< William Wordsworth >
The Green Linnet
Poems in Two Volumes (1807, 37)
composed 1803 (33)
Beneath these fruit-tree boughs that shed
Their snow-white blossoms on my head,
With brightest sunshine round me spread
Of spring's unclouded weather,
In this sequestered nook how sweet
To sit upon my orchard-seat!
And birds and flowers once more to greet,
My last year's friends together.
One have I marked, the happiest guest
In all this covert of the blest:
Hail to Thee, far above the rest
In joy of voice and pinion!
Thou, Linnet! in thy green array,
Presiding Spirit here today,
Dost lead the revels of the May;
And this is thy dominion.
While bird, and butterflies, and flowers,
Make all one band of paramours,
Thou, ranging up and down the bowers,
Art sole in thy employment:
A Life, a Presence like the Air,
Scattering thy gladness without care,
Too blest with any one to pair;
Thyself thy own enjoyment.
Amid yon tuft of hazel trees,
That twinkle to the gusty breeze,
Behold him perched in ecstasies,
Yet seeming still to hover;
There! where the flutter of his wings
Upon his back and body flings
Shadows and sunny glimmerings,
That cover him all over.
My dazzled sight he oft deceives,
A Brother of the dancing leaves;
Then flits, and from the cottage eaves
Pours forth his song in gushes;
As if by that exulting strain
He mocked and treated with disdain
The voiceless Form he chose to feign,
While fluttering in the bushes.
Simple poem, simple subject, but very difficult to make it
work without sounding contrived given the insistence on three rhyming lines per
quatrain, or trite, given the 'low subject matter'.
William Blake, of course, had a similar predilection for simple subject matter, and was presented with the same problems, and the same lack of comprehension on the part of contemporary readers of poetry.
Interestingly we can here detect one of the prime requirements for a poet: he should speak to everybody, even for everybody.
There are, of course, poets who do not speak to everybody, but rather to a particular class of person. But these poets tend to acquire only a temporary importance.
Blake overcame the problems of treating such subjects with his special brand of visionary force, a quality which became much appreciated by succeeding generations. Wordsworth's world is not peopled with angels and devils which frequently break through the fabric of the perceived world: the spiritual element is merely suggested, plays on the margins of sight and illusion.
This poem leads us back from poetic speculation to the sober reality of a bird 'fluttering in the bushes', though he (the bird) does retain some of the magic with which he has been dusted by the poet. It is, at all events, a wonderfully understated and quiet conclusion which makes no demands on our intellect, probably more effective if pronounced with a Cumberland accent as 'bushes' then rhymes exactly with 'gushes'.
'Serious' men will, of course, always see simple mindedness in simplicity: see Samuel Johnson's criticism of Shakespeare's Midsummer Nights Dream, and Francis Jeffrey's criticism of Wordsworth's poetry generally.
copyright Paul Scott, all rights reserved