Summer here in the mountains is a mix of bright sunshine and welcome rain, featuring peaceful days of relaxation, which are perfect for exploring the rich world of literature. In the spirit of offering a unique blend of prose and poetry to pique your imagination and enrich your literary experience, we begin with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” one of Shakespeare’s beloved plays.
Set in an enchanted forest and featuring four interconnected plots, it immediately draws the reader into a delightful but mysterious world where the human players are controlled by fairies. There are star-crossed lovers and a play-within-a-play theme, complete with a love potion. The lovers sleep in a deep glade and when they awaken are convinced the night’s strange events may well have been a dream. It’s a reminder of the peculiar and beguiling nature of love.
We advance to the early 17th century and the Spanish Golden Age, which produced its finest work in “Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes. It’s the engaging story of a knight-errant and his squire whose caustic wit provides the perfect counterpoint to Quixote’s fantasies on knighthood. His belief in far-fetched notions gave us the word “quixotic.”
We can all identify with the allure of his denial of the real world for one of his own making. Cervantes tells us that part of his work was an Arabic translation — a literary ploy to convince us Quixote was a real person and the events factual.
Next, we’ll review Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” an exploration of an introspective, peaceful life, with a deep spiritual dimension. Thoreau was part of the transcendentalist movement that emerged from English and German romanticism and protested the mundane spirituality in the early 19th century. It blends an exquisitely nuanced description of the natural world with a deeply introspective sojourn into the soul which is sure to enliven your imagination. He writes compellingly: “I went to the woods to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Let’s turn to one of the 19th century’s great English novelists, Emily Bronte. Born into a family of superb writers, Emily wrote the classic “Wuthering Heights,” which delves into primal passions, conflicted morality and the depths of human cruelty — and which shocked Victorian readers. Set on the English moors, it has elements of the Gothic novel which draw us into misty, countryside landscapes as well as the darker recesses of the human soul. It features the vengeful and mercurial Heathcliff, who will haunt your imagination long after you finish the book. It’s sad and unfortunate that Bronte died at age 30, never knowing how hugely successful her novel would become.
We transition to one of the great 19th century poems, William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” a poignant, elegiac description of the wisdom of children and how it attenuates with the passage of time. In classic Platonic form, it eloquently describes how the soul preexists our life: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,/Hath had elsewhere its setting.” The poem presents a somber sense of spiritual forlornness but ends with an assertion that being absorbed in nature while reanimating the spiritual innocence of childhood, can lead to a deeper understanding and renewal of our confidence in immortality.
These few literary works just scratch the surface of our rich inherited legacy that is no further away than the jewels we’re blessed with — our local libraries. Reward yourself and deepen your life by exploring these great works.
Philip Mella serves on the 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission and is a retired health care administrator with a passion for history, politics and the written word. He also served on the Woodland Park City Council for seven years. Email Philip at firstname.lastname@example.org.