Home at Grasmere (1800)
The Odyssey is the epic account of Odysseus’ return after many years of wandering to his home; the Aeneid is the epic account of Aeneas’ military occupation of the territories which had been the homeland of his ancestors and which the gods had chosen now for the future centre of Roman civilisation. Home at Grasmere is Wordsworth’s epic of homecoming. From its opening aerial survey of ‘in narrow room nature’s whole wealth’1 to its final invocation of Urania, the poem demands to be read with reference to Western epic tradition. It uses the language of invasion, occupation and possession to refine it of its militarism; and it uses the language of the promised land and paradise to refine it of religious superstition. The poem is, as Hartman says, ‘a personal myth-making’;2 but it looks far beyond ‘the transitory Being’ (1038) of the poet himself towards the creation of a history and a civilisation in which the radical regeneration of man would be at last complete. It is a millennial poem, looking for ‘the milder day / Which is to come, the fairer world than this’ (238–9); and its myth is thus a founding myth. To see the poem in this way is to begin to resist those charges of self-centring complacency which have been levelled against it.3 To come home, as Aeneas found, was to struggle to establish empire.
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Notes and References
- 1.Paradise Lost IV:207.Google Scholar
- 2.Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787–1814 (Yale University Press, 1964) p. 171.Google Scholar
- 3.Hartman, for example, speaks of Wordsworth ‘counting his possessions’ in just such a spirit. Ibid., p. 173.Google Scholar
- 4.Monthly Magazine vol. I (June 1796) p. 361.Google Scholar
- 5.E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1968) p. 105.Google Scholar
- 6.Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Penguin, 1974) p. 119.Google Scholar
- 7.E. P. Thompson, op. cit., p. 73.Google Scholar
- 8.Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. Ian Cunnison (Cohen & West, 1966) p. 1.Google Scholar
- 9.Geoffrey Hartman, The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (University of Chicago Press, 1975) p. 185.Google Scholar