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I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

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This week for our cultural article we will be examining William Wordsworth’s (1770 – 1850) 1815 poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

Biography

William Wordsworth was born on April 7th, 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland to John Wordsworth (1740 – 1783), a legal agent to the Earl of Lowther (1736 – 1802), and Ann Wordsworth (1747 – 1778). Wordsworth came as the second of John and Ann’s five children. Richard Wordsworth (1768 – 1816) came before him and was followed by Dorothy (1771 – 1855) (who would aid him throughout his career), Christopher (1774 – 1846), and John, Jr.

Wordsworth attended grammar school near Cockermouth Church as well as Ann Birkett’s school in Penrith. His love of the natural world began early stemming from his childhood living in a terraced garden house along the Derwent River.

Wordsworth experienced personal tragedy early in his life. In March of 1778, Ann Wordsworth died while visiting a friend in London. By June, Wordsworth’s beloved sister, Dorothy, had been sent to live with her mother’s cousin, Elizabeth Threlkheld (1745 – 1837), in Halifax. The pair would not be reunited until 1787. As if that wasn’t bad enough, John Wordsworth, Sr. would die in December of 1783 after being forced to spend a night out in the cold. Following the death of his father, Wordsworth and his brothers were sent to live at the house of Ann Tyson and attended school at Hawkshead. It was here that Wordsworth first began composing prose, an enterprise that was greatly encouraged by his headmaster, William Taylor.

In 1787, Wordsworth went to Cambridge University to attend St. John’s College as a sizar (an undergraduate student receiving financial assistance from the university). That same year, he published his first poem in The European Magazine. Although his academic career was unremarkable, Wordsworth managed to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in 1791.

During his last term, Wordsworth and his friend, Robert Jones (1769 – 1835), embarked on a walking tour of Europe. The tour would prove to be a great influence on Wordsworth poetry which started in earnest while he was travelling through France and Switzerland. During his travels, Wordsworth was also exposed to the ravages of the French Revolution, an experience which his inspired his lifelong sympathy for the common man.

Between 1795 and 1800, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, would move three times. In 1795, the pair used a legacy obtained from a close relative to move to Dorset. Two years later, they would move to Somerset where Wordsworth would become neighbours and close friends with the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834). Finally, in 1799, the pair would settle at Dove Cottage in Grasmere following a trip to Germany with Coleridge.

In 1802, Wordsworth returned to France with his sister to meet his illegitimate daughter, Caroline (1792 – 1862), whom he had conceived illegitimately while living in France. Upon his return, he married his childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson (1770 – 1859). Together, the couple sired five children: Reverend John Wordsworth (1803 – 1875), Dora Wordsworth (1804 – 1847), Thomas Wordsworth (1806 – 1812), Catherine Wordsworth (1809 – 1812), and William Wordsworth, Jr. (1810 – 1883).

In 1813, Wordsworth made the Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland. Years later, following the death of Robert Southey (1774 – 1843), Wordsworth was made Poet Laureate. He died on April 23rd, 1850, in Rydal.

Poem

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I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Analysis

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William Wordsworth is credited with ushering the English romantic movement. Accordingly, Wordsworth is remembered as an intensely spiritual and epistemological writer whose poetry moved away from the grand, moralising themes of the past towards that which explored the purity and beauty of nature.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud was first published in Poems in Two Volumes in 1807. (The version analysed here is the 1815 revised version). The poem was inspired by a long walk Wordsworth took with his sister, Dorothy, around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater. During their walk, the pair came across a “long belt” of daffodils. Wordsworth became inspired to write the poem after reading his sister’s diary description of the walk:

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up – But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway – We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the Sea.”

— Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal Thursday, 15 April   1802.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud consists of four stanzas with six lines each and featured an “ababcc” rhyming sequence. The poem has a peaceful and tranquil feel to it which is expressed through simplistic language, figurative vocabulary, and subtle rhymes. The first three stanzas of the poem describe the narrator’s experiences. Its first line, “I wandered lonely as a cloud” serves to personalise the poem. Likewise, the reference to “a crowd, a host of golden daffodils” describes an ideal place, a form of euphoric paradise which the narrator experiences for the briefest period of time. The second stanza gives the impression that the daffodils were majestic, even other-worldly in their beauty. The narrator even compares them to the stars of the milky way. The poem’s last stanza details the poet’s recollection of his experiences. He describes how his recollection causes his heart to fill the pleasure and “dance with the daffodils.” In the end, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud reminds us that beauty can only be found when we are willing to slow down and take notice of the world around us.

