Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Series intro; "Michael " 74-79

With the new year, it's time to start a new series here on UAB-Romantics. The idea is to provide something like a "quote of the week" that will remind readers of the central joys of reading romantic literature. I'll follow each brief passage from the literature with a short commentary describing the context of the passage and offering some brief note about its significance. I'm hoping it will encourage people to seek out the whole work and read to their hearts' content. As always, I welcome all comments, questions and suggestions, and would particularly welcome suggestions for favorite passages to feature in future posts.

This week's passage comes from Wordsworth's "Michael" (74-79). Having described Michael's attachment to and labors on his ancestral lands, the narrator says,

these fields, these hills,
Which were his living being even more
Than his own blood (what could they less?), had laid
Strong hold on his affections, were to him
A pleasurable feeling of blind love,
The pleasure there is in life itself.

The passage points to one of the central "messages" of the poem, one that is particularly relevant to a modern and postmodern age. Wordsworth's celebration of Michael is a celebration of a mode of life anchored to and sustained by a close and informing attachment to place--to "these fields, these hills." As such, Michael's mode of existence conflicts irresolvably with a modern world that sees land--and, by extension, Nature--as a commodity to be bought and sold according to the purely quantitative valuations of the market. Such a modern world has no place for and eventually destroys the place-bound, physically and psychologically anchored existence represented by Michael. Modernity, in other words, is incompatible with "The pleasure there is in life itself."

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