Wordsworths Poetical Works
The Connection between the Natural Scene and the Speaker’s State of Mind in William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”
William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is a lyric poem, which deals with the speaker’s state of mind. The description of the process, which the speaker goes through, is represented by a natural scene where the speaker, plants and the surroundings become united. The poem is written in a figurative language, combining images, similes and words that denote mood, atmosphere and colors to reflect the changes in the speaker’s position. These changes are physical, psychological and emotional. In this essay I will discuss the connection between the natural scene and the speaker’s state of mind by analyzing the imagery and figurative language of the poem.The poem begins with a simile, which the speaker uses to describe his process of wondering or thinking as the aimless, free, metaphysical wandering of a cloud in its celestial route above earth: “I wandered lonely as a cloud”(l.1). The speaker has no intention or purpose in his actions; he lets the muse, or the wind, carry him off to where it might lead him. Just like the cloud, earthly rules or occurrences do not bound him. However, despite the freedom and the absence of some kinds of attachments or obligations, the speaker finds himself lonely and secluded. It might suggest that he does not feel connected to the human physical, earthly world and so chooses to be identified with a cloud, which floats above, uninvolved in what happens down below, a passive spectator. This state changes when he surprisingly notices many daffodils by the lake: “All at once I saw a crowd / A host, of golden daffodils;”(l.3-4). To emphasize the numerous flowers he uses two words one after another, “crowd” and “a host”. There is a contradiction between the position of the speaker and the daffodils: he is all by himself while they outnumber him, he is above and they are down below (beneath the trees). The speaker personifies the daffodils and describes their movement in the wind as an act of “fluttering” and “dancing”. The atmosphere in this scene is very calm, peaceful and harmonious. The wind bridges the worlds of the speaker as a cloud in the sky and the daffodils, which move in the light breeze.In the second stanza the speaker uses another simile to compare the golden daffodils with the shine of stars. Now, the earthly daffodils are identified with something of the speaker’s own metaphorical world (celestial universe). The speaker elevates and positions them above himself, as the stars on the Milky Way, and thus brings them closer to him. The speaker attributes the daffodils an aspect of endlessness, infinite quality they have, which has no limits: he describes them as “continuous”(l.7), “stretched in never-ending line”(l.9). They are uncountable, like the stars in heaven. The speaker repeats the description of his encounter with the daffodils like he did in the first stanza, when trying to do something almost impossible as catching ten thousand daffodils with a single “glance”(l.11). The speaker is impressed by the number of the flowers and their movements in the wind, “tossing their heads in sprightly dance”(l.12). The speaker uses another personification, which expresses the vividness and vitality of the flowers as part of nature and as a group, which operates together.In the third stanza the speaker expresses his emotions openly and directly as he leaves the lonely cloud for the company of the cheerful company of the daffodils, which were able to surpass even the waves by their happy dancing (l.13-14).The speaker feels he belongs to something, he states his purpose or destination as a poet– the maker of the literary piece, which commemorates the magnificence of the daffodils: “A poet could not but be gay / In such a jocund company”(l. 15-16). This is a turning point in the speaker’s status as presented in the beginning of the poem. While in the beginning he clouded his true identity and expressed his lack of companionship when “wandering” about with his thought, now he declares himself of being a “poet”, who enjoys the “company” of the daffodils. His astonishment from the sight before him is obvious: “I gazed–and gazed–but little thought / What wealth the show to me has brought”(l.17-18). The act of gazing at the daffodils is very long and constant. The speaker is transfixed upon them, not thinking about what riches this sight might bring him. The flowers alone are in the focus of his attention. The speaker abandons the initial aimless, wandering for the sight of daffodils.In the fourth and last stanza of the poem the speaker describes his state of mind from another point of view. He translates the natural scene and the process described by the imagery of the cloud, daffodils, celestial beings (“breeze”, “stars”, “Milky Way”) into terms more familiar with our own, human world. He describes himself lying on a couch as a regular habit when he gets into a kind of daydreaming, reflecting random thoughts. While in this state when he is in solitude the daffodils penetrate his “inward eye”(l.21), or the inner world created in his mind, where their sight fills him with happiness. The same natural scene that is described in the first stanza is a part of his inner world and the joy, which takes the place of the emotions of loneliness in the end. The speaker ends his poem with a joint dance of the daffodils and himself.The nature scene, use of imagery and figurative language in the poem all have a very important function in our understanding of the speaker’s state of mind and the change he goes through along the way. In the beginning the speaker compares himself to a lonely cloud, wandering pointlessly above nature and earth. Then, when he notices the daffodils he is aware of their “golden”, “sparkling” presence and their gentle, elegant dance-like movement with the wind. He tries to bring himself closer to the daffodils by describing them in the terms of the celestial world, “stars”(l.7). Afterwards he is drawn into their own world (and ours, as well) when he gazes at them and identify himself as the poet and the creator of the literary piece. His pointless thoughts now have a meaning, a purpose. Then, in the end, after joining the company of the flowers, which though delicate and small managed to overcome even the mightiest dance of the waves, he returns to the earthly world and his couch.I assume that the speaker initially had some difficulty, expressed in his choice to become a “cloud”. Then, when looking at the bright daffodils, where their color might also stand for a symbol of hope or a beam of light in the surrounding dark void, their vivid movement and ability to withstand the mighty dance of the waves, inspires him. And then, finally, he is encouraged to return and confront his loneliness with the memory of the numerous daffodils he remembers and cherishes in his mind.
Back to the Future: Wordsworth’s “Ode to Duty” and “Elegiac Stanzas”
A past attitude is reverted to and revised in Wordsworth’s “Ode to Duty” and “Elegiac Stanzas.” Employing geographic metaphors, both celestial and earth-bound, the poems climb over rocky Wordsworthian terrain that details his reconciliation between past and present and implications of the future. Though vastly different stylistically”Ode to Duty” utilizes an antiquated verse form and language, while “Elegiac Stanzas” is written in Wordsworth’s beloved “language of men”and in the internal willfulness on the poet’s part to change versus reaction to external stimuli, the poems parallel in their desires for resolution of a disarrayed soul via the calming sublime power of either an abstract concept or a naturalistic piece of art.Wordsworth deviates from his course of democratic poetry in “Ode to Duty” by exercising a classical form, the ode, and manipulating the elevated language it affords the poet. Even the opening quote is from a Greek source, Seneca, which foreshadows the poem’s anachronistic call to duty. The poem is divided into seven tetrameter octets, of which the final line is Alexandrine. The French origins of the Alexandrine line further confuse the poem’s miscegenational heritage, and conspire with the “missing” eighth stanza (were the poem to have an orderly arrangement of eight syllables per line, eight lines per stanza, eight stanzas total) to cast an ambiguous shadow over Wordsworth’s conception of duty. As suggested by the allusion to Seneca and the ode form, it is one of poetic duty without ever calling attention to the act of writing poetry.Similarly, “Elegiac Stanzas” confronts the death of Wordsworth’s brother by only slightly focusing on the actual death but instead turning its attentions to the vacillating emotional responses to a painting. The bouncy “abab” rhyme scheme