“Dorothy Wordsworth was very intuned with the natural setting around her…”

Ah, was she now.

Here we have the phrase “in tune with,” an image musicians understand well and many people use with ease, and the word “attuned” (which needs “to,” not “with”), a term that means pretty much the same thing as far as Webster is concerned (“to attune: to bring into harmony with”) but that is also used by competent speakers to mean something like “alert to” or “quick to resonate with,” or even “sympathetically attentive to.” “In tune with” suggests more the idea of harmony or consonance. I for one wouldn’t use the two terms interchangeably, but I wouldn’t get too fussy with people who do.

My student isn’t using them interchangeably, however: he’s using them simultaneously. That’s what happens to writers whose hearing vocabulary is much larger than their writing or reading vocabulary. My student is likely one of that population.

For him, “intuned with” may go farther than resonance and consonance, though, as the rest of his sentence implies:

“Dorothy Wordworth was very intuned with the natural setting around her, she seemed to be in some sort of a daze. A daze that made her think everything was alright around her.”

To dispense quickly with the flat-out mistakes here: run-on sentence (call this one a comma splice if you must), followed by a sentence fragment. Then there’s that “alright.” I’ve been reading so much student prose that I really have to check to see if this is a “proper word.” Webster’s lists it, but gives its definition simply as “All right.” There is then an example from Gertrude Stein, not necessarily the guide to orthography.

I like the passage because it bears out an observation of mine that I have come to believe is very true: when the thinking is sloppy, the grammar comes tumbling down. Everything ceases to be alright.

And then to tweak a bit: I wouldn’t bother with “around her” after “setting”—simply redundant. Actually, though, Dorothy didn’t write as much about “setting” as about the features of the landscape. Well, let that slide…the first time. The “around her” that ends the fragment could stand if we deleted the one that modifies “setting”; but really, he can’t have both and probably needs neither.

Of course what stands out most gloriously here is that daze. A daze he then feels he needs to explain.

I don’t think either of the Wordsworths would like the idea of Dorothy spending the Grasmere days in a daze. The close observations she recorded in her journal, full of detail and delight, are not the sorts of things one associates with dazes. William, tramping the fields and lanes and feeling strong emotions that he would later recollect in tranquility, would neither claim to be in a daze himself nor appreciate a daze in Dorothy.

Does my student believe that everything was not all right around Dorothy, that the daze was a kind of hypnosis that disguised a far less pleasant reality? Where is his evidence for such an assumption? (If I were looking for something that was not all right, I’d point to William’s poem about daffodils, to which he proudly signed his name upon publication, and note its similarity with Dorothy’s [unpublished] journal entry on the same subject….Well, brother and sister were very close….)

I believe my student meant that Dorothy Wordsworth was so attuned to the simple beauties around her at Grasmere that she was suffused with contentment and general well-being. I don’t think he was picturing her sitting stoned and happy in the midst of a muddy natural setting. These were, after all, the Grasmere Journals, not the Woodstock Musings.

If he proofread at all, I guess he thought everything was alright. He, not Dorothy, must have been the one in a daze.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““Dorothy Wordsworth was very intuned with the natural setting around her…”

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