William Wordsworth Walking: Art, Work, Leisure, and a Curious Form of Consumption

William Wordsworth Walking: Art, Work, Leisure, and a Curious Form of Consumption

Length: 1916 words (5.5 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
William Wordsworth Walking: Art, Work, Leisure, and a Curious Form of Consumption


William Wordsworth spent a good portion of his life on foot, walking. Consider a sequence of Dorothy's journal entries: Monday the 14th, "Wm & Mary walked to Ambleside in the morning to buy mousetraps" (about 5 miles round trip); Tuesday the 15th, "Wm & I walked to Rydale for letters" (about 3 miles round trip); Wednesday the 16th, "After dinner Wm & I walked twice up to the Swan & back again" (3 miles), met Miss Simpson and walked with her to the Oliffs and then back to her house (another 3 miles); Thursday the 17th, "we had a delightful walk" (a couple of miles); Friday the 18th, "Mary & Wm walked round the two lakes" (about 6 miles); Saturday the 19th, "We walked by Brathay to Ambleside" (6 miles). Now such distances are not remarkable in fine weather, but these were walks from the 14th to the 19th of December 1801, and Dorothy's notes include "A very keen frost, extremely slippery," and "Snow in the night & still snowing," and "the evening cloudy and promising snow" (GJ 48-49). Undeterred by bad weather, Wordsworth (and Dorothy) gave walking a central position in their daily lives, even to the extent that not walking becomes a remarkable event. Dorothy records that on September 13, 1800, "William writing his preface did not walk" (GJ 22). And of course in better weather there were shorter and longer walking tours such as Dorothy's record of September 3, 1800, in which Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Jonathan Wordsworth left "after breakfast" to walk "upon Helvellyn" and returned home at 10 at night, having covered probably 15 to 20 miles (GJ 20-21)--a long, but not unusually long for them, walk. In short, Wordsworth habitually spent at least several hours a day walking, and it was not at all uncommon for him to spend entire days on foot.

The central role of walking in Wordsworth's life suggests a number of interesting questions, but I will focus here only on those related to the theme of this conference, work and leisure. Obviously, much of Wordsworth's walking could be classed as leisure-time activity. There was probably no compelling reason for Wordsworth and Dorothy to walk twice to the Black Swan or for Wordsworth and Mary to circumambulate the lakes.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"William Wordsworth Walking: Art, Work, Leisure, and a Curious Form of Consumption." 123HelpMe.com. 20 Nov 2018
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=37740>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay on The Art of Taxidermy and Why it Should Be Considered an Art

- The Art of Taxidermy and Why it Should Be Considered an Art “Let’s say you’re watching an old horror movie, one about a crazy madman who lives in a spooky house up on a hill. Local kids will become curious and decide to step foot into the house. The majority of the time the creepy man will have two things; paintings with the eyes cut out and a nice collection of mounted animals to give intruders a sense of fear. Then all of a sudden lightning flashes and a growling black bear is lit up, sending the kids screaming into the front yard” (Bryant)....   [tags: Taxidermy History, Art Fields]

Research Papers
1913 words (5.5 pages)

Essay on Video Games as an Art Form

- The editors of a popular American magazine called Appleton’s Journal, upon laying their eyes on an example of a new kind of art form their reaction was one of surprise and disgust, and they considered any claim of it or anything like it being called “art” as an insult to “true art” and to the skill of the masters who create “true art”. Those editors were not reacting to any video game, the year was 1878 and they were giving their honest opinion on an impressionist painting, but frankly they might have as well been talking about video games....   [tags: alternative views to traditional concepts of art]

Research Papers
1069 words (3.1 pages)

Theatre Is A Dying Art Form Essay

- For thousands of years, people have been arguing that theatre is a dying art form. Many people think theatre is all just cheesy singing and dancing or just boring old Shakespeare, but there is much more to theatre than those two extremes. Theatre is important to our society because it teaches us more about real life than recorded media. Theatre has been around for thousands of years and began as a religious ceremony that evolved into an art form that teaches about the true essence of life. Theatre can incorporate profound, and provocative, observations of the human condition that can transcend time; lessons found in Greek plays can still be relevant to the modern world....   [tags: Performance, Theatre, Performing arts, Audience]

