Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
Perhaps this quotation from Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Tables Turned’ seems like a blasphemy! Surely it’s a shocking thing for a book lover like me to suggest that books and study have their limitations? Rather than me posting the whole poem here, I suggest you Google it (or better, pull down your Wordsworth from the bookshelf) and read what the master has to say about ‘quitting’ books.
He is talking to a friend and advising him to look up at the sun hitting the top of the mountain and the fields in evening light and to listen to the linnet and the thrush. ‘Let nature be your teacher’ says the poet – and that seems to me to be very good advice, because…
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Wordsworth contrasts the ‘sweet’ lessons of the natural world with ‘meddling intellect.’ I always remember hating the deconstruction of works of literature when I first went to University College London in 1966, because it felt to me as if all easy joy in poetry, novels and drama was driven out by academic analysis. In Wordsworth’s famous phrase: ‘We murder to dissect.’ Of course, I did get used to it – because you have to if you are a good student of English Language and Literature. But sometimes nowadays I can read a piece of writing about a book or a painting, and think, ‘What?’ It’s either dry as dust or pretentious ‘art-speak’ – and kills spontaneous enjoyment.
The last verse is the one I chose for the top of my Mail column. The poet calls time on studying the ‘barren leaves’ of books on Science and Art and exhorts his studious friend to get out there into the natural world, to observe its beauty and receive its lessons.
Excellent advice. Nowadays too many people equate qualifications with expertise. To be honest, I think the Labour Party under Tony Blair was wrong-headed in their determination to shovel so many young people into Higher Education. What price a pretty useless degree if you have slaved for three years, got into debt, and learned precious little. Me, I’d suggest some work experience in a National Park, or on a farm (to name but two possibilities.)
Books have always been the second most important thing in my life (the first being family and friends and the third Art) – but I recognise that not all answers are to be found on library shelves. Here’s a strange truth – some of the best people I have ever met hardly ever read, but – goodness – you can learn a lot from them.
And, of course, from the trees.