared strength, earthquakes Can scatter it. Small grass can even pierce it.

Nature here is ultimately victorious over humanity’s works. Or, if one does submit to being ‘un-rooted’, one risks self destruction. In the story “Three Shots for Charley Betson” (Norris, Collected Stories 1996, 63) the narrator is a neighbor newly moved into a village. There he meets essentially two people: his neighbor, Bill Francis, who represents an older, well-rooted Welshman who knows what is happening in the community and whose life is essentially balanced in a way that the narrator admires. The second significant person is the title character, young Charlie Betson, who is also a rooted Welshman, from a large “tribe” of what Bill Francis thinks of as a no-account, indecent family. Yet, despite the family’s role as the village pariahs, Charlie Betson turns out very decently in the narrator’s eyes. Thus, when Charlie moves away after marrying, the narrator worries for him, sensing that away from the Betson homestead, Charlie will somehow lose his necessary tie to the land. Charlie late in the story admits to the narrator: ‘You don’t know what it’s like,’ he said, ‘living somewhere else. Do you know who lives next door to me? Gypsies, that’s who. And it’s the same everywhere, all strangers. Down here, it’s quieter and I know everybody. My family, and that. It’s nicer.’ (71-2)

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Indeed, by the end of the story, the narrator learns that Charlie has disappeared, and using his intuition, finds Charlie’s body in the wood, shotgun pointed at his bloody chest. The narrator, in an act of friendship, makes the suicide appear to be an accident, but at the wake, Charlie’s mother reveals that she knows that he concealed the suicide. She sums up the problem with Charlie, ‘He was a good boy,’ she said, ‘but he was lost. He needed safety. All my boys need safety, like their father before them. . . . ‘I knew he was going lost,’ said Mrs Betson. ‘I knew Charlie was going lost when he started coming over here every morning, six o’clock, five o’clock. . . .’ (74)

The narrator sums it up himself saying, “And all day I’ve sat here in the garden thinking of the handsome Betson men, golden as Vikings, walking safe in the little world of our one street and its handful of fields. I thought of Charlie, who might be dead because he had left that simple and limited world for one where he had been forced to make decisions and live in a frightening freedom.” (74-5) This is somewhat reminiscent of the son in Wordsworth’s poem “Michael”, who is lost upon going to the city.

Wordsworthian Characterization in Norris’ Work Norris takes delight in characterizing rather ordinary people and cataloguing the joy and sorrows of their lives. In the letter, he admits, “Given . . . the fact that we [Norris and Wordsworth] are both convinced democrats, it follows that we use incidents and situations from common life”. Thus, like Wordsworth, Norris is interested in simple people and the little moments that profoundly affect the life of the common man and woman. And Norris’ common man and women are generally saddened at the loss of something they had in childhood. Adulthood in Norris’ work is inevitably a fall from childhood’s grace, echoing the progress, or perhaps I should say ‘regress’, traced in Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood” from the child as nature’s priest, such as in the boy in Norris’ story “Waxwings”, to the fallen or battered older person, often mourning some loss or losses. This shading of the human experience from light to dark is the literary chiaroscuro of Norris’ art, and reminiscent of Wordsworthian characterizations such as Margaret in “The Ruined Cottage”, or the distraught mother in “The Thorn”. One of the most striking of Norris’ poems, “The Ballad of Billy Rose,” (Poems 19) illustrates this principle. Many of Norris’ stories refer


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to boxing, a sport that apparently fascinated Norris when he was younger. Boxing, in Norris’ work, represents the darker side of humanity, barely made decent by the additions of rules and a sort of etiquette, as seen in the parallel story “A Big Night,” (Stories 47) where a young boy loses the fun of boxing after seeing a savage fight and then finding that his own fighting has become as savage. “The Ballad of Billy Rose”, from the early volume of poetry, The Loud Winter, is a striking formal poem in which Norris explores the violence of his own past love for boxing. Billy Rose is a vaunted boxer, “So brisk a fighter, so gallant, so precise!/ Trim as a tree he stood for the ceremonies.” But Billy Rose has no chance against the opponent he is matched with. Courage was not enough, Nor tight defence . . . Ripped across both his eyes was Rose, but we were tough And clapped him as they wrapped his blindness up In busy towels, applauded the wave He gave his executioners, cheered the brave Blind man as he cleared with a jaunty hop The top rope.

All this is brought back to Norris’ speaker in the poem when he is headed in to see a football match and he sees a blind beggar along the entranceway. The beggar is Billy Rose, and the shock of recognition forces the speaker to remember the fight in which Rose’s blinding occurred. The speaker gives Rose three pennies and rushes off, feeling that his pennies are a betrayal: Poor Billy Rose. God, he could fight Before my three sharp coins knocked out his sight.

The implication here is that fighters like Billy Rose risk their health and lives for the small money of spectators aching for violent entertainment. Norris’ “. . . frantic money, three treacherous pence—” alludes to the thirty pieces of silver with which Judas betrayed Christ. But what is Wordsworthian is the portrayal of the fighter Rose himself. He is almost childlike in his fight that turns out to be his ‘execution’, waving gallantly to the crowd, that has nothing for his blindness but congratulations on his bravery and small charity for the remaining years of his life. He is the betrayed vagrant of Wordsworth’s early poems, the tragic figure lost to society but having a childlike sense of endurance under tremendous hardship, as does Wordsworth’s leech-gatherer.

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Another echo of the leech-gatherer is in the character of “Drummer Evans”, in the poem of the same name. Evans is an eccentric old man who teaches the speaker drumming. The poem climaxes in a scene where Evans is being hauled off to “the Poorhouse”, but he does not do so quietly. Instead, he drums martial defiance, “Roll after roll of exact, reverberant challenge,/ The flames of history unfurled their names from my books,/ Agincourt, Malplaquet, Waterloo, Corunna”(72) refusing to be hauled off. He drums his defiance to the pity of women neighbors and “ . . . helpless, uniformed men . . .” alike. Norris’ poem “At Usk” (89) is highly reminiscent of Wordsworth’s poem “We Are Seven”. As in Wordsworth’s poem, there is the innocent child whose response to death somehow transcends all the fumbling and uncertainty with which the adult world faces the ultimate end. Here in Norris’ poem, on a flat gravestone, the speaker observes a live child carefully arranging “snowdrop and crocus” as an “offering” to the dead child beneath the slab. The living child does not mourn overlong. “She matched the flowers,/ placed them on the stone/ child with her red fingers,/ and then ran off to some/ warm house in the town.” Norris’ speaker reflects on this scene: Now on the stone a film of winter sap sticks the limp stalks, but it is the child at home that I think of as I walk quickly through God’s still acre. Her gifts delight me, and I am leaving Usk, moving towards the M4, clearly right to praise the living. (89-90)

Here again is another resolution of that tension which underlies both Wordsworth and Norris’ work: how is one to face death in such a naturally beautiful world and come away with a positive philosophy of living. In the poem “Siencyn ap Nicholas upon his Death Bed,” (39) Norris uses the final musings of a dying old man to paint a sweeping picture of his awe of the mystery of death and the way that awe is coupled with a full realization of the joy of life as well. For Norris, these two primary facts of life, which seem to be in opposition, are in fact subtly knitted. “Siencyn ap Nicholas upon his Death Bed” is Norris’ plainest statement on the right relation between these two apparent opposites. After indulging in some


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unkind thoughts about his mourners, standing outside waiting for him to die, Norris’ speaker, the old man Siencyn, falls into a reminiscence of his youth. In the next set of lines Siencyn remembers what Norris would call a ‘spot of time’: a defining and striking experience. In a hilltop experience with echoes of Wordsworth’s ‘spot of time’ episode from The Prelude of ‘waiting for horses’, Siencyn comes to an epiphany. Then, one evening, I felt myself taken, my legs not my own, afraid and shaken by an apprehension of power beyond all I could guess, to a path on the mountain where climbing through rowan and bracken— I see it all still—I came to a broken and absolute crest. In the world beneath the bright farms went to sleep, and the moon began in splendour her processional ceremony. This was how I was called to my craft. I knew from that moment that all must be seen and said, that words not mine would seem to be mine. I climbed the hill alone and left alone, yet all around me tree and beast and stone moved as I moved.

