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Lyrical Ballads was an experimental book of poems written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in the late seventeen hundreds. This book of poems was called experimental because the style it was written in was unlike anything of that time. In this collection of poems is a poem written by Wordsworth called “The Tables Turned.” At first glance of this poem, one can assume that this is an anti-intellectual poem. Reason for this is in the opening paragraph when the speaker in the poem tells his friend to, “quit his books.” So why would Wordsworth and Coleridge write a book against books?
For starters, this poem is against conventional learning. The person that is being spoken to in this paper is probably a common person who at that time is under the notion that you can learn everything and anything from a book. The speaker of the poem calls books a “dull and endless strife.” This line must have sound as absurd then as it does now. In each semester of college so far, I am averaging about 10 books a semester that I have to read, which does gives the impression of endless. However, there are a countless number of books in the world, each with its own set of knowledge and information. So can books be considered dull? To top it all off, he goes on to say, “Come, here the woodland linnet / how sweet his music; on my life / there’s more of wisdom in it.”
Is Wordsworth saying that there is more wisdom in the song of the woodland linnet than in a book? The answer to all these questions is yes and no. A woodland linnet can never teach someone calculus, psychology, or even how to tie ones shoe. However, no matter how much you can read, you will never hear the sound of music coming from the woodland linnet. This feeling that one receives from that experience is just as important, perhaps even more important, than reading about it. At the end of the poem Wordsworth goes on to say, “enough of science and of art…bring with you a heart / that watches and receives.”
The words at the end are very peculiar. The heart is not the organ that stores knowledge or gives us sight. Wordsworth uses the word heart to imply feelings because that is what most people associate the word heart with. Wordsworth is saying that one needs more than just books, and pictures. Watches and receives are also interesting words. When someone watches something, one has to look out, and when someone receives something, one takes in. So the words watch and receive imply give and take, action and reaction. In other words, it means interaction. One needs to have this experience of interaction or else they will never fully understand.
The poem “Old Man Traveling” (also by Wordsworth in the book Lyrical Ballads) has the same theme of needing experience. This poem is about and old man walking and someone is watching him. The person is watching the expressions of the man and saying what he thinks of him. So the person is reading the old man. The person says that the old man is “by nature led / to peace so perfect…” This deduces an image of a happy and peaceful man. The last part of the poem is different than the first.
The person actually goes up to the old man and asks him where he is going. The old man replies that he is going to visit his dying son. The old man, then, really is not so peaceful and perfect. There is no way that the person could have derived this from just reading the man, the person needed interaction. So does reading and interaction go hand-in-hand? To one extent it does because reading is a kind of interaction. However, reading is only interaction between the person and the book. Reading can work with your mind and senses to create a picture in your mind. Nevertheless the only physical aspect of interaction with reading is the holding of the book. Reading offers very little physical interaction.
Referring back to the original poem, the thought of needing more than books goes a little deeper. In line 28 of the poem, Wordsworth says “we murder to dissect.” Literally speaking, we have to murder an animal in order to analyze it and find out more about it. What is left at the end is a disgusting image of bones and blood of what use to be the animal that was being dissected. This can also connect to reading. In many literature classes, people often have to analyze a particular peace to find out what it really is implying. This means that the students go through line by line, and sometimes word by word, and try to come up with some metaphorical translation for the work. What is left is a whole bunch of random lines and words witch are the bones of the work, and a whole sea of ink as to what those bones can mean.
In doing this, we often “murder” the original work. So what was once a poem is now a complicated mess. Wordsworth claims that “our meddling intellect / mishapes the beauteous forms of things.” Wordsworth acknowledges the fact that as a whole, humans have a desire to learn more, but at times this desire can be destructive. An example if this is a Seurat painting. If we dissect it, and take it apart, the closer that we look at it we will see a bunch of dots. By leaving it at that, and concluding that Seruat is a man whose paintings is just a bunch of dots, then we have murdered the painting. What we have to do after dissecting it, is to put it back to together, and realize the beauty in the work, and then take it a step further and say that he did that using pointillism.
To take the idea a final step further, Wordsworth says, “one impulse from a vernal wood / may teach you more of man; / or moral evil and of good / than all the sages can.”
One can sit down and read all about Buddha and Christ, but again, all that person is doing is reading. In only reading, one can never find out anything through experience or anything new because by reading books, you are never fully up to date because someone had to take the time to write the book and then you have to take the time to read it. This creates a kind of dungeon for ourselves which we our minds are trapped into what the books tell us to believe. In the poem “The Dungeon,” also in the book Lyrical Ballads though it is written by Coleridge, tells the story of a person in a dungeon. This is where we put people who offend us, and Wordsworth questions that in the poem by saying sarcastically, “and this is their best cure!” Wordsworth said that the energy of the person in the dungeon “roll(s) back upon his heart / and stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison.” This poem is a story about a person in a dungeon, however this can be taken a step further by saying that this is what happens to a person if they make a mental dungeon. Their thoughts will stagnate and corrupt.
In writing Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge and Wordsworth planned on using layman’s terms to get their point across. They do not use long elaborate words that can confuse some people, because they wanted their points to be clear and that everyone can understand them. So when Wordsworth tells the person in the poem “The Tables Turned” to “quit your books,” understand that he is saying that you need more to life than just books, you need experiences as well.