Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Clouds of Glory

I'm teaching Eloisa James's The Duke is Mine this afternoon, so I've spent much of this glorious May Day indoors, re-reading the book and taking notes.

One of them concerns a little phrase that the second male lead, Rupert, says early in the book, when he promises to marry our heroine after he's returned from battle, "Trailing glory, you understand" (41).  Near the end of the book, the phrase returns with a slight variation:  "Rupert was buried with honors:  not in the family tomb, but in Westminster Abbey, as befitted an English hero who trailed clouds of glory" (362).

The novel is set in 1812, and Rupert is a poet, so perhaps he knows the source of his own allusion, Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."  It was first printed, I gather, in 1807, but not published in its final form until 1815, and I'm not sure which version features the lines, but in any case, here's the passage in question, with the key lines underlined.

O evil day! if I were sullen
        While Earth herself is adorning,
            This sweet May-morning,  45
        And the children are culling
            On every side,
        In a thousand valleys far and wide,
        Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
And the babe leaps up on his mother's arm:—  50
        I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
        —But there's a tree, of many, one,
A single field which I have look'd upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
          The pansy at my feet  55
          Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,  60
        Hath had elsewhere its setting,
          And cometh from afar:
        Not in entire forgetfulness,
        And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come  65
        From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
        Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,  70
        He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
    Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
      And by the vision splendid
      Is on his way attended;  75
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Why this passage?  How does it connect to the novel?  Is this a "working allusion," so to speak--one that has some actual bearing on the book--or just a tag that the author has in her head, and so put in the novel, as appropriate for a poet in 1812?

I'm teaching the book in conjunction with Laura's chapter on Metafiction, so my thoughts tend that way, but we'll see what my class decides, or I come up with, as the afternoon goes on!


  1. Well, we never got to the topic in class, but I wonder whether there might not be a way to talk about the genre of romance as "trailing clouds of glory," in this context. Also, the hero of this novel is obsessed with light, and there are a number of discussions of light which might be metafictional--that's a point of connection to the poem, which also talks about "the light, and whence it flows."

  2. I don't think this is what you meant but, to play devil's advocate, I suppose one could argue that genre romance is "trailing clouds of glory" because "Any history of the romance will in one sense be a record of decadence" (Beer 1).

    Beer, Gillian. The Romance. London: Methuen, 1970.

  3. Indeed! "A sleep and a forgetting." But perhaps James is trying to "find / Strength in what remains behind"?

  4. Perhaps in what remains "Before, behind, between, above, below.
    O, my America"?