Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Imagine that

In his Preface to The Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth writes,

I might perhaps include all which it is necessary to say upon this subject by affirming, what few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions, either of passions, manners, or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once.

Imagine that. Wordsworth says it so matter-of-factly, so off-handedly, he must have believed it was so, yet it posits a state of affairs I find almost inconceivable. Commenting on the passage, Randall Jarrell says,

One sees sometimes carved on geology buildings: O Earth, what changes thou hast seen! When a poet finishes reading this passage from Wordsworth, he thinks in miserable awe: O Earth, what changes thou hast seen! Only a hundred and fifty years ago this is what people were like.

Imagine, say, John Grisham sitting around mooning, unable to change out of his pyjamas, thinking miserably, "I wish I could write these stories in verse, so I could attract some readers." Imagine that. I can't.