Research Papers
1376 words (3.9 pages)

Essay on The Art of William Hogarth

- William Hogarth , an English painter whose use of satire condemned the traditions and daily routine of the aristocracy , deriving his muse as a sequential artist through his beloved father Richard Hogarth whose occupation as a Latin school teacher(this era is beginning to abandon the neoclassical representation of figures more emphasizing aspects of dimension or symmetry, displaying symbolic elements of the era but not reestablishing the authenticity of neoclassical style) , provide a limited form of income which forced William Hogarth to take on an apprenticeship as an engraver under the guidance and supervision of Elis Gamble....   [tags: Art Analysis ]

Research Papers
1447 words (4.1 pages)

The Language of The Prophetic Art by David Bindman Essay

- William Blake’s print titled The Whirlwind of Lovers; the Circle of the Lustful (Fig.1.) depicts a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy. In the essay The Language of The Prophetic Art Bindman main points were that throughout Blake’s life his art developed and evolved reflecting previous techniques in the past some he continued to use in his artwork and some he rejected later in his career. He argues this point through the use of comparing Blake’s artwork to that of other artists before his time or during his time and using these examples as clear instances of Blake adopting other styles and incorporating it into his artwork....   [tags: william blake, dante, art work]

Research Papers
931 words (2.7 pages)

Art: Comparison and Contrast of 19th Century Art Essay

- Everyone has been created unique and there is no other that is the like anyone else. People think different, dress different and like and dislike certain things. This is similar to the artists of the nineteenth century including Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau and Joseph Mallord William Turner. They are both artists during the nineteenth century and were painted at the same time; however, there is a difference between their styles, their point of view, and the scenery. However there are similarities between the two paintings....   [tags: Art]

Research Papers
1176 words (3.4 pages)

Digital vs. Traditional Art Essay

- “From the point of view of art, there are no concrete or abstract forms, but only forms which are more or less convincing lies."(Wagner, par. 1) So what is art. A painted picture with lines, figures or faces that has meaning; or digitally altered shapes with meaning. Art can be any product of a creative process. Graphic Design (digital design) as a discipline has a relatively recent history, with the name 'graphic design" first coined by William Addison Dwiggins in 1922. (Wikipedia. par. 2) Digital art is an art created on the computer in digital form....   [tags: Art]

Research Papers
969 words (2.8 pages)

Tolstoy's "What Is Art?" Essay

- Leo Tolstoy compares art to speech by mentioning that art is a form of communication. The communication that Tolstoy writes about in “What Is Art?” is of two types, good and bad. According to Tolstoy, good art is what carries humanity towards perfection (Tolstoy 383). It is this movement forward in humanity that is emphasized by Tolstoy. Tolstoy informs his readers that speech is what teaches knowledge from human history, but art is what teaches the emotions of mankind’s past. As knowledge becomes obsolete in society it is replaced by new and more relevant information....   [tags: Art]

Research Papers
951 words (2.7 pages)

The Use of Form and Rhythm in William Carlos Williams's poem, The Dance

- The Use of Form and Rhythm in William Carlos Williams’s poem,“The Dance”      In William Carlos Williams’s poem, “The Dance”, Williams uses the inspiration of a painting by Peter Breughel to shape his poem. Peter Breughel’s painting called “The Kermess” depicts a peasant dance of the mid fifteenth century. It shows the form and rhythm of the dance. Williams also captures the form and the rhythm of this dance in his poem. In William Carlos Williams poem, “The Dance” the open form, suggested images, and rhythm embodies the dance depicted in the painting “The Kermess” by Peter Breughel....   [tags: William Carlos Williams Poetry]

Research Papers
768 words (2.2 pages)

Essay about The Representation of Art in William Carlos Williams' Poem The Rose

- The Representation of Art in William Carlos Williams' Poem The Rose "The rose is obsolete." (line 1) The rose is no longer of use, out-dated, and out-moded. Modernists felt the same way about the traditional and accepted art of the early nineteen hundreds. Roses are given to people so often. Who among us does not attach some type of personal significance to the image of a rose. I would venture to say that no one has not given, been given, or wished to give or receive a rose. Roses are delivered from florists by the dozen during all holiday seasons, for anniversaries, for apologies, for courting....   [tags: Williams Rose Essays]

