unknown modes of being

Scavella excerpts in the comments to yesterday’s post on Wordsworth lines 351 – 400 of the first book of his Prelude. I’ve repeated them below, because they are stunning and keep dragging you back to them. A  lot going on, but two sections I found particularly compelling:

for many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness

and:

But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

They made me think of this from The Second Coming:

a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs

And this from Paradise Lost:

Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan

The common linkage in my mind is something like that spiritus mundi thing Yeats went on about (although I’m guessing both Wordsworth and Milton would argue with that).

Anyhow, here’s the excerpt (thanks, Scavella!):

One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,–
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

– William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book I, l. 351-400

a jangling noise of words unknown

That’s Book 12, l. 55. I didn’t find myself gripped by much else in this last book.  After all the excitement of Book 10 and previous, Book 11 began a trend towards the ho-hum and Book 12 defnitely consolidated it.

(No more Lucifer, of course, which probably explains it.)

So that’s it for boring endless posts with great chunks of Paradise Lost.

Thank you for your patience.

all the cataracts of Heav’n

More grist for the brilliant movie mill. Here’s the Flood:

Meanwhile the Southwind rose, and with black wings
Wide hovering, all the Clouds together drove
From under Heav’n; the Hills to their supplie
Vapour, and Exhalation dusk and moist,
Sent up amain; and now the thick’nd Skie
Like a dark Ceeling stood; down rush’d the Rain
Impetuous, and continu’d till the Earth
No more was seen

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 738-745

dæmoniac phrenzie, moaping melancholie

Not sure whether this is funny or wonderful, or both. One of the many and varied of scenes of future human misery Michael lays out for Adam. It reads like an engraving from the Inferno. Kind of.

Immediately a place
Before his eyes appeard, sad, noysom, dark,
A Lazar-house it seemd, wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseas’d, all maladies
Of gastly Spasm, or racking torture, qualmes
Of heart-sick Agonie, all feavorous kinds,
Convulsions, Epilepsies, fierce Catarrhs,
Intestin Stone and Ulcer, Colic pangs,
Dæmoniac Phrenzie, moaping Melancholie
And Moon-struck madness, pining Atrophie
Marasmus and wide-wasting Pestilence,
Dropsies, and Asthma’s, and Joint-racking Rheums.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 477-488

his bright appearances

Adam and Eve have been told by Michael that they’re being evicted from Eden, where they had hoped to be able to live out their disgrace, although in deep disgrace. Here’s Adam prefiguring multi-layered nostalgia, just too aching:

here I could frequent,
With worship, place by place where he voutsaf’d
Presence Divine, and to my Sons relate;
On this Mount he appeerd, under this Tree
Stood visible, among these Pines his voice
I heard, here with him at this Fountain talk’d:
So many grateful Altars I would reare
Of grassie Terfe, and pile up every Stone
Of lustre from the brook, in memorie,
Or monument to Ages, and thereon
Offer sweet smelling Gumms and Fruits and Flours:
In yonder nether World where shall I seek
His bright appearances, or foot step-trace?
For though I fled him angrie, yet recall’d
To life prolongd and promisd Race, I now
Gladly behold though but his utmost skirts
Of glory, and farr off his steps adore.

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 317-333

a dreadful din of hissing

Satan morphing into a serpent (brings to mind more Narnia — The Silver Chair, the scene in which the Lady of the Green Kirtle does the same in a bid to stop Rilian/Caspian et al escaping the underworld):

he wonderd, but not long
Had leasure, wondring at himself now more;
His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare,
His Armes clung to his Ribs, his Leggs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,

                                  Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 509 – 514

And so they all become snakes — again, a wonderfully cinematic moment: 

he would have spoke,
But hiss for hiss returnd with forked tongue
To forked tongue, for now were all transform’d
Alike, to Serpents all as accessories
To his bold Riot: dreadful was the din
Of hissing through the Hall, thick swarming now
With complicated monsters head and taile,

                            Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 517 – 523

And here’s Hamlet’s to-be-or-not-to-be speech (Milton was 16 when Shakespeare died, by the way — I had to look that one up) from a miserable Adam:

That dust I am, and shall to dust returne:
O welcom hour whenever! why delayes
His hand to execute what his Decree
Fixd on this day? why do I overlive,
Why am I mockt with death, and length’nd out
To deathless pain? how gladly would I meet
Mortalitie my sentence, and be Earth
Insensible, how glad would lay me down
As in my Mothers lap! There I should rest
And sleep secure; his dreadful voice no more
Would Thunder in my ears, no fear of worse
To mee and to my ofspring would torment me
With cruel expectation. Yet one doubt
Pursues me still, least all I cannot die,
Least that pure breath of Life, the Spirit of Man
Which God inspir’d, cannot together perish [ 785 ]
With this corporeal Clod; then in the Grave,
Or in some other dismal place who knows
But I shall die a living Death? O thought
Horrid, if true!

Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 770 – 789