As one who hangs down-bending from the side
Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
Of a still water, solacing himself
With such discoveries as his eye can make
Beneath him in the bottom of the deep,
Sees many beauteous sights--weeds, fishes, flowers,
Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
Yet often is perplexed, and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
Of the clear flood, from things which there abide
In their true dwelling; now is crossed by gleam
Of his own image, by a sunbeam now,
And wavering motions sent he knows not whence,
Impediments that make his task more sweet;
Such pleasant office have we long pursued
Incumbent o'er the surface of past time
With like success, nor often have appeared
Shapes fairer or less doubtfully discerned
Than these to which the Tale, indulgent Friend!
Would now direct thy notice.
--William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book 4, ll. 256-76
It's somewhat strange, waiting with bated breath for the steady gears of history to make their circuit towards the date when we can look back exactly one hundred years to the start of the Great War. It's as though we anticipate some kind of perspicuity that, like gazing down into a glass-clear lake, is only possible when the present aligns with the past just so. Like Wordsworth's boy looking down into the "still water" and confused by the reflections therein of sky and earth and of "his own image", though, perhaps we may find (and perhaps we already know) that shadow and substance cannot be so easily separated. Though the great span of time that a centennial marks might suggest a certain poignant stillness, calming the past into clarity and granting us objective distance, our own image may surprise us in those depths. What might we learn about ourselves and our world by looking for and listening to those ghosts of 1914? As we have for some time now on this blog, we shall continue ask to this very question. We will continue to chase shadow and substance in the (deceptively) glassy deep of hundred-year-old history.
As we near and enter the official centenary, it is my aim to direct the blog towards following events of the war's unfolding over the years 1914-1918.
- New York Times Learning Network: On this Day...(Reprint of 1914 article: "Austria Formally Declares War on Servia..."
And a last-but-not-least suggestion: hstry.org's fascinating "Back to the Mud" blog series on one man's adventure through family WWI history.
Till next time,
© Fiona Robinson