Research Papers
1629 words (4.7 pages)

Related Searches

Indeed, the reasons given for some of the walks--mousetrap buying and letter fetching--seem a bit contrived, as if almost any excuse would do for the sake of a good walk. Yet at the same time, Wordsworth was a poet adept at picking up poetic materials from those walks--a beggar, a leech gatherer, a field of flowers. Moreover, Wordsworth used walking as a compositional device, as he composed and revised his verses. In other words, for Wordsworth, walking was also a form of work, both a process for extracting raw materials from the world and a manufacturing method for shaping or refining those materials.

Let's consider those two ways in which walking was work for Wordsworth. Some of this ground has been tread on before. Anne Wallace has performed excellent studies of Wordsworth and walking--arguing forcefully that Wordsworth actively redefined leisure walking as labor, in part to link his poetry with rural work as a move to invoke past systems of value, including the value of common land, in response to the enclosure movement. For manufacturing poetry, Wordsworth, and those around him, recognized that walking to compose and refine verses was his work. For example, Dorothy records that on July 12, 1800, they "walked along the Cockermouth road--he was altering his poems" (GJ 17), or that returning from Rydale on December 22, 1801, "We walked home almost without speaking--Wm composed a few lines of the Pedlar" (GJ 50). More commonly the walking was, as Dorothy terms it, "'backwards and forwards'" on a path, on the orchard platform, in the woods, and so on (GJ 219 n.). (I'd mention at this junction the interesting study by Andrew Bennett that argues such ungainly walking movements are replayed as scandals within Wordsworth's narrative form.)

But for Wordsworth's poetic project, to admit up front that walking is a form of directed activity to mine poetic materials is a bit of a problem. Anne Wallace argues well that Wordsworth's project included redefining walking as "an instrument of perception" (527) and both walking and wandering as "purposeful agents of home-building" (531). To put the problem in simple terms, in the poems, the experiences that happen to the walker, have to happen in the context of non-directed, non-purposeful walking, in contra-distinction to, for example, what Dorothy termed "walking industriously" in the streets of Edinburgh on their tour. For the idea of the poetry to work, in his walking, the poet has to work at not working. Consider for example, some of the terms used for walking in "An Evening Walk." I will use the 1793 edition: "rove" (1), "coursed the plain"--as a young boy (31), "wander" (43), "Quiet led me up" (71), "to stray" (195), and "my homeward way," (434), about the only purposeful walking noted, outside of following Quiet. The series of scenes and events recorded in the poem give the effect of random stuff the poet notices--ducks, rural workers, a rooster, a river, the sky, and the "strange apparition" of one "desperate form" spurring his steed (179) on some seemingly purposeful but unknown journey.

I don't think it's merely a matter of pretending to be wandering while really hiding a purposeful labor. A couple of years earlier, in 1790, Kant had explored the conundrum of "purposiveness without purpose" (382), which is what this labor of leisure has to be. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant notes that it is "the mere form of purposiveness in the representation by which an object is given to us, so far as we are conscious of it, which constitutes the satisfaction that we without a concept judge to be universally communicable" (380; Kant's emphasis). Certainly Wordsworth was seeking the universally communicable in his poetry, rendering those objects that are "given" to him. In walking as work Wordsworth must retain the "form of purposiveness" without falling into the abyss of actual purposefulness.

But how can there be purpose with no purpose, work with no work? I won't try to resolve this paradox directly; it seems on logical bases better suited to Xeno. But I will have a go at it in terms of Georges Bataille's concept of expenditure. For Bataille, the basic human drive is towards loss--expenditure--a process that is thwarted when political forces maintain power by institutionalizing expenditure in utilitarian forms, robbing it of its liberatory potential. For true unproductive expenditure (or what Kant might term purposiveless expenditure), "the accent is placed on a loss that must be as great as possible in order for that activity to take on its true meaning" (858). Poetry, according to Bataille, is one such genial form of expenditure in which the poet is condemned "to the most disappointing forms of activity, to misery, to despair, to the pursuit of inconsistent shadows that provide nothing but vertigo or rage. The poet frequently can use words only for his own loss . . ." (859).

