Wordsworth and the Art of Decay in “Old Man Traveling”

by g

On the Principal Object of Poems;

Low and rustic life was generally chosen because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language: because in that condition of life our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity, and , consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and, from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended: and are more durable; and lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature… because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived.”

Wordsworth clearly wishes to return to a primal language of humanity. In “Old Man Traveling,” it is the tranquility and decay of the animal that rests in his verse. This is not to say that Wordsworth considers humans base, or simply animals with a mind, but that to really create an impression upon the reader, poetry must present philosophical multiplicity wrapped up into a single, simple image of man in the throws of mortality. But why not focus upon the spontaneous overflow of emotion? Well he is, it is just not the emotion that one might think would accompany what I will call the “daffodil,” form of poetry. “Old Man Traveling,” strikes to the heart; the birds regard our subject not, for he is dead inside with the dying of his son, and nature must reflect upon this true condition of man. That we are utterly alone yes, because even our children may die in the hospital of Falmouth, but that as a result we are together in our isolation. Wordsworth accomplishes a clear picture of the chaotic communication between men and their world, while at the same time using this impact of symbolism to subdue our dwindling patience and composure so that we may learn to love a “peace so perfect that the young behold with envy, what the old man hardly feels.” The profit thus becomes unfiltered emotion, in the form of filtered tranquility and decay. This profit is a feeling of isolation, that reminds oneself that the translation of Death is the same for everyone, and in this we are together.

What do you guys think of the form of this poem? It seems one of the only ones from Wordsworth does does not have a easy to recognize meter or rhyme scheme? I think this poem is beautiful, but do you agree, I mean its pretty sad stuff, but sometimes that is the best example of human beauty, right? or better yet, do you agree when I say that Nature, in this poem, seems to wrap us in the warmth of her blanket only to whisper in our ear that the birds are busy pecking, and we are busy dying? Is that to pessimistic, or is there relief in knowing that the object of our journey is exactly to humble ourselves upon the love of our lowliness? Finally, Wordsworth writes often of the purpose of poetry, what is the purpose of this poem?

-gH

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