This is reminiscent of Book IV of The Prelude where Wordsworth writes: My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows Were then made for me; bond unknown to me Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly, A dedicated Spirit. On I walked In thankful blessedness, which yet survives. (4.333-8)

Siencyn sums up the beauty of his vague calling, which is poetry, and then asks, Is this not Heaven? Yes, it is mine. And therefore true. I was always one of Aristotle’s men for whom the ideal good is never pure abstraction. We make our images warm, human, looking on our own distortions kindly. (40)

Leslie Norris


Finally, Siencyn accepts, but does not embrace, death. “I’ll not welcome/ Death, except by way of courtesy./ I’ve loved the world too long. But let him come.” (41) This is Norris’ more modest, more vague, and more typically twentieth century appraisal of death, wherein he differs from Wordsworth’s sense that unless there is an eternity, life is unacceptably meaningless.

The Personal Interview: Norris’ Thoughts on Wordsworth In a second and face-to-face interview with Norris, I attempted to refine some of the concepts of influence explored in this chapter and further define the relationship between the poets. For Norris, Romanticism was the medium in which he grew up and even when he was exposed to the more nihilistic, modern poetry, he read it as a Romantic document. In fact, Norris still ‘reads’ life as a Romantic story, within certain balances. I proposed to him that he shared a Wordsworthian tendency to explore earthly sorrow and joy with a sense of balance, and most importantly, to avoid the ultimate nihilism and despair of so much writing since Hardy. Norris concurred: JP: The particular direction I want to go is this: I think the thing that comes out of Wordsworth that is in the late nineteenth century and especially into the twentieth century, you get writers following the school of Joyce and Lawrence that dominate the literary scene. And Wordsworth goes another direction. In fact, writers like these probably found it fashionable to bash Wordsworth. All of them are looking at what might be called the problem of human suffering. And Wordsworth looks at this problem and comes away with a positive answer; he finds a balance, whereas the writers of the twentieth century view this same problem in a much darker way. Often they view the world in a nihilistic, or at least an existentialistic way. What I see in your work is that, with Wordsworth, you find a balance between the existence of the pain and the joy of living. You steer clear of nihilism. Am I anywhere near the mark? LN: I think you are. I think that I have a curious attitude towards Wordsworth. My field of expertise and my academic area (I have the paper to be an academic) [is Romantic].17f I have become a teacher of the Romantic Period, largely because I think I do hold an innate sympathy for those writers. And I don’t [however] believe with the Romantic theories. When I was in high school I had a very good English teacher. But I was very heavily influenced, directly, by the Romantic writers. They were near enough to still write, if you liked, nature poetry. And there was no


Chapter Seven modern work in [the anthology used in school]. But on the other hand there wasn’t a great deal of Wordsworth per se. JP: are we speaking here of the Mt Helicon Anthology? LN: The Mt Helicon Anthology. That’s what we grew up on. And I can remember too a boy in my class mentioning Eliot, of whom I had never heard, and I doubt very much the teacher had, honestly. He mentioned “The Waste Land”, and I was taken aback by that, and read it—as a Romantic document. I think I might have been fifteen. And I still read it as a Romantic document. My mindset is that way. But I have been astonished sometimes by the way that Jim Davies, for example, has seen me as a Wordsworthian poet, seeing me in some of my work as a rewriting of Wordsworth. JP: Might it be more accurate to say that you’re in the same wavelength? LN: I think so. I come to Wordsworth with enormous admiration, and terror, frankly because he lacks humor so much that I’m kind of saying, “That’s a marvelous poem, but . . .” always, I feel that I see in him a certain arrogance, and a certain assuredness. And that’s a problem to me. But you’re quite right about the balance. One of my beliefs is in any piece of [literary] work, [there is] a tension that holds balance. What I really, flawlessly admire is Keats. Every time I teach Keats I am more and more astonished by what the young man did. And I see more clearly in him, where I also see it in Shakespeare just as much, that [there are in] every piece of work, quite clearly, complete opposites. You can read “To Autumn” as at once a golden vision of the fall, or a terrifying, empty illustration of the dead year. . . .That is the kind of limits of vision I tend to use. I like to contain the whole . . . something, the world of one’s making between this boundary and that darker boundary. That is to me the total end of the Romantic writing, in that he or she knows that the impossible task that the writer takes up, is to create a perfect world. It’s to create, if you like, for himself or for his readers or for whoever cares to come along, the statement that perfection is possible in a world, that eternity exists in the vision. But also that complete cessation of the world exists. This is nothing new and perhaps the most clear example would be Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that opposite worlds are what one hopes to include. . . . So that is how I see the force of the opposing worlds. JP: I like that you aim for total clarity in your writing You don’t hide very far away. And that was true of Wordsworth, to a degree.

Leslie Norris LN: Yes. I think that while some of his stanzas for the Lyrical Ballads can be said to be simplistic, his vocabularies were sometimes not strong enough to carry what he wanted to say. That was part of his belief. But Coleridge was very well aware all the time that poems ought to use every strength of all the language. Wordsworth, once the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads was over and done with, and its effect, soon abandoned that kind of simplistic language of everyman, of the common man. He didn’t want to say things that common men would say. He wanted to say things about eternity, the next world, the world before this one and so on, which is not common at all. So we get the enormous linguistic strengths of his great poems, which Coleridge was very well aware was necessary. But on the other hand, Wordsworth never lost clarity. You can’t misunderstand him. So when I think of the unity of poetry, he is the great example. It isn’t nearly that what he has to say is extraordinary; it isn’t nearly that his manipulation of the blank verse is incredible. It sounds like the man is speaking. It is also the sounds the poetry makes reinforce the meaning. I’m thinking of those lines [in The Prelude] in which a boy is skating, where the line goes along and he digs his skates in. The line reads: “. . . stopped short” at the end of the line.(Wordsworth 1979, 1. 458) One can feel the skates digging in, and the great gap in the breath before you go skating on in the next line. The muscular content of the verse, the body content of the verse is unique, I think. There are exceptions such as the great sonnets [of Shakespeare], “Devouring time, blunt thou the lion’s paw”, or “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” The text is astonishingly apt and relevant. Wordsworth came from nowhere to do those things. “An Evening Walk” doesn’t give any hint of it. JP: Well, he was reading a lot of Shakespeare and Milton. He’d heard others do it. LN: Yes. They were the great exemplars of the Romantics. He tended to have thrown away the immediate predecessors, Pope and Dryden. That kind of smoothness, of clockwork perfection meant that society was smug, confident and prosperous. Whereas these boys grew up in an England in which the whole face of England was changed: agriculture, dress— everything was changed. So they didn’t have to write like Pope and Dryden. That would be ridiculous. . . . It didn’t work. They had to find contemporary ways of saying things. This was a time when if was fashionable to be mad. The pressures on the community were so heavy. The old style didn’t have the poetic technique to deal with the personal tragedies around them. The individual was being threatened all the time. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why Wordsworth is so hugely important. He does reflect the response to the changing world, the birth of the modern world.



