“…tones of nature smoothed by learned Art…”
When I came across this quote in Wordsworth’s The Prelude today, I started thinking about the “smoothing” that sometimes (I hope) happens in my classes. My students come to class as just what they are – young, fidgety, worked up, and bemused kids, natural products of a boundless and bewildering universe. The words they wrote last night on Facebook and are speaking as they enter my room are purely “tones of nature” – expressions as unfettered as storms or sunshine. They come in like breezes pass through the screen – without restraint and effortlessly – and this is as it should be, and the way I like it. My task, as their English teacher, is not to restrain or alter their natural spiritedness, but simply to enable it to “smoothed by learned Art”. When they read in my class, I hope they read with passion and pleasure, but I also hope their naturally raring-to-go reading habits can be tempered by creative discipline. When they write, I surely hope they pour their native fervor into the sentences and paragraphs, but my mission is to also make available the tools of tidiness and artistry. It’s interesting to me that Wordsworth’s specified that the “Art “ is “learned”, as if he knew from experience that making stylish phrases with words is anything but easy. Perhaps he was suggesting that word-artists are not born, but only made through steady labor and enduring single-mindedness. Perhaps he felt that smoothing out our naturally wild thoughts and words is the most resourceful way to smart and skillful reading and writing. In this regard, I often think of stones in a riverbed. Eons ago, they were naturally rough and sharp, but the patient river has steadily smoothed them until they now seem as polished as precious gems. As their English teacher, I need to show the students the value of coolly rolling some artistry and discipline over their natural ways of reading and writing.