But this over-expenditure is also the sense that I at least derive from reading of Wordsworth and his walking. It is too much. It is excess. For sure there were not too many alternatives to walking. As Anne Wallace points out, horses were expensive and private or public carriages neither comfortable nor quick. But still the amount Wordsworth walked far exceeded the amount needed in the normal course of events. How are we to read this excess? And how do we react to the claim that such excess is labor in order to produce poetry?

I'd like to bring in here--and close with--reference to Thorstein Veblen. In Chapter 3 of Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen discusses the characteristics of "Conspicuous Leisure":

The term "leisure" . . . does not connote indolence or quiescence. What it connotes is non-productive consumption of time. Time is consumed non-productively (1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and (2) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness. But the whole of the life of the gentleman of leisure is not spent before the eyes of the spectators who are to be impressed with that spectacle of honorific leisure which in the ideal scheme makes up his life. For some part of the time his life is perforce withdrawn from the public eye, and of this portion which is spent in private the gentleman of leisure should, for the sake of his good name, be able to give a convincing account. He should find some means of putting in evidence the leisure that is not spent in the sight of the spectators. This can be done only indirectly, through the exhibition of some tangible, lasting results of the leisure so spent -- in a manner analogous to the familiar exhibition of tangible, lasting products of the labour performed for the gentleman of leisure by handicraftsmen and servants in his employ.

Reading Wordsworth in such a context puts quite a different spin on the "walk to work" connection that Wallace makes. In Veblen's terms, Wordsworth's association of walking and rural labor must be seen less as a positive commitment to the real labor of real men present and past and more as that kind of appropriation of proletarian cultural forms by the leisure class that we see today in $200 T-shirts and $3,800 torn jeans--an aspect of what John Seabrook recently termed "nobrow culture." Additionally, in Veblen we find the same double-edged sword of leisure and productivity. Consumption of time--for Wordsworth, the excess of walking--must be both public and private. The poet/wanderer must be seen and acknowledged, as in the poems in which others are met, and unseen--a private, observing eye as in "An Evening Walk." In these cases, the poems themselves become the "tangible, lasting results of the leisure so spent," exhibited within the circle of readers apt to discriminate the excellent results of this laborious leisure.

Finally, Veblen gives us a leg up, perhaps, on Kant's "purposiveness without purpose" in the poet's walking. In his fourth chapter, Veblen writes that ". . . along with the make-believe of purposeful employment, and woven inextricably into its texture, there is commonly, if not invariably, a more or less appreciable element of purposeful effort directed to some serious end," the serious end being, in Wordsworth's case, his poetry. Wordsworth walked a lot. He pretended that walking was work, just like that of real men. It was really a form of conspicuous consumption in its excess. He had to revel in that excess and produce something others in his leisure class could appreciate. That was his poetry.

Works Cited

Adams, Hazard, ed. Critical Theory Since Plato. Fort Worth: HBJ, 1992.

Bataille, Georges. "The Notion of Expenditure." Trans. Allan Stoekl, with Carl R. Lovett and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. Adams 857-864.

Bennett, Andrew J. "'Devious Feet': Wordsworth and the Scandal of Narrative Form." ELH 59.1 (1992): 145-73.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement. Trans. J. H. Bernard. Adams 376-393.

Seabrook, John. "Nobrow Culture." The New Yorker, 20 Sept. 1999, 104-111.

Veblen, Thorstein. Theory of the Leisure Class.

Wallace, Anne D. "Farming on Foot: Tracking Georgic in Clare and Worsworth." TSLL 34.4 (1992): 509-40.

Walking, Literature, and English Culture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.

Wordsworth, Dorothy. The Grasmere Journals. Ed. Pamela Woof. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Wordsworth, William. An Evening Walk. Ed. James Averill. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984.
Return to 123HelpMe.com