THE PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC

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This is our weekly theological article.

If there is any philosophical or moral principle that can be credited with the prosperity of the Western capitalist societies it would have to be the Protestant work ethic. This ethic asserts that a person’s success in this life is a visible sign of their salvation in the next. As a result, the Protestant work ethic encourages hard work, self-reliance, literacy, diligence, frugality, and the reinvestment profits.

Prior to the Reformation, not much spiritual stock was placed on labour. The Roman Catholic Church placed more value on monastic prayer than on manual labour. Much would change when the German monk, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. Luther railed against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences as a way of avoiding purgatorial punishment. Luther asserted faith over work believing that a person could be set right with God through faith alone. It was Luther’s opinion that an individual should remain in the vocation God had called them to and should work to earn an income, rather than the accumulation of wealth. This belief stood in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s philosophy that relief from eternal torment came from Godly rewards for good works. By contrast, the second great Protestant, John Calvin (1509 – 1564), believed that faith and hard work were inextricably linked. Calvin’s theory came from his revolutionary idea of predestination, which asserted that only certain people were called into grace and salvation. It is from this that the Protestant work ethic is borne.

As a consequence, many Protestants worked hard to prove to themselves that they had been preselected for a seat in heaven. A result of this extreme predilection towards hard-work was an increase in economic prosperity.

The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917), believed that capitalism was built on a system that encouraged a strong work ethic and delayed gratification. Similarly, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920), argued in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) that America’s success boiled down to the Protestant work ethic. It was asserted as the key idea that would encourage individuals to move up the social ladder and achieve economic independence. Weber noted that Protestants – particularly Calvinists, were largely responsible for early twentieth-century business success.

The Protest work ethic is credited with the United States’ economic and political rise in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859), wrote in Democracy in America (1835):

“I see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on its shore. They will to their descendants the most appropriate habits, ideas, and mores to make a republic.”

A study in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology found that nations with a majority Protestant population enjoyed higher rates of employment. The economist, Horst Feldman, analysed data from eighty countries and found that countries with majority Protestant populations – America, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – had employment rates six-percent higher than countries where other religious beliefs were practised. (Furthermore, the female employment rate in Protestant countries is eleven-percent higher). Feldman explained how the legacy of Protestantism led to increased prosperity:

“In the early days, Protestantism promoted the virtue of hard and diligent work among its adherents, who judged one another by conformity to this standard. Originally, an intense devotion to one’s work was meant to assure oneself that one was predestined for salvation. Although the belief in predestination did not last more than a generation or two after the Reformation, the ethic of work continued.”

The Protestant work ethic is one of those Christian ideas that have helped create Western capitalist democracies in all their glory. It is yet another example of the influence that Christianity has had on the modern world.

ROCK IS MASCULINE

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This July, Elvis Presley’s first single, That’s All Right, turned sixty-three years old. For the youth of the time, Elvis Presley’s arrival marks the cultural shift away from the Bing Crosby and Doris Day mentality of their parents’ generation to one that is centred around youth and adolescence. The repercussions of this seismic shift can still be felt.

Like all cultural phenomena, rock was denounced as a passing fancy at best, and satanic at worst. And like all cultural phenomena, many have failed to grasp its masculine cultural symbology: while there have been some great female rockers (Grace Slick, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, Deborah Harry, to name a few), rock has primarily been the manifestation of raw masculine energy and lust.

Rock music owes a lot to the myths and folklore of the past. In his book, the Secret History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Christopher Knowles postulates that rock music is deeply rooted in the mythological figures of Orpheus, Cybele and Attis, Isis, Mithra, the Druids, and so forth. Knowles writes:

“What did the Mysteries offer that other cults of time did not? Almost exactly what rock ‘n’ roll would, thousands of years later. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Loud music. Wild pyrotechnics. A feeling of transcendence – leaving your mind and your body and entering a different world, filled with mystery and danger. A personal connection to something deep, straight, and impossibly timeless. An opportunity to escape the grinding monotony of daily life and break all the rules of polite society. A place to dress up in wild costumes and dance and drink and trip all night.”

