Sunday afternoon I found myself reading the Oxford Book of English Verse (the Quiller-Couch edition in honor of a great advocate of the Inner Temple), and I read the following:
Evening on Calais Beach
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder — everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine
God being with thee when we know not.
The poem is divided by theme, sentence structure, and rhyme structure into two parts. The first is the enraptured glimpse of the divine in the setting sun over the sea. The second is the address to the “Dear Child” who is “untouch’d by solemn thought.” It is fun because Wordsworth seems to be playing off of precisely the sort of Romantic sensibility that he captures so well in the first half of the poem, the second half suggesting that even those not moved to rapture are touched by God. In this sense, the poem seems humble, admitting the limited significance of the poet’s experience. Yet I am suspicious of the humility. Is the address to the “Dear Child” perhaps meant simply to emphasize the subjectivity of the rapture of the first half of the poem, as if the poet wished to cordon off the experience as an epiphany vouched safe to his unique genius? There is certainly a patronizing tone in the address to the “Dear Child! dear girl!” and here I don’t believe that the patronizing is artifice, but rather something that has crept in unbidden to the poem, a clue for the suspicious reader. Yet both the rapture and the affection for the companion are real enough.
A poem about us?