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Here Norris, who is himself an intricate craftsman, sees not only the unique craftsmanship in Wordsworth’s work, but the environment which made it necessary for Wordsworth to find a new voice in a new era. For Norris himself maintains that Romantic sense of the balance of tensions between dark and light, and of craftsmanship, even in an ostensibly confessional poem like The Prelude, in his own work. Norris is clearly a lonely Romantic voice in a century of literary nihilism, perhaps even a voice from a future restored Romanticism, but clearly an echo from the previous era, a man who still reads “The Wasteland” as a Romantic document. Furthermore, Norris preserves the precarious balance. He says above in the interview that he does not hold to Romantic theories and yet is a Romantic. Plus he notes that Wordsworth himself abandoned much of the theoretical underpinning of his work and as Coleridge advised, grasped the whole span of language available to him. It is fortunate that he did not seek consistency with his personal theories, but rather experimented, remaking himself as a poet as time went on. Of course, there is still a debate as to whether the poet that Wordsworth made himself into was as good as the poet he started out to be. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere in this study, Wordsworth was a poet of the journey, and if his poetry lost power late in life, perhaps it was because his journey became complete. Wordsworth seemed able to hang on to the border of certainty of his Romantic theories, certainty of orthodox Christian faith, certainty that he had even become the poet he wished to be. All these questions seemed to have been answered for him later in life: his theories faded, his faith increased, and the Victorian Age’s embrace of his poetry justified his risky course taken as a young man to go against his uncles’ will and seek no more lucrative employment other than being a poet in solitude. Norris appears to be, in some ways, like the younger Wordsworth. He too as a younger man gave up a steady income, in Norris’ case, teaching, to pursue writing more seriously. His risk was eventually justified as writer-in-residence positions in American universities granted him the livelihood that made focusing his efforts on writing possible. And though he was never on the road to orthodox Christianity as was Wordsworth, his work maintains that energy of the journey, of seeing nature platonically but refusing to investigate that Platonism in a philosophical manner. For Norris, wisdom tends to come at great cost, often in the form of suffering. Those who are simple, and of the land, will acquire the spiritual wisdom that is to be acquired. Norris holds in tension the thought that nature is the picture of eternity, but the reader is not meant to try and look behind the picture. Theories of Romanticism ultimately self-destruct, but

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Norris holds onto Romanticism regardless. Perhaps the metaphor of Norris holding these things in tension is not quite accurate. Might Norris’ own picture of himself laid across the four corners of four states be a more accurate autobiographical metaphor? It might be said that Norris crosses borders so often because he never really leaves any of these places behind. While he had been in Utah he had written about Wales. When I interviewed him at his home in Utah, he assured me that he planned to return to Wales after his two dogs had passed away, so that they might be spared the ordeal of British quarantine. But he never left and died there. One last matter needs to be addressed. If Post-Modern thought has stagnated, perhaps Leslie Norris’ revived Romanticism offer a new way of thought to the dark twentieth century. If Western thought has now explored the darkness and found it a dead end, might that inquiry not explore the light again, not being concerned about Romantic theory, but, like Leslie Norris, hold Romanticism with a negative capability like his mentor, Keats? R.S. Thomas’ thought seems to drown in its own pessimism and the Wales he longs for probably only ever existed in his imagination. Leslie Norris is very much “a writer of this world.” Though eternity might loom behind nature, a simple man or woman, can attach themselves to the land and find value there. Some might object that this would constitute a move backward for Western thought. But if the way forward is dark, a move backwards might be in order. More likely, like Norris, a healthy Romanticism embraces both the dark and the light, crosses and recrosses borders in a non-lineal fashion. That would constitute a healthy balance, like both Wordsworth and Norris.

Norris’ Long Autobiographical Poem and The Prelude Certainly the most Wordsworthian thing that Norris did is, late in his life, to begin writing a long autobiographical poem, at one time tentatively titled “Selves”. Of the project he writes in his letter: My current poem is deliberately Wordsworthian in that it is an attempt to resurrect those spots of time when something of great importance happened to me, something which made me realise who I was, who I had become, something which defined and enlarged my life at the time the “common incident” happened. So the poem, which I used to call “Selves,” but do no longer, is a sequence of lyrics so closely related on to the other as to be a long poem. It is then, like The Prelude, but also different in that there is no moralising, no philosophising . . . . I am also free to vary the


Chapter Seven form, believing that my voice is strong enough to unify the individual poems.

Norris’ typically twentieth century aversion to “philosophising” in verse does not mean that the poetry is devoid of thought. Rather, the movements are subtle and Norris feels no need to explain anything as Wordsworth did at great length. It should be noted that at present the poem is not complete and there is no order as of yet in which the pieces are to fall. According to Norris, at the time of this writing, the completed pieces are as follows. Note that the letters ‘cp’ after a title signifies that it can be found in the “New Poems 1996” section of the Collected Poems. “Borders” cp “In Cefn Cemetery” cp “Bridal Veil Falls” cp “His Grandfather’s Indentures” in the New Welsh Review (15) “A Grain of Sand” cp “Owen Sullivan and the Horse” cp “Old Men” published and broadcast by the BBC20 “Peaches” cp “His Father Singing” cp “The Night Before the Game” cp “Spitfire” cp “Bringing in the Selves” cp “In the City” cp “A Round Table” cp “Journeying in Ithaca” cp

In the individual pieces there is the same intense scrutiny of the psychologically profound autobiographical moment as in other Norris poetry. These are Norris’ epiphanies, perhaps Wordsworthian spots of time, though Norris declines to be as forthright as Wordsworth. Yet, the poet is not hiding as far away as his statement on Wordsworth’s “philosophising” seems to imply. “Borders” is probably the plainest statement Norris has made on his sense of dislocation and exile. He may claim to be free of philosophizing, but the narrator in “Borders” considers his own experience of borders and that of some people he has known in a very analytical way. If Norris is differing from Wordsworth in “philosophising”, the difference is more subtle than significant. He begins the poem by discussing a childhood habit of crossing a bridge in Brecon with the feeling that he was taking some great step, crossing invisible lines. He concludes in the third stanza, “I have always lived that way,/ crossed borders resolutely/ while looking over my shoulder”. Following

Leslie Norris


this he recounts visiting the Four Corners monument in an area of the southwestern US where the corners of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. There is a marked cement slab on the spot and tourists delight in lying down or getting on hands and knees, crowing that they are in four states at once. Norris does the same and then remarks in an isolated line, “Restless as dust, scattered”, certainly a statement about himself in this autobiographical poem. Then he recalls a man who traveled only to return home. Then lastly Norris recalls his mother who died after sipping champagne as her last request. Norris’ speaker comments, “Border, boundary, threshold, door – / Orpheus moved either way, the living and the dead/ were parted by a thin reflection/ he simply walked through. But who can follow?” (Norris, Collected Poems 1996, 209-11) Norris ends the poem having no answer for his own border crossings. The other poems in the collection tend to divide, like much of Norris’ work, into poems from the vantage of the innocent child and poems from the vantage of the adult who feels a sense of loss. “In Cefn Cemetery” (222) is a poem about the transition between these two states. In it, a boy experiences the state of numbness that comes with the outdoor funeral of his father. This might be classified as a loss of innocence poem, with “Spitfire”, (220) where a group of boys admire a pre-war racing Spitfire. Toward the end of the poem the speaker’s voice breaks in and observes how the boys do not understand what sort of machine the Spitfire will become, as they play on the beach in the last years of peace. “Owen Sullivan and the Horse” (212-3) depicts another Wordsworthian eccentric in the vagrant named in the title, who confides with Norris’ speaker, “‘Do not forget this, boy,/ Only fools and horses work.’” Ultimately, it is the Owen Sullivans and the Chinner Masons, the ‘holy’ eccentrics who see and see clearly, though they do not become rich in urban careers, who see life and nature most clearly. Their eccentricity is a second childhood and they possess an innocence acquired late in life, just as it is for Wordsworth’s Wanderer in The Excursion. They also possess a healthy ambiguity towards their approaching deaths which is neither unrealistically Romantic nor morbid. Like Wordsworth, Norris has found his balance between the beauty of the natural world and the mystery of death. Part of that balance is the rootedness in a particular place, in land. For Wordsworth, it was Cumbria; for Norris, though he is restless, as he says in an earlier poem, it is Wales. In that poem, “The Green Bridge”, he expresses an autobiographical sentiment:

Chapter Seven


I live in England, seem English, Until my voice and wider Eloquence betray me: then I am a discovered alien. I walk on Teifi banks, through Snowdrops left us by the Romans, Watching the river pour to death In the sea, the February sea . . . The Wales I walk is a green bridge To death—not yet, please God— On which I am not lonely; (93)

Leslie Norris passed away in Utah on April 6, 2006, with a volume of distinguished work behind him and his autobiographical poem unfinished. He has crossed his final border. He has left behind, nevertheless, a great gift. In the universality of his sensibility, the reader can look from Norris’ border crossing to make better sense of his or her own.

