Laying Waste Our Powers

I always thought the first poem I ever learned was by William Wordsworth, but it turns out it was by Kenneth Grahame (who wrote The Wind in the Willows). I’ve often stumbled as I’ve tried to recall it because my seven-year old self learned “Through the rushes green” instead of “Through the rushes tall.” Easy mistake to make, no? But it buggers up the rhyme completely.

Anyway, it’s the season during which many people suspend their disbelief and submit to the celebration of conspicuous consumption and the elevation os ‘family’ to a kind of hyperbolic spiritual absolute. Both make me feel a little sick. So, my antidote is something as unlikely to generate material gain as it is for most families to sit together and discuss the nature of ultimate reality rather than watch the Dr. Who Christmas Special: read a poem or two.

First the Kenneth Grahame, then one of Wordsworth’s most famous sonnets.

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

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