Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In which three more passions coalesce

My bike-only friends may not know that I consider myself a Romanticist. Everyone calls me an "English major / teacher / professor" (not yet), but my specialization is the literature of the British Romantic period, which ran from around 1770 to 1830. Political, aesthetic, and agricultural revolutions all occurred in this period, as did the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. The period's seminal text is usually thought to be Lyrical Ballads, a 1798 volume of poetry written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I love Wordsworth in a way that academics shouldn't. My love for his work often blinds me to beneficial and relevant critical thought and leads me toward the affective fallacy, that brand of non-critique which praises poetry for its emotional effect. But most of my fervently held beliefs originate with Wordsworth: in the power of nature and wilderness to heal, in the beneficence of self-propelled travel and movement, in the leveling power of good art, in a radical Marxian politics, in the restorative sublimity of the imagination. The ways in which our culture thinks about nature, the imagination, the role of the artist, and the transformative power of art all begin with Wordsworth.

So imagine my ass-slappin', whoop-shrieking joy when I saw THIS:

God love 'em, the folks at Rivendell already make a bike named after Tom Bombadil. If you've only seen the movies and not read the books, old Tom, "Eldest," is my favorite Tolkien character, who thankfully didn't make the shooting script:

So a bike named after a Wordsworth character? I'm in heaven. Too bad I can't ride one; it's a women's specific design:

 Remember what I said yesterday? about the sexiest thing in the world being a woman on a bike? Uhh, yeah. How about more specifics: a red-head on a Rivendell named after a Wordsworth character? Jessica would just have to forgive me. Unless I BUY her one. HMMM.....

Anyhow, here's the first three stanzas of "The Idiot Boy," the poem in which the name "Betty Foy" appears:

'TIS eight o'clock,--a clear March night,
The moon is up,--the sky is blue,
The owlet, in the moonlight air,
Shouts from nobody knows where;
He lengthens out his lonely shout,
Halloo! halloo! a long halloo!

--Why bustle thus about your door,
What means this bustle, Betty Foy?
Why are you in this mighty fret?
And why on horseback have you set
Him whom you love, your Idiot Boy?

Scarcely a soul is out of bed;
Good Betty, put him down again;
His lips with joy they burr at you;
But, Betty! what has he to do
With stirrup, saddle, or with rein?

But Betty's bent on her intent;
For her good neighbour, Susan Gale,
Old Susan, she who dwells alone,
Is sick, and makes a piteous moan
As if her very life would fail.

Wordsworth's great contribution (the credit isn't entirely his, but for the sake of argument...) was to make lyric poetry about beggars, tillers, gleaners, shepherds, leech-gatherers, war widows, fishermen and the like. Shepherding this sort of dramtis personae  and speech into the elevated realm of lyric poetry was a radical act, one of many revolutionary sentiments and habits Wordsworth embodied in his early career.

And besides examining the lives of the laboring, rural poor, the "Idiot Boy" also makes heroic the actions of a mentally challenged child. One day I'll write a book about Wordsworthian disability portraits. Disability Studies is a relatively recent field in literary theory, one which I find of particular interest because of my daughter Katie's autism diagnosis and the pejorative use of the adjective "retarded."

But damn! That bike!

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