Conclusion It is probably premature to call this convergence of Romantic Welsh writing a “movement.” True, none of these writers knew each other nor knew much about each other save perhaps a vague awareness of each the other between Norris and Thomas. Still, there is nothing quite analogous going on in this era anywhere else in the United Kingdom. W.B. Yeats is writing in Ireland across the early part of this era and he is arguably Romantic. Norris mentions that he grew up in Welsh schools with Wordsworth as a model, and as we have seen from the curriculum of the Central Welsh Board, that this was more or less true for all of them. But it's probably a safe assumption that as much was true in England, if not Scotland and Northern Ireland. For Thomas especially, but also for Idris Davies and Huw Menai, and to some degree for Leslie Norris, awareness of Welsh language and culture must have affected their perception of language as a whole and therefore poetry. Norris argues for what he calls a Romantic “affinity”, something that may come from the more rural Welsh experience, or perhaps the isolation of Wales from the international currents discernible from an international capital like London, may have allowed a re-occurrence of Romantic poetry and fiction in the British Isles more than a half-century after Wordsworth's death. Whatever may have watered the seeds of this resurgence, it is one of many neo-Romantic returns spread across the Modern and Postmodern

Leslie Norris


landscapes. I have argued elsewhere that Postmodernism itself is an erroneous construct that tries to include the more nihilistic and darker elements of twentieth-century literature with the imaginative pushing of boundaries that includes science fiction, fantasy, detective fiction and other forms of what must be seen as twentieth-century forms of Romanticism. I have argued for a different model of literature after the world wars, one that acknowledges two entirely different streams instead of one so-called “mainstream.” Against the more nihilistic and existential or perhaps post-existential literature there is a constant stream of Romantic literature in the forms I have already mentioned, as well as in the expansion of nature writing and what might arguably be called “ecofiction.” These five poets and this one novelist, writing for the most part in Wales, have created a pocket of Romanticism. Thus instead of an allencompassing “Postmodernism” that describes nothing because it conveniently includes everything, we might in this two stream model, view Eliot as the leader of one stream and Huw Menai, or in fiction JRR Tolkien as leaders in another. I think this model needs due consideration in the world of English scholarship. Otherwise, we are forced to try and explain away half of twentieth-century literature as some sort of inexplicable aberration, isolating it with snob terms like “genre fiction” and pretending that it does not have a far wider readership than the socalled “serious literature” preferred by the literary establishment. I, for one, cannot sustain such an unlikely explanation for the trends in literature in the twentieth-century.


JP: How do you see Wordsworth’s influence on your work? LN: Well, other people see it very markedly, but I don’t know that it’s more really than the general fact that Romantic feeling poets were heavily influential on the Welsh writers in English, and in Welsh as a matter of fact. And I do see it rather like that. I think the obvious correspondence of feeling between the Lake District and Wales, and Wordsworth’s great awareness of Wales, as a matter of fact, probably means that that kind of feeling influenced us greatly. I’m not so sure that his poetry influenced me very much, but it may have influenced my attitude to poetry. I wouldn’t have thought so. There might be specific poems that you could find out, but I’m not so sure about that either, since our experiences are completely different, you know. JP: Yes, well I saw similarity in characterization, and not just in the poetry, but in your short stories. Also in the juxtaposition of the pain of life and the beauty of the land and of nature, and the enigma of those two things. LN: I think that’s probably true, but I wouldn’t have thought that was necessarily Wordsworthian. I would think almost any of the short stories, H.E. Bates, for example, in his early work, would show more Wordsworthian experience. It probably comes through, you know. JP: It’s very mixed. LN: Yes, and secondary. And Wordsworth was an awful prose writer anyway.


Appendix A

JP: Yes, I know. LN: So, I’m not so sure about that. I think that any influence in the short stories would probably be American influence, really. Saroyan, particularly, very un-Wordsworthian. I’m not so sure about it. I think most of my generation were educated largely in the Romantic poets. One can see it clearly in Gwyn Jones, for example, who is a generation older than I am. I think we saw nature as the required milieu for poetry. I didn’t really know, for example, that Wordsworth was the poet of nature. I thought everybody was. So he has a huge influence on nineteenth and twentieth century poetry. JP: So, his influence is in the background, and not necessarily so direct. LN: I think so. I know Jim Davies has found one or two [of my] poems which he thinks of as re-writing of Wordsworth’s poems, but I didn’t agree with that. JP: It’s too diffused. LN: Yes. JP: Now the other thing I was going to ask about your autobiographical poem, “Selves”. I’ve been trying to trace down all the bits of it. LN: Well, there are any number of bits and pieces because I make them do their work twice. Because they are coming at me out of order, I’m not quite sure which way they’re going. There is a poem in the New Welsh Review, called “His Grandfather’s Indentures”, which is more recent. The poem is coming along, bit by bit. There’s another poem about my maternal grandfather; I think it’s called “Old Men”. And it’s been broadcast in England too.


JP: The particular direction I want to go is this: I think the thing that comes out of Wordsworth that is in the late nineteenth century and especially into the twentieth century, you get writers following the school of Joyce and Lawrence that dominate the literary scene. And Wordsworth goes another direction. In fact, writers like these probably found it fashionable to bash Wordsworth. All of them are looking at what might be called the problem of human suffering. And Wordsworth looks at this problem and comes away with a positive answer; he finds a balance, whereas the writers of the twentieth century view this same problem in a much darker way. Often they view the world in a nihilistic, or at least an existentialistic way. What I see in your work is that, with Wordsworth, you find a balance between the existence of the pain and the joy of living. You steer clear of nihilism. Am I anywhere near the mark? LN: I think you are. I think that I have a curious attitude towards Wordsworth. My field of expertise and my academic area (I have the paper to be an academic) [is Romantic]. I have become a teacher of the Romantic Period, largely because I think I hold an innate sympathy for those writers. And I don’t [however] believe the Romantic theories. When I was in high school, I had a very good English teacher. But I was very heavily influenced, directly, by the Romantic writers. They were near enough to still write, if you like, nature poetry. And there was no modern work in it [the anthology used in school]. But, on the other hand, there wasn’t a great deal of Wordsworth per se. JP: Are you thinking of the Mount Helicon Anthology? LN: The Mount Helicon Anthology. That’s what we grew up on. And I can remember too a boy in our class mentioning Eliot, of whom I had


