Why did William Wordsworth write about nature

A poet to be discovered in Germany

Even before the German Romantics discovered wanderlust, an English poet walked through the hilly and lake-rich landscape of Cumbria, crossed Dorset, Somerset, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales, hiked down to eastern France, through the Rhine Valley and stepped over the Simplon Pass to northern Italy down. It was William Wordsworth who basically wrote his verses "out of doors", as his sister Dorothy, who often accompanied him, told. With wide open senses and precise perception, in the freedom of walking and provided with vivid memories, Wordsworth created a poetic work that is not only regarded as a standard work in the English-speaking world, but also made it a personal authority. Every year around 70,000 visitors make a pilgrimage to his former home in Grasmere. In Germany, the English master of the emerging modernism remained unpublished with his "enchantingly abysmal work". Until recently, no separate book edition could be found, apart from a few prints in anthologies. The fact that the author and translator Wolfgang Schlueter, known for discovering transfers, finally intervened after two hundred years and led one of the most important poets in world literature from the British Isles to us cannot be praised highly enough. Under the title "I wandered lonely as a cloud" - ballads, sonnets, verses - Schlueter collected and translated an extensive selection from William Wordsworth's works with a sensitive mind. He also provided his selection with insightful comments and wrote a knowledgeable epilogue. Renate Birkenhauer, also known for excellently edited discoveries, was about to close her one-woman publishing house Straelener Manuskripte. But with a book project like this, she couldn't help but open the gates again. Because William Wordsworth, in all its anachronism, is more modern than ever.

... The eye, it just has to see;
Nor can we still the ear;
and feel our bodies where they go & stand,
with or without will.

I also know that there are powers
which impress themselves on our mind -
that this spirit is popular to nourish us
with a blessing born of passivity.

You believe in the midst of all the mighty sum
of what always speaks to us
that nothing comes to us down here by itself,
we have to be seekers forever, don't we?

Then don't ask why here alone
in dream conversation with trees,
I'm sitting on this old gray stone
to dream away from time


The creative period of William Wordsworth, he was born in 1770 and died in 1850, "includes Georgian and Victorian, includes robespierre like Disraeli, ox-carts like railroad tracks, monastery chapels like daguerrotype", as Wolfgang Schlueter writes in the afterword. Time pushed the poet to the hard edge of modernity. He had to watch how traffic aisles were cut in hitherto untouched nature and soils were scraped up for what could be used. I had to watch how the cities grew explosively, how people moved closer and closer together and were noticeably weaned from nature. But instead of making this unleashed furore the topic, Wordsworth wandered undeterred and almost stoically through remote areas, mist-shrouded valleys, vast forests or along river banks. He did not want to numb himself in defiant nostalgia with remote idylls, but rather keep his head up in contemplation, from a distance and in the midst of the great nature. Just as the Arcadian, bucolic or pastoral poets tried before him. He did not find revelations, insights and epiphanies in the immediate and turbulent presence of man, but in the midst of the quiet as well as loud, millennia-old and directly experienced forces of a nature that not only produced man, but - still - persistently physical, kept alive mentally and spiritually. Exactly in the emptiness and silence of this extra-territorial space William Wordsworth wanted to listen deeply into the confusing human, for which the "cramped, life-draining noise in congested air", as he writes, had become too annoying elsewhere. The blank verse that was just emerging at the time offered him, as the translator Wolfgang Schlueter explains, a "perfect meter for the gradual creation of thoughts while walking". Literally by the way, William Wordsworth's poetry brought a breath of fresh air to literature. The poet refused to use the classical verse forms that had prevailed until then and spelled freedom in his own verses.

In the play of the elemental forces "a poet's mind awakens", as it says in the subline to the poem "Das Vorspiel":

The all-encompassing spectacle was quite
shaped for amazement and delight,
great about itself - but in the crack of clouds,
through which penetrated the homeless voice of the waters,
the deep dark passage: there it was where nature
the soul settled, the educational power of the whole.


William Wordsworth's almost terrifying retreat from the achievements of the civilization of that time, from increasing industrialization and the accumulation of values ​​and goods - considered by others with euphoria - this retreat was essentially due to two traumatic experiences. The first was his mother's early death. A shocking loss for which the child no longer had to comfort themselves in the arms of a person, but in the security of trees, streams and meadows - which explains a lifelong, special relationship between the poet and nature. And the second experience, which traumatized not only Wordsworth but an entire generation, came with the bloody end of the French Revolution. Brute disillusionment destroyed all hopes for freedom, equality and fraternity. Instead, the spreading industrialization rolled unrestrained across the country and landscape in England. It threatened the native and familiar regions of those for whom the forest was still a place that had grown and cherished for thousands of years and was not a quickly deforested fodder for steam engines, for the expansion of the railway network and for the greatest possible profit.
In William Wordsworth's poem "To the Clouds", which for him become the archetype, it says:

.... clear & bright
and the region that you previously entered appears blank
occupied; a calm gradient that descends
led to the unapproachable depth, down
into the hidden gullet from which they rose
to pass - fleeting like days, months & years,
fleeting like the generations of men,
Power, fame & rule, like the globe itself,
its faltering rotation when time has stopped.


William Wordsworth's real interest was not only in the landscapes, bridges, cityscapes and vaults of heaven, but above all in the people who had settled down in the midst and whom time threatened to tear apart. He knew the old Cumberland beggar, who roamed the villages and no one refused to give alms because he was part of the family, would soon be extinct. He would increasingly be replaced by the countless urban proletarians living in anonymity and poverty.

... Since he's shuffling
door to door, see the villagers
in it a document, which has age-old conventions
and offices of mercy that would otherwise be forgotten,
embodied in one, that kind sense in the heart
therefore keeps alive the passing of the years
(which is confirmed by half the wisdom, the half experience)
Let it feel sluggish, and steadfast stride
led back to selfishness and cold forgetting.


Why, of all people, did William Wordsworth remain a poet to be discovered in German-speaking countries? Apart from the fact that literary interest in Germany at the time was less oriented towards England and more towards France and ancient Greece, there seem to have been other reasons, as Wolfgang Schlueter speculates:

"If it had been about bringing Wordsworth into German, well, the generation around Goethe, Kleist and Wieland in the 18th century during the Wieland period could have taken care of Wordsworthen. But obviously there was a verdict of Goethe that set very clear priorities : No, English Romanticism is represented by Lord Byron. What is not Byron is not good, not good enough. And what Goethe said was binding for long stretches of the 19th century. "

Wordsworth, William: I wandered lonely as a cloud.
Ballads, sonnets, verses.
Translated, edited and with an afterword by Wolfgang Schlueter. Bilingual edition. Straelen manuscripts. 208 pages. 24.90 euros.