Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Getting and Spending"

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. --Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

I recently re-read William Wordsworth's sonnet, "The World Is Too Much With Us," an archetypal work of the Romantic movement, and recognized it as a fortuitous encounter having just completed Kathleen Norris's Dakota. Wordsworth, of course, wrote at a time (ca. 1802) when the Industrial Revolution had begun to transform Britain's landscape and make it the greatest economic power of the 19th century. Norris, examining the unique milieu of life in the Dakotas, explores that same dynamic, and the stark contrast between rural and urban life in America, albeit within a religious/autobiographical idiom rather than poetically. But walking through Times Square last night I understood the relevance of both works, particularly in terms of their congruent appeal to the palliative powers of the natural world.

It's easy to forget that environment when one lives in a place like New York City. Central Park certainly provides a handy antidote to the urban cacophony, and periodic vaccinations in its meadows and paths are a necessary part of surviving in the city. Unfortunately, too many people in this town are motivated entirely by the effort of "getting and spending." One sees them prowling through midtown, in the blocks surrounding my office, and in the avenues around Wall Street. With the recent Bear Stearns mess and the promise of crises ahead, many of these figures of the financial sector exhibit a lean, nervous look these days, as if wolves and other terrors actually roamed the streets in search of prey. It's at times like this that I'm glad I didn't take that career path, not that there was ever any danger of choosing that kind of vocation. I'd much rather "stop and smell the roses" - and read the poetry - than worry about annual bonuses, hostile takeovers, and buyouts.

1 comment:

jblack designs said...

What a lovely piece, Brian.