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Lines Written Upon a Yew Tree by William Wordsworth

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Great men can battle many things, jealousy, hate, scorn, dissolute tongues, but what about neglect? Can a great man or woman persevere in the face of utter lifelong neglect?

What would Einstein be like in old age, had no one taken his theory of relativity seriously? What about Dostoevsky's novels? Galileo famously was locked in a tower. At least he was not neglected!

Neglect it not scorn or hatred. It is to be ignored, unacknowledged, ghosted. This is something profoundly worse than fear or fury.

In this haunting poem, Wordsworth writes about a man he knew at Hawkshead school. The man was educated, a genius even. But something made him abscond from humanity. The only monument were some lines left upon a seat in a yew-tree which stands near the lake of Esthwaite on a desolate prt of the shore, yet commanding a beautiful prospect.

Lines left upon a seat in a yew-tree, which stands near the Lake of Esthwaite, on a desolate part of the shore, commanding a beautiful prospect.

by William Wordsworth

Nay, Traveller! rest. This lonely Yew-tree stands Far from all human dwelling: what if here No sparkling rivulet spread the verdant herb? What if the bee love not these barren boughs? Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves, That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind By one soft impulse saved from vacancy.

-----------------Who he was That piled these stones and with the mossy sod First covered, and here taught this aged Tree With its dark arms to form a circling bower, I well remember. -- He was one who owned No common soul. In youth by science nursed, And led by nature into a wild scene Of lofty hopes, he to the world went forth A favored Being, knowing no desire Which genius did not hallow; 'gainst the taint Of dissolute tongues, and jealousy, and hate, And scorn, -- against all enemies prepared, All but neglect. The world, for so it thought, Owed him no service; wherefore he at once With indignation turned himself away, And with the food of pride sustained his soul In solitude. -- Stranger! these gloomy boughs Had charms for him; and here he loved to sit, His only visitants a straggling sheep, The stone-chat, or the glancing sand-piper: And on these barren rocks, with fern and heath, And juniper and thistle, sprinkled o'er, Fixing his downcast eye, he many an hour A morbid pleasure nourished, tracing here An emblem of his own unfruitful life: And, lifting up his head, he then would gaze On the more distant scene, -- how lovely 't is Thou seest, -- and he would gaze till it became Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain The beauty, still more beauteous! Nor, that time, When nature had subdued him to herself, Would he forget those Beings to whose minds, Warm from the labors of benevolence, The world, and human life, appeared a scene Of kindred loveliness: then he would sigh, Inly disturbed, to think that others felt What he must never feel: and so, lost Man! On visionary views would fancy feed, Till his eye streamed with tears. In this deep vale He died, -- this seat his only monument.   If Thou be one whose heart the holy forms Of young imagination have kept pure, Stranger! henceforth be warned; and know that pride, Howe'er disguised in its own majesty, Is littleness; that he, who feels contempt For any living thing, hath faculties Which he has never used; that thought with him Is in its infancy. The man whose eye Is ever on himself doth look on one, The least of Nature's works, one who might move The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds Unlawful, ever. O be wiser, Thou! Instructed that true knowledge leads to love; True dignity abides with him alone Who, in the silent hour of inward thought, Can still suspect, and still revere himself, In lowliness of heart.


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