You Can Go Green Again

Because you can’t stop being what you are. By way – though like any good thing, just barely – of having a favorite bar, and a favorite poet to meet you there, here’s a snip from Lean Down Your Ear Upon the Earth and Listen: Thomas Wolfe’s Greener Modernism by Robert Taylor Ensign.

As Jonathan Bate pointed out, “Wordsworth wrote poems about how flowers may vitalize the spirit.” Not surprisingly, then, the romantics celebrated life’s inherent and ineluctable movement in all its guises and forms. Wolfe expresses this vitalistic concept in the section of Antaeus, or A Memory of the Earth where the wife of Furman, her home having just been destroyed in a flood, yearns for an existence apart from all rivers, change, and movement: “Oh God! Just let me live where nothin’ moves! Just let me live where things will always be the same!” Nature’s movement and changes, however,  are inescapable and Wolfe underscores this universal and organic reality when Furman’s wife realizes that her consciousness continues to be lapped by the rivers of life:

I know each sound that comin’ from the River! I hear the willows trailin’ int he River! I hear oak-limbs snagged there in the River! Al my thoughts are flowin’ like the River, all my life is movin’ like the River, I think an’ talk an’ dream just like the River, as it flows by me, by me, to the sea.

Based on their notion that nature acts as a vitalizing agent, with the senses serving as the conduit, the romantics valued emotions not only because they are individualistic and subjective responses, but also because they are the signs and expressions of vitality. According to Kroeber, “Wordsworth treats emotions as the psychic manipulation of sensation, the process by which psychic activity, inner impulse, mingles and coordinates with physical sensation, the reception of stimuli from outside.” Wolfe’s writing suggests that he shared this same belief in the external, sensory-drawn origin of human emotions. Based on this belief, the romantics valued pleasurable feelings the most and “joy” in particular. Wolfe himself speaks reverently of joy: “when a person has in him the vitality of joy, it is not a meaningless extravagance to say that ‘nothing else matters.’ He is rich. It is probably the richest resource of the spirit.” The romantics viewed joy as not only being “at its highest… the sign in our consciousness of the free play of all our vital powers”, but also, according to Coleridge, as the pathway to a state of oneness with the physical world.

And so it is.