Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Poetic Transcendentalism

Nobody says it like a master poet. And William Wordsworth ( (1770-1850) - who has perhaps the most fitting name of all the bards - is without question a master poet. His work transcends the ordinary and reaches the Divine.

In his Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, Wordsworth enters the sublime with his intimations of the transmigration of the soul and his explicit recognition of  a universal "home" in the Godhead.
William Wordsworth
… Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come,
From God who is our home.

(William Wordsworth, from his poem, "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.")
 The two poems that seem to approach the same spiritual heights as the above passage from Intimations are William Blake's The Tyger and Emerson's Brahma. Blake (1757-1827) was one of those rare individuals to experience wholesale spiritual enlightenment, according to Richard M. Bucke in his groundbreaking treatise on Cosmic Consciousness, while Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) provided a good deal of the impetus to the American Transcendentalist movement that centered around his Concord, Massachusetts home.

William Blake
"Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

Richard M. Bucke
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
(William Blake, The Tygre, 1794)
And last, but not least, is Emerson's Brahma, which reflects the impact that the introduction of Eastern wisdom traditions had on Western religious understanding,  particularly on the development of Emerson's Unitarianism.
If the red slayer think he slays,
  Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
  I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near, 
  Shadow and sunlight are the same,
The vanished gods to me appear,
  And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
  When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
  And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The strong gods pine for my abode,
  And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
  Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
 (Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Brahma," 1856)

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