In eleventh grade English I was assigned to memorize my favourite poem, recite it in front of the class, and then state why I liked it best. This felt like a cruel chore at the time. I didn’t read poetry if I could help it. There wasn’t even a poet I could say I enjoyed, let alone a single poem. Sure and I could select one at random but how could I defend this choice in front of my peers?
I remember going to the public library and entering the poetry section for the first time. Almost all of the names were unfamiliar. When I pulled out a collected works, none of the verses made any sense to me. I knew then I was doomed.
It took several hours of exasperated searching before I came upon a poem by William Wordsworth. Out of all words I had read that afternoon, his were the only ones to trigger anything in my brain. Thus, I found myself memorizing “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” for the benefit of my fellow high school students. I can’t remember my stuttered defense of his poetic talents but I still know most of the words of the poem today. I still look upon Wordsworth as one of the few poets who wrote about real things. Or, at least things I can discern.
The below poem is actually even better than my high school find. Not just because it is about a dog. I am glad I found it when searching for something to share tonight. It tells a story in such a lovely fashion. I am tempted to read it aloud for you all as the rhythm seems to demand it. It might even be worth memorizing.
Fidelity, by William Wordsworth
A barking sound the Shepherd hears,
A cry as of a dog or fox;
He halts–and searches with his eyes
Among the scattered rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
And instantly a dog is seen,
Glancing through that covert green.
The Dog is not of mountain breed;
Its motions, too, are wild and shy;
With something, as the Shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in hollow or on height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear;
What is the creature doing here?
It was a cove, a huge recess,
That keeps, till June, December’s snow;
A lofty precipice in front,
A silent tarn below!
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public road or dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land;
From trace of human foot or hand.
There sometimes doth a leaping fish
Send through the tarn a lonely cheer;
The crags repeat the raven’s croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the rainbow comes–the cloud–
And mists that spread the flying shroud;
And sunbeams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past;
But that enormous barrier holds it fast.
Not free from boding thoughts, a while
The Shepherd stood; then makes his way
O’er rocks and stones, following the Dog
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground;
The appalled Discoverer with a sigh
Looks round, to learn the history.
From those abrupt and perilous rocks
The Man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the Shepherd’s mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recalled the name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remembered, too, the very day
On which the Traveller passed this way.
But hear a wonder, for whose sake
This lamentable tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The Dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This Dog, had been through three months’ space
A dweller in that savage place.
Yes, proof was plain that, since the day
When this ill-fated Traveller died,
The Dog had watched about the spot,
Or by his master’s side:
How nourished here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime;
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate!
As always, if you have a favourite you can recommend, I would love to read it and share!