Appendix B

never heard, and I doubt teacher had, honestly. He mentioned “The Waste Land” and I was taken aback by that, and read it as a Romantic document. I think I might have been fifteen. And I still read it as a Romantic document. My mindset is that way. But I have been astonished sometimes by the way in which Jim Davies, for example, will see me as a Wordsworthian poet, seeing some of my work as a rewriting of Wordsworth. JP: Might it be more accurate to say that you’re in the same wavelength? LN: I think so. I come to Wordsworth with enormous admiration, and terror, frankly, because he lacks humor, so much, that I’m kind of saying, “That’s a marvelous poem, but . . .”, always, I feel that I see in him a certain arrogance, and a certain assuredness. And that’s a problem to me. But you’re quite right about the balance. One of my beliefs is in any piece of [literary] work, [there is] a tension that holds balance. What I really, flawlessly admire is Keats. Every time I teach Keats, I am more and more astonished by what the young man did. I see more clearly in him, where I also see it in Shakespeare just as much, that [there are in] every piece of work quite clearly, complete opposites. You can read “To Autumn” at once as a golden vision of the fall, or a terrifying, empty illustration of the dead year. Autumn herself, the abundant autumn, is first of all deserted by her husband, the sun. All her grace is taken away from her so that not even what is left by the gleaners is there. She’s lolling about, and then all that’s left is a few drops of cider coming out of the press. Then the birds sing in the last stanza and vanish. There’s nothing, not a single seed left for spring. “Where are the songs of spring?” he says. Where are they? They’re nowhere. Nothing left. This is a vision of the dead world, without any hope at all. That is the kind of limits of vision that I attempt to use. I like to contain the whole . . . something, the whole world between this boundary and that dark boundary. That is to me the total end of Romantic writing, in that he or she knows the impossible task that the writer takes up, is to create a perfect world. It’s to create, if you like, for himself or his readers or whoever else comes along, the statement that perfection is possible in a world, that eternity exists in the vision. But also that complete cessation of the world exists. This is nothing new and perhaps the clearest example would be Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that the opposite worlds are what one hopes to include. It’s in everything he’d do, even the smallest example, say “The Chimney Sweep” from “The Songs of Experience”. He writes, “A poor black thing among the snow.” So we

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


have a little child dehumanized, like a spider. And the opposition is of this black dot cringing there in the white snow. Everything is like that with him. So that’s how I see the force of the opposing worlds. JP: Sometimes I think that the Post-Modern worldview is so very bleak that it scares off the common reader from reading what is regarded as serious literature. It seems that if that is to change, literature is going to have come to find this Romantic balance of opposites we’re talking about. LN: Well, the trouble is, at the present time that people have accepted certain theories about writing. It’s very tempting to follow these abstract ideas. And, of course, what we do is move further and further away from the literature itself. We are constructing great structures of ideas. And I believe the theory is no longer called “literary theory”. It’s become a discipline of its own. I do agree that we are moving away from simple, direct reading. I’m more innocent and old fashioned than that. I still think that the great miracle is men and women, in their mortal flesh, can make these things. That is the great miracle. That is the great mystery. At the end, there’s no way, however much the psychoanalysts tell us otherwise, they can explain how it is that a human being can make these things. As long as that mystery exists, then literature will continue. There is a great divide between people who read and people who study. I do feel the tide is turning somewhat back to a more humane attitude towards literature. As I writer myself I feel that the piece of writing itself is the major work and the person who comes to discuss it is dependent on that work. JP: I like that you aim for total clarity in your writing. You don’t hide very far away. And that was true of Wordsworth, to a degree. LN: Yes, I think that while some of his stanzas for the Lyrical Ballads can be said to be simplistic, his vocabularies were not strong enough to carry what he had to say. That was part of his belief. But Coleridge was very well aware all the time that poems ought to use every strength of all the language. Wordsworth, once the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads was over and done with, and its effect, soon abandoned that kind of simplistic language of everyman, of the common man. He didn’t want to say things that common men would say. He wanted to say things about eternity, the next world, the world before this one and so on, which is not common at all. So we get the enormous linguistic strengths of his great poems, which Coleridge was very well aware was necessary. But on the other hand, Wordsworth never lost clarity. You can’t misunderstand him.


Appendix B

So when I think of the unity of poetry, he is the great example. It isn’t nearly that what he has to say is extraordinary; it isn’t nearly that his manipulation of blank verse is incredible. It sounds like the man is speaking. It is also the sounds the poetry makes reinforce the meaning. I’m thinking of those lines [in The Prelude] in which the boy is skating, where the line goes along and he digs his skates in. The line reads: “stopped short” at the end of the line. One can feel the skates dig in, and the great gap of breath before you go skating on in the next line. The muscular content of the verse, the body content of the verse is unique, I think. There are always exceptions such as the great sonnets [of Shakespeare], “Devouring time, blunt thou the lion’s paw”, or “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” The text is astonishingly apt and relevant. Wordsworth came from nowhere to do those things. “An Evening Walk” doesn’t give any hint of it. JP: Well, he was reading a lot of Shakespeare and Milton. He’d heard others do it. LN: Yes. They were the great exemplars of the Romantics. He tended to have thrown away the immediate predecessors, Pope and Dryden. That kind of smoothness, of clockwork perfection meant that society was smug, confident and prosperous. Whereas these boys grew up in an England in which the whole face of England was changed: agriculture, dress— everything was changed. So they didn’t have to write like Pope and Dryden. That would be ridiculous. The only people who would do it were people like Crabbe. It didn’t work. They had to find contemporary ways of saying things. This was a time when it was fashionable to be mad. The pressures on the community were so heavy. Or you became a recluse. The old style didn’t have the poetic technique to deal with the personal tragedies around them. The individual was being threatened all the time. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why Wordsworth is so hugely important. He does reflect the response to the changing world, the birth of the modern world. The idea of souls being sent on to this world from the eternal world was very popular in those days. JP: The idea behind the Immortality Ode. LN: When he was a student in Oxford, Shelley believed it. “The best philosopher” is Wordsworth’s term for the baby. Shelley didn’t have too much common sense, really I suppose. He and a friend stopped a girl on a

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


bridge in Oxford. She was carrying a baby. Shelley said, “Madam, will your baby not tell us about his previous world?” And she said, “Sir, he’s a baby and cannot speak.” And he said, “That’s just it, you see. These babies know everything. They won’t say anything.” Wordsworth was a great figure, but also a figure of fun. JP: It makes me think of the meeting that Wordsworth had with Keats and Wordsworth came off as arrogant. LN: Yes, and he told a joke and no one laughed because it wasn’t very funny. Well he was a great guy and never received his due. And he was a tough guy. He was determined to be a poet and refused to be anything else. That takes a lot of courage. And he got sinecures and people left him a lot of money, was not just luck. It was recognizing his determination and admiring him for it. Dylan Thomas was also determined. But it was a different world. John Ormond was a friend of Dylan’s and admired him greatly. And his own work was probably more influenced by Dylan than anybody else I know. But he later on wrote a very stark, clear and often funny verse. He tells of the time when he met Dylan and friend in some pub in London, and they were playing, what do you call it in America? Charades. And the subject was to be famous books. Dylan and friends rolled up the carpet in the barroom and rushed it out into the street. They couldn’t guess what it was. The barman was going mad. They said ‘We give in! We give in!’. Dylan and friends told them it was the ‘brothers carry mats off’. JP: That was typical, I suppose. LN: Dylan tended to be literal and literary. Dylan would tell tales of a time when they met in the Mumbles. They had a favorite pub in the Mumbles. I can’t remember which one it was, but I know exactly where it is. They went in for a pre-lunch drink. It was a nice summer’s day. There was only one gentleman in there next to the bar. Dylan at that time was a reporter on the Swansea Argos. This little old man came up and said, “Mr. Thomas. How are you, Mr. Thomas?” And he said, “I’m very well thanks.” And the old man said, “It’s my birthday today, Mr. Thomas.” “Is that so. How old are you?” “I’m seventy-four today.” “Good lord,” Dylan said, “Seventy-four. Would you have thought he was seventy-four, Glyn?” And Glyn said, “I wouldn’t.” The old man said,


