Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”


In “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned,” Wordsworth defends his practice of mooning around the Lake Country waiting for inspiration against those who think he ought to be doing something more edifying, like reading a book.  Nature, he claims, is a superior teacher.  “One impulse from a vernal wood / Can teach me more of man, / Of moral evil and of good, / Than all the sages can.”

Oh, really?


“Will” bids us Nature’s students be

And treats book learning with contempt.

We wonder if his poetry

From this fine maxim is exempt?

I think that what we learn from her

Of moral good and ill is fine;

But after all, I must aver,

It’s Man that has a mind!

And God supremely, who doth teach

Truth absolute in Holy Books,

In number sixty-six, and each

A guide to help us look

At Nature’s pages, there to see

Aright and not be sore confused.

For Arrogance, who tries to be

His own guide, is with ease abused.

I do not seek to minimize

That which from Nature we can know;

I only wish to emphasize

We cannot hope to learn it so.

An impulse from a vernal wood

Could never do me half the good

Without long, careful, studious looks

Between the pages of my books.

Nature does not and cannot teach positive moral content.  Look at her from one angle and she is our benevolent mother; from another and she is red in tooth and claw.  What she can provide is a metaphorical language that gives meaning to our concepts.  That is a great gift.  So we need the Library Carrel and the Lake Country to be whole men and women.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD


About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on October 24, 2011, in Donald Williams, Poetry, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What? You mean I can’t learn everything I need to know from looking at pretty mountains and highland hills in Scotland? Hmm, I guess I’d better revise my plans for graduating on time…

    I think a lot of people tend to go too far in a “nature-wise” direction because they fear becoming those terrifying pale-skinned library creatures who only emerge from their lairs after dark, but really, it is the balance of learning from books and applying that learning in the world that we will really find a balance.

    I do think that it is important for someone like me to remind myself that the outside world exists every now and then…

  2. Melissa–the outside world exists. Just sayin’. . .

    Do you know the American poet Robinson Jeffers? He’s got a line about loving and needing contact with “the world outside the brain-vault.” Yes.

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