Why Wordsworth Might’ve Been Right, After All

Here is a confession: I am a little in love with William Wordsworth.

I know he’s been dead for a century and a half, yes. And that he was probably more than a little bit infatuated with his sister. The lovely nutter might’ve written three poems about daisies (!) but, oh, he knew something about the way beautiful things make you feel.

‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ has come to mind a lot this month.

‘I have felt’, says our daisy-loving poet,

‘A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods,

And mountains; and of all that we behold

From this green earth; of all the mighty world

Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,

And what perceive; well pleased to recognise

In nature and the language of the sense,

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being’.

He knew, you see, that the mind of man and the grandeur of setting suns are made of the same stuff. We share the spirit of the God who made us both. And so it follows – and he knew this too – that spending time outdoors, feeding the ‘language of the sense’, helps us reconnect with our elevated thoughts, our moral beings. It’s one of the places – and only one, because there are plenty more – where we find our better selves.

Every now and again I get mired in my worst self. She thinks things like ‘My goodness, you’re annoying’, and ‘I hate it when you do that’, and ‘Look at me, look at me’. I can’t spend much time with this self without getting a nasty taste in my mouth, so soon enough the irritation turns inward and I’m prowling restlessly around my own failings – like a dog returning to his vomit, if I may, because who can pass up an opportunity to use that particular Bible classic?

We spent a lot of our long Easter weekend outside, enjoying the unseasonal good weather: floating down rivers, lazing beside them, ambling along towpaths and tramping through ankle-deep leaf mould in bluebell woods. Thanks to TJ’s fondness for the crampiest spaces in my abdomen (am I growing a little Houdini?), I’ve been marching down sunny country lanes with unusual frequency, looking at beautiful things. And I have felt, to borrow a phrase, a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts: all my pettiness and small-mindedness is exhaled and voila, there, underneath all the time: my expansive, peaceful, content-with-life better self.

It’s not a miraculous transformation – it never lasts long. But that’s the good thing about the outdoors: it’s always hanging around out there, waiting to be noticed.

Elevated thoughts.

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