Appendix B

“How old do you think I am, Mr. Thomas?” Dylan answered, “Seventyeight.” That was one of his cruel jokes. You said my work reminded you of Dylan’s. I what ways? JP: In the choice of language. The heavy reliance on verbs to drive the poem. The economy of words. The words do a lot of work. LN: I have this exercise I give to my students. I make them take out every word in all their sentences, except the nouns and verbs. And I ask, what has it lost by taking these words out? Maybe there will be and adjective which has no use. Sometimes I ask them to tell me what colors they see when I say a word. And I’ll say, ‘a rose.’ Everybody says ‘a red rose’. I say, ‘that’s good. So whenever you use a rose in your poem, you never say ‘a red rose’. Unless it is like Burns’ “My love is like a red, red rose”. There he’s talking about love, not a rose. But if you want to say ‘a yellow rose’, we’ll all accept it, because there’s no hint of yellow in ‘a rose’. So I do that. I think that’s fine and just. That was something I learned from the kids in school. JP: You know the thing I like best about Dylan’s poetry was that it pushes language. I’m thinking of several places in “Fern Hill”, lines like, “all the sun long”, “all the moon long”. He uses the word in a way that’s grammatically impossible, but you can see the image and so he gets away with it. LN: This is very interesting, this, because about the time he was writing these things, he had no other language but English. And Vernon Watkins was a French scholar and a German scholar. Just at this time he was reading Rimbaud. Vernon translated Rimbaud. Rimbaud’s theory was the systematic derangement of the senses, so that the qualities of one sense would be transposed to another. So Dylan’s idea would be “the man in the wind, and the west moon.” So you see that it’s pure Rimbaud. So “all the moon long” is exactly the same thing. Dylan took so much from Watkins that has never been acknowledged. And if you look at the letters of about this time, he calls himself, “the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin street”. And he’d never heard of Rimbaud until he ran into Vernon. Vernon told him about Yeats, too. Yeats was Vernon’s downfall, I guess. I mean he never grew out of imitating Yeats. JP: I seem to always hear of Vernon Watkins not as a writer but as someone who influenced other writers.

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


LN: He translated some great stuff. And he wrote several great poems. But they are formed on Yeats. And he was a mystic too. His great Taliesin poems, or his “Music of Colours” sequence are extraordinary. He had a unique voice. But if you look at stuff like Dylan’s Eighteen Poems, where the rhythms are like soldiers marching along, they are very strong but completely insensitive. When the Twenty-Five Poems came out, although it was a mixed book (some were very early), the subtlety of the new poems was astonishing. That’s because Vernon had taught him to use his ears. JP: I noticed that reading through the Collected Poems. The early material wasn’t all that good, but as you read on they got better and better. LN: It’s interesting how some of his language has become widespread. We now call all baseball players, “the boys of summer”. It was used by one of the New Yorker writers in an account of the early baseball camps. Nobody knows they took that line from Dylan. I think the difference between us, Dylan and I, is not merely in quality, because he’s a very exciting writer. I think it is clarity. My work is much simpler. JP: Yes. LN: My work is much more direct. Linguistically there’s nothing like as daring in my work. But I think my material is more daring. But then I’ve had much more time to do it. And still I have the utmost admiration for some of the poems. I no longer read him. I might teach one or two of poems for the rhyme schemes, since true rhymes are no longer needed. They’re needed for poets like Dylan who wanted to keep his explosive language material in bounds. He might use just the vowels in the word to rhyme, not the consonants at all. I might have learned that from him, but I learned it from Blake too. He learned it from Blake, actually, as well. And I think I’m nothing like as good a formal craftsman as he is. I do invent forms, like in my poem “Water” for example. That’s an invented form. In my poem about the bull, [“The beautiful young Devon Shorthorn Bull, Sexton Hyades 33rd”] the last line is “The far fields fill with his children, his soft daughters”. That has all sorts of secrets in it. “The Far Field” is the title of the last book of the poet, Theodore Roethke, the poet in residence that died in Seattle. I taught in Seattle because of him, actually. I sometimes put in little quotations from the Welsh. In “Autumn Elegy”, the poem about people my age who were killed in World War II, “hard/ War destroyed them” is a line that comes from the Llywarch Hen


Appendix B

poems, translated. All kinds of things like that I stick in. Or in my poem about the bull, in the last lines I used a perfect cynghanedd. It works well enough. And they can be totally acceptable as lines without anybody seeing that. I make my poems apparently easy and smooth, but they contain all kinds of different things, which are challenges to me, making tenseness within the poems. So in those ways, I think I’m quite unlike Thomas. JP: One thinks that if he had lived longer, he might have done more. LN: Those last poems are very interesting. Apparently his notes for the libretto he was writing for Stravinsky were very interesting. JP: He never finished that, I suppose. LN: He was going to write a kind of sound script for Stravinsky. And he made some notes. I have never seen them. And I suppose “Under Milkwood” was a remarkable piece of work, and not at all what you might expect from Thomas. Thomas is a traditional Welsh writer in that serious stuff had to written in verse. Funny stuff, or unimportant stuff, had to be written in prose. That’s what Taliesin and all those guys did. So we get some of his early work and those radio talks, some very funny stuff indeed, and much more orthodox in style. There was plenty of chance for him to do things like that. Then again, you have to remember the influence of Dickens on him, which, as far as I know, Dickens never touched me.


Dear Jim, I have been thinking over your question about what influence Wordsworth may have had on my work and offer now some unarranged comments about this. 1. At school our anthology was the well-known Mount Helicon, heavily flavoured with Romantic poems (nothing earlier than W, and Coleridge, in fact) so that my young idea of poetry was obviously based on this experience. For School Certificate, my texts were Shelley and Keats. Keats was my favourite poet for years when I was young, and I still think him much better than W. 2. But there is an affinity, or perhaps a considerable similarity of experience and temperament, which I can recognise. Both Wordsworth and I are hill boys, brought up in very similar environments of open mountains, lakes, rivers. Both, for different reasons, see the natural world as the moral, perhaps even “religious” landscape, and the industrial world as one in which men walk at their peril, both temporal and eternal. (I moved from the natural world through slum dwellings and the fallen ruins of the steelworks, in opposition, every day.) Both have used nature as a symbol of eternity, or accepted anyway the Platonic idea that it stands as God’s promise and vision of eternity although in my case this is not as strong a premise as it is say in Vaughan and Vernon Watkins. (Wordsworth recognised the resemblance between the Welsh and Lake District landscapes. Staying with his friend Robert Jones for significant periods in North Wales, he knew Wales well. Although when young he naturally preferred the Lake District, he later changed his mind.) It is my boyhood preference for the natural world which means that Keats has not influenced me, since he did not share such a preference. And it is because Edward Thomas sees the world in much the same way as I that has caused his work to be recognisable in mine.


Appendix C

3. Given these circumstances and the fact that we are both convinced democrats, it follow that we use “incidents and situations from common life” – and therefore incidents which are likely to happen repeatedly – in our verse ( and stories). But note that I do not use “a selection of language really used by men”, although I attempt to write as clearly as is possible. But I go with Coleridge here, believing that the whole range of language must be available to the poet. 4. “Similar incidents” certainly exist. James A Davies has stated that my “A February Morning” is a rewriting of Wordsworth’s “The Highland Girl”. Certainly when I wrote my piece I was not thinking of W’s, although I dare say I must have read it. Mine is a very early poem. I could have included it in my Poems, 1943. Both poems are the results of actual experiences. I think someone told W. and he used the incident in his poem. In my case I was going home to Merthyr on leave from the RAF. I caught train at Abergavenny, which should have taken me to Dowlais Top Station (and even then I would have had to walk quite a way to my house). It was the last train, very late, and at Rhymney there were only three passengers, all young, all from Merthyr. The driver, who lived in Rhymney, simply got off and abandoned us. We walked through the night and heard a woman singing, I think from a gipsy encampment that was an almost permanent settlement some distance from the road over the common. I think the incidents were alike, but not the poems. Again, a fairly recent poem, “Old Men” is very like W’s “Michael”, if only in the way that W uses stones and I use bricks to symbolise a covenant between an old man and a young, in my case a child. I think you could with advantage look for other parallels . . . “Drummer Evans” say, and “Resolution and Independence”, my story “Sliding” and the skating incidents in “The Prelude”. In some ways many of the stories contain, particularly in the descriptive passages, pieces which wouldn’t look too odd in “The Prelude”. Again, W’s use of “spots of time” is something I have done since childhood. 5. My current poem is deliberately Wordsworthian in that it is an attempt to resurrect those spots of time when something of great importance happened to me, something which made me realise who I was, who I had become, something which defined and enlarge my life at the time the “common incident” happened. So the poem, which I used to call “Selves” but do no longer, is a sequence of lyrics so closely related one to the other as to be a long poem. It is, then, like “The Prelude”, but also different in that there is no moralising, no philosophising . . . . I am also free to vary the form, believing that my voice is strong enough to unify the individual poems.

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


I hope this is of some use to you. Don’t hesitate to write me if something needs elucidating. I’m including a list of the pieces of Selves, as least where I think you can find them. All good wishes, Leslie Norris This list is haphazard, and I no longer keep careful records. You may have to search for some of this stuff. I’m enclosing a copy of “Old Men”, which has be published and broadcast (by the BBC)18 O, but I have no idea when or where. Borders . . . in Collected Poems’ In Cefn Cemetery . . . . .in CP. Bridal Veil Falls . . . . in CP His Grandfather’s Debentures . . . in The New Welsh Review, some time last year, with a review of CP, by James A. Davies. Enclosed. A Grain of Sand . . . . in CP Owen Sullivan and the Horse . . . CP Old Men . . . . enclosed Peaches . . . . CP His Father Singing . . .CP The Night Before the Game . . . CP Spitfire . . . .CP Bringing in the Selves . . . . CP In the City . . . . . . .CP A Round Table . . . .CP Journeying to Ithaca . . . . . .CP. (These are the only ‘finished’ pieces of SELVES that I am prepared to let you have. I’ve found a copy of “. . . . .Debentures”, so you needn’t go searching. Let me know if you received these. I wrote your address hurriedly and it now seems unlikely!) L.N.


JP: I’m writing about Wordsworth’s influence on twentieth century Anglo-Welsh writers. I should qualify that statement by saying that when I say ‘influence’, I don’t mean in a slavish way in which one tries to imitate Wordsworth. Of course I don’t think anybody who is a serious poet goes about their work that way. Bearing in mind that Wordsworth initiated certain categories of thought that have reverberated ever since, and that some of us find ourselves running down those same veins of thought, my basic question is: do you feel Wordsworth’s ways of thought have influenced the way you write your poetry? RST: Probably on my later poetry, yes. I came rather late to Wordsworth. I hadn’t read him much at all when I was writing my earlier work. My later work, yes. The ideas concerned in the late Prelude books, Twelve and Fourteen, appeal to me very much. Probably some of the stuff I have written over, say, the last ten years has been more influenced by his thought. JP: Did you have The Prelude in mind at all when you were writing your autobiographical piece, Neb? RST: I shouldn’t have thought so. It’s the phrases in the 1860 version, or is it the 1850 version—though I can see the virtues of the earlier versions. I like phrases like: “It seemed to me the type/ Of a majestic intellect”. He was journeying up to the mountain, Snowdon. It’s the type of thing I was coming to a lot. I was coming to feel about God, and his conception of God. His proposition in late twentieth century terms seemed much more in tune with my own feelings and thought. “A mind/ That feeds upon


Appendix D

infinity . . .” There are very much two Wordsworths, aren’t there? “Two voices; one is of the deep and one is of an old, bleating sheep, . . .” I like the one of the deep. JP: One thing that I think I saw is this whole notion of this moment of ecstasy, this moment of brilliant insight caused by places perhaps, or things and I think you explored it in you essay on “Abercuawg”. I see a bit of that in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey poem. I find it so much a background to so much work. He was on the lookout for that experience, but of course, it never occurs when you want it to occur. RST: I’m not familiar with Leslie Norris’ work. I shouldn’t have thought (inaudible). JP: Well, I could sum up what Leslie Norris said. He confirmed my impression of the importance of finding the balance between the despair of total nihilism and the joy found in nature. I saw something in “Abercuawg” and in Wordsworth too that concerned some of the same themes. I’m also thinking of your poem “Suddenly”, which seems to be what Joyce called an “epiphany”. RST: Well, of course there’s an affinity between the Lake District and North Wales anyway. JP: Norris thought there was influence in Vaughan’s writing. RST: What was I saying? Influences are according to those who find them. I’m not interested in the musician’s problem; they can’t have the same notes in the same measure. JP: Or they get sued. RST: Yes. JP: You read Wordsworth when you were in school, I take it? RST: No. I told you, I came late to Wordsworth. In my early work, when I was in Manafon, they were farmers. That’s before I ever read Wordsworth at all. And that side of Wordsworth, the pastoral side, didn’t appeal to me all that much.

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism

JP: One looks at Iago Prytherch. Wordsworthian, virtuous shepherd.


He’s sort of a reverse of a

RST: Yes. I hadn’t really at that time read “The Brothers” and all that sort of thing. My favorite lines in style and subject matter come to terms with what it means to go without God in the late twentieth century. I found that the later books of The Prelude were something that I could empathize with. Wordsworth was a very great poet at his high moments. I suppose if you’re not reading him for research, you only read the anthologized poems. JP: Yes, the poem that really made him a great poet is The Prelude. RST: Some of the language in the late Prelude, one or two of the passages in The Excursion I like: how exquisitely the mind is attuned and things attuned to the mind. JP: I notice your own attitude toward your character, Iago Prytherch, changed with time. In one poem you ask him to forgive you for being so critical. Could that be a result of seeing as Wordsworth did, the virtues in this country person? RST: No, I don’t think so. I think Iago Prytherch grew up in Manafon as a symbolic figure. And then I realized I’d sort of wrung that whole thing dry. I wanted something else. As you know, my move out to the Llyn Peninsula area, with it geological time scale—it was that, I think, that brought me more in sympathy with Wordsworth. JP: The sea birds . . . RST: Yes, and the geological time scale is a thousand million years old. Even the Welsh peasant farmers are only a few centuries there. Well, all I can say is you’re doing research, pursuing a thesis; you’ll have to go after it from certain examples. Obviously, if you’re going to get anywhere in poetry as a creative poet, you’ve got to digest your influences. Had I been much more familiar with Wordsworth’s work when I was a young man, I suppose there might have been influences there that I might have had to absorb much earlier. I just think that I read his work in the last fifteen years. So that I find that the sequence –it’s not pantheism, but an analogue of pantheism. We’re just at the mercy of this three-letter word, God. It’s finding out what it really means that determines what the mind


Appendix D

is. I don’t know, Wordsworth was very anti-industry in his day. He got terribly worked up when the first locomotives began [to run in the Lake District]. I can’t say that I’m a fan of industry. It’s funny how you accept the earlier trains. It’s when you come against these locomotives running on our lines now, that have no beauty. Yet, when an old-style locomotive like the Flying Scot, it seems almost acceptable. JP: So back to Wordsworth, are you talking about this whole attitude of feeling forward and grasping at the experiences of one’s life in hopes of discovering what God is? RST: Yes. As I say, I’ve moved between the two forms of landscape. I know the mountains of North Wales. And I know the coast. My father was a sailor. I am inclined towards the sea. If I had to make a choice I would choose the sea. The mountains are very impressive, when the weather turns suddenly. I’m very familiar as I moved throughout Wales with the sun breaking through. Particularly in the mountains you get the sun, flashes of light. That was very much part of mountain existence. I think I’ve been influenced by it. When I moved out around 1967 to the Llyn peninsula, I said all I was prepared to say about farmers. I began to pursue this other aspect of life; the limitless horizons of the sea. About that time I edited a small book of Wordsworth.