Nowhere is this sentiment better expressed than in heavy metal. A genre whose thematically operatic power is drawn from themes of violence, madness, mythology, and the iconography of horror. Central to heavy metal music are fantasies of masculine virtuosity and control. According to Robert Wasler, author of the book Running with the Devil, “metal songs usually include impressive technical and rhetorical feats on the electric guitar, counter-posed with an experience of power and control that is built up through vocal extremes, guitar power chords, distortion, and sheer volume of bass and drums.”

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Originally, the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ was an African American euphemism for sexual intercourse. Blues music, one of the roots of rock, contains a plethora of examples of the raw masculine aggression and lust that later rock music would allude to. Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man, for example, utilises the theme of masculine self-mythologization:

“The gipsy woman told my mother

Before I was born

I got a boy child comin’

He’s gonna be a son of a gun

He’s gonna make pretty women’s

Jump and shout

Then the world wanna know

What this all about

But you know I’m him

Everybody knows I’m him

Well you know I’m the hoochie coochie man

Everybody knows I’m him.”

In a similar way, Muddy Water’s Mannish Boy, itself a response to Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man, continues the theme of masculine self-mythologization:

“Now when I was a young boy

At the age of five

My mother said I was gonna be

The greatest man alive

But now I’m a man

I made twenty-one

I want you to believe me, baby

I had lots of fun

I’m a man,

Spelt ‘m’, ‘a-child’, n’

The represents ‘man’

No ‘b, o-child, y’

That spells ‘mannish boy’.”

Sex forms another important theme in blues music. Waters’ song Got My Mojo Working features themes of hoodoo – an African American form of folk spiritualism – and seduction. Other songs, such as Screaming Jay Hawkins I Put a Spell on You, focuses on the raw, animalistic qualities of lust:

“I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine

Stop the things you do

Watch out!

I ain’t lying, yeah

No running around

I can’t stand

I can’t stand, no put me down

I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine

Watch out, watch out

I ain’t lying

I love you

I love you

I love you, yeah

I don’t care if you don’t want me

I’m yours right now

I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine.”

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Masculinity and sex have always been themes in rock music. These themes manifest themselves most peculiarly in the quasi-religious experience of rock concerts. No one who has seen footage of Woodstock or its darker equivalent, Altamont, can fail to notice the undercurrents of tribalism present at these events. As one observer noted: “one of the most interesting developments in the United States in 1956 was the behaviour of hundreds of thousands of mostly white, middle-class girls, who screamed, danced, and sobbed to the point of ‘enthralment’, ‘near hysteria’, ‘mass hysteria’, or ‘pandemonium’.”

Rock songs of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s contained a plethora of references equating masculinity with sex. Dion’s the Wanderer is about a cad who roams ‘from town to town.’ Bob Seger’s Night Moves refers to a woman’s breasts – a natural object of male desire – as ‘points all her own sitting way up high, way up firm and high.’ More darkly, the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar contains themes of slavery, rape, interracial sex, underage sex, physical abuse, and drug taking. Then there are the music videos, many of which were banned from play on mainstream media. Duran Duran’s Girls On Film features nudity and mud wrestling. Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls features nude women riding bicycles around a sport’s track.

And, of course, it is not unusual for rockstars to enjoy favouritism from the opposite sex. Indeed, sexual prowess and adulation from women form an important theme in rock lore. Groupies of heavy metal artists, for instance, are not just female fans but are seen as extensions of the musician’s artistic identity. Women and access to sex are almost gifted to the rock star, much like the harems of the Ottoman Sultan, the mistresses of European monarchs, or the concubines of Chinese Emperors.

Rock music is the modern reincarnation of ancient myths and folklore. It relies on the same motifs and themes and therefore has a similar effect on the human psyche. As a result, rock music and mythology and folklore share many of the same tropes. Rock music glorifies masculine energy and lust through symbols and metaphors. It raises the rockstar to an exalted position and then confers benefits upon him by giving him greater access to women and sex. This, in turn, gives the rockstar an almost deific quality. Feelings of unity and tribalism are expressed through the quasi-religious nature of the rock concert. The long-lasting popularity of rock music arises from its ability to give expression to ancient symbols of masculinity, and in its capacity to provide an outlet for the more repressed aspects of our nature.