KJ | ET Student
One of the classes we’re taking is called Literature on Location, and we’ve recently spent a few weeks with William Wordsworth, visiting different aspects of his life. We started in the Lake District with Dove Cottage, the house he lived in during the peak of his writing career, his primary school, and even his college in Cambridge.
The climax of our time with Wordsworth was climbing Mt. Snowdon. The man eager to compare himself to John Milton wrote a fourteen-book epic poem about the development of his imagination, and the plot incorporates many themes, all of them building to the moment he climbed this mountain. Thinking we’d have our own sublime experience, we followed his footsteps and decided he was lying. He talked about how he could see the moon illuminating the hills and sea around him. For us, clouds insulated the peak of this mountain, and we saw nothing except our breath. His humid evening and solitary contemplation must have been fictional, intended to fit his manipulated plot.
“Nature is not good. The Romantics are stupid,” I freely told my professor as a gust of wind threw us into the mountain. He laughed, but a few moments later, he reminded me of the sublime. Wordsworth’s “Prelude” focused heavily on Nature, memory, unity, emotion, and the sublime — a word describing an experience that produces both fear and love, especially in nature.
“One function, above all, of such a mind / Had Nature shadowed there, by putting forth, / ‘Mid circumstances awful and sublime, / […] / That men, least sensitive, see, hear, perceive, / And cannot choose but feel” (78-86).
While on this mountain, everything shifted for Wordsworth. He had lost touch with his imagination and had been searching for answers by tracing his memories and assessing his encounters with the sublime, even from childhood. He finally embraced emotion — something inconsistent, unexplainable, and illogical, and gave himself to the sublime.
I can now say I’ve walked Snowdon with Wordsworth, and, though I never intend to do it again, I understand how something so beautiful and terrifying could facilitate a dramatic change of perspective.