I Hear Voices…

… while I teach British Literature.

I love the Romantic poets; really, I do. Give me a rainy, spring day and I can give you an “Ode to Puddles.” I love Byronic heroes just a little too much; I adore John Keats to the point that I fear my fascination with a dead man; and I will admit – grudgingly – that Mary Shelley had an interesting idea. Just please don’t make me read Frankenstein again.

I love the Romantics – but I recognize that they are rather ridiculous.

Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind“)

Really, Shelley?

(You know what? Every time I read this poem, I hear the voice of my Language Arts teacher from high school. Maybe that’s why I hate Shelley: my teacher’s voice always drips with sarcasm when it recites this part in my mind.)

And so, while I adore the Romantics – some of the Romantics (I hate you, Shelleys) – yes, I do see why there are some people who cannot stand them.

And sometimes I wonder at how I can both love and loathe the Romantics all at the same time.

Today in British Literature we read William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.

The poem, to refresh your memory, discusses how the speaker used to take pleasure from being a part of nature in his youth. How

“oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, [he has] owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into [his] purer mind,
With tranquil restoration” (25-30).

And yet, while I teach this, I hear another voice in my head:

Keep your splendid, silent sun;
Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods;
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and orchards;
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields, where the Ninth-month bees hum;
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me comrades and lovers by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones by the hand every day!
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give me the sound of the trumpets and drums!
(The soldiers in companies or regiments—some, starting away, flush’d and reckless;
Some, their time up, returning, with thinn’d ranks—young, yet very old, worn, marching, noticing nothing;)
—Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed with the black ships!
O such for me! O an intense life! O full to repletion, and varied!
The life of the theatre, bar-room, huge hotel, for me!

The saloon of the steamer! the crowded excursion for me! the torch-light procession!
The dense brigade, bound for the war, with high piled military wagons following;
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions, pageants;
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the beating drums, as now;
The endless and noisy chorus, the rustle and clank of muskets, (even the sight of the wounded;)
Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus—with varied chorus, and light of the sparkling eyes;
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.
(Leaves of Grass, 20-40)

(Oh, Walt Whitman, you’re another poet that I love and loathe.)

Some days I am a Romantic. I want to spend my day lying in the tall grass watching the clouds float by and make daisy chains and listen to the birds sing and contemplate death.

Other days, I want the bustle and noise of the city. I want dirt and smog and people and metal. I want the streets of Manhattan.

Poetry: the ability to find Beauty in everything.

(Am I the only person who thinks this way? Am I the only person who thinks in terms of poems and books and song lyrics? Sometimes it feels that way.)


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