Dear Mr. Protheroe[sic], Your letter of the 5th August arrived Saturday 9th August. There is no post on Sundays so this will go off tomorrow morning 11th August. We were delighted with your visit—Yes-and you have not dumped too much on me. On the Huw Menai and Christian Socialism I have tried with these notes to draw the facts together into some sort of perspective. You will of course put your own view on them. You can use the notes with or without attribution just as you will. Sincerely, Arfon Menai Williams 1) Huw Menai Born 1886 Caernarvon. Father and brother move to South Wales coal fields in mid-1890’s, Huw and his mother follow in 1905 and settle in Merthyr Vale adjacent to Aberfan. 2) Keir Hardie was MP for Merthyr from 1900 to 1915. 3) HM joins the ILP movement and the Christian Socialism of KH. 4) HM now in his early twenties engages in public speaking. HM shares a platform with KH on numerous occasions “-a short man—I’d bow my head—he, KH would run his fingers through my hair” (This my father told me). 5) HM a prolific letter writer to the Merthyr Express under various pen names ‘Sans Culottes’, ‘Krishna Theodosius’ etc. HM writes articles for the international magazine ‘Justice’.


Appendix E

6) KH was strongly Christian and Pacifist. He believed that the failure to resolve the conflicting interests of Capital and Labour led inevitably to War. The CLASS WAR had to be recognised, proclaimed and resolved through Socialist action. The miners with their intelligence, stamina, courage and discipline were to the leading instruments of the process. 7) The Christian Socialism of the ILP which fired the idealism of the young Huw Menai and which clung to him all his life had the following features. A) “Independent” because it was free-thinking, radical and original B) “Socialist” because this was the only peaceful solution to the CLASS WAR C) “Christian” because of the Christian commitment to Truth, Justice, Goodness, Morality. Theology was frowned upon, the “after life” was fanciful. Fabianism on its own terms was a-moral. 8) 1911 HM marries Ann Jones (my mother) from Aberfan. They settle at Penygraig then Gilfach Goch. Children follow quickly. Ann’s family, well-to-do, was dominated by her mother’s brother “Huw Michael Hughes”—Editor of Y Tyst, Preacher, Patriot (Chaired the Cardiff Recruitment Board), Master Mason, Honorary Doctor of Law of Cardiff University. 9) 1912. Prosperity for HM he is made a colliery official with the usual perks and appointed Coal Owners Check Weigh-man. 1914. He is made Recruitment Officer with power to grant deferment of military conscription to employees. Is favoured by DA Thomas (Lord Rhondda) Colliery Owner and later on the War minister for Food. 1915. Keir Hardie dies aged 59 still fiercely pacifist in spite of all the madness 1918 Lord Rhondda dies 10) I refer you now to your statement that the ‘20th (sic) [19th] Century ended in 1914’. With the ending of the War HM’s Christian Socialism collapsed and he returned to the roots of bafflement, bafflement lit perhaps by poetry— Shakespeare, Blake, Keats, Shelley. 11) The ILP died with KH. The Labour party emerged as a clone, an increasingly lifeless one. 12) HM enjoyed some of the spoils of this long demise when under the Atlee Government he was granted a civil list pension. This was a great comfort to my mother—a matter on which she spoke with pride. My

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


father never once mentioned it, no doubt inwardly frowning upon the ‘bribe’ as the ghost fingers of Keir Hardie lingered in his curls.


1 Translated by Glyn and Hannah Griffith for the author; Huw Menai, Through the Upcast Shaft, 45. 2 Quoted in Mary Moorman, William Wordsworth: A Biography, The Later Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 438-9, from the writings of the sister of Rowan William Hamilton on the occasion of a visit by Wordsworth to Mr. Hamilton. Except for the first quoted sentence, the words are Miss Hamilton’s paraphrase. 3 National Library of Wales, fols. 20782E, and 18429C. These folios have no more specific reference points as they are folders containing loose, unnumbered papers of Huw Menai in his own hand. 4 Nancy Easterlin establishes Wordsworth’s essential ambiguity on the nature of God through the early years when The Prelude was being composed. See Easterlin’s Wordsworth and the Question of “Romantic Religion” (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1996), specifically chapter three. 5 Thomas Hardy, The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate, Vol 5, 1914-1919 ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), p. 192. It is interesting that a writer that eschewed sentiment to the degree Hardy did, should in a letter call himself a “faithful Wordsworthian”. It is important to note in the passage quoted that he, like many critics of Wordsworth, differentiates between the younger, radical Wordsworth and the later Wordsworth. Still the affinity of Hardy for some of Wordsworth can be attributed to his similar sense of the power of nature in both her beauty and her sometimes lethal nature. The latter would appeal to the Naturalist in Hardy, writing about characters who sometimes fall victim to indifferent natural catastrophes. There are numerous studies. See Dennis Taylor’s “Hardy and Wordsworth” The Thomas Hardy Journal, 4, no 1 (1988), p. 54. Also see: Peter Alan Simpson, Wordsworth to Hardy: Lines of Relationship and Continuity in Nineteenth Century English Poetry, abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International, 37 (1977). 6 Naturalism, by definition, as thought of by Emile Zola, is the belief that only the natural world exists. There is no supernatural. Consequently attempts to find some sort of transcendent meaning to existence are futile as life is ultimately a cosmic accident. We simply are here and there is nothing more to be said. Nor is the world the handiwork of some loving god, but rather to arbitrary result of a chain of chemical accidents, and therefore indifferent to human hopes and existence. Hardy’s fictional and poetic world is made up of characters who struggle for love or meaning in a hostile, indifferent world. Hardy’s work can be very reminiscent of American naturalist writers such as Theodore Dreiser (a friend of John Cowper Powys), and Stephen Crane. See Lloyd Siemens, “Naturalism in



the Poetry of Hardy and Meredith.” English Studies in Canada 3, (1977), 69-86, also, ‘A More Natural Magic’: Realism and Naturalism in the Victorian Novel. Dissertation Abstracts International 41, no 8 (Feb 1981) 7 Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, manuscript 10812, typescript of diary for 1 Jan 1939 to 2 Aug 1940. 8 Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, manuscript 10812, typescript of diary for 1 Jan 1939 to 2 Aug 1940. 9 Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, manuscript 10812, typescript of diary for 1 Jan 1939 to 2 Aug 1940. 10 NLW, manuscript 22409, “Northern Idyll”. A dialogue between William Wordsworth and Greta Garbo. 11 Wordsworth is vague on the subject of God, evading theological certainty throughout the early versions of The Prelude. See the passage, First Part, line 360, in which he concludes that God has corrected his desires while waiting for his father’s horses to arrive at Hawkshead in the 1799 version in: William Wordsworth, The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, edited by Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (New York: Norton, 1979), 10. 12 This is Thomas’ paraphrase of J.K. Stephen’s “A Sonnet” (“Two Voices are There”) which says of Wordsworth: Two voices are there: one is of the deep; It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody, Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea, Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep: And one is of an old half-witted sheep Which bleats articulate monotony, And indicates that two and one are three, That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep: And, Wordsworth, both are thine: . . . . Found in George Kitchin, A Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1931), 237. 13 Thomas is referring to the passage in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads: “[The Poet] considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting qualities of nature.” Poetical Works, 738. 14 Quoted in Mary Moorman, William Wordsworth: A Biography, The Later Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 438-9, from the writings of the sister of Rowan William Hamilton on the occasion of a visit by Wordsworth to Mr. Hamilton. Except for the first quoted sentence, the words are Miss Hamilton’s paraphrase. 15 Mr. Norris was interviewed on 14 May, 1998 by telephone, and again in person on 29 June, 1999.

Wordsworth and Welsh Romanticism


16 Louis Bonello Conti, Mount Helicon: An Anthology of English Prose for Schools (London: Macmillan), existing copies are from 1958, though Norris must have used one published in the 1930s. 17 Leslie Norris holds an M. Phil. in English from the University of Southampton. 18 BBC Archives were unable to locate the exact date of this broadcast, and Mr. Norris does not recall the date. What is certain is that it was before 1992, the year of the death of the show’s coordinator, Mr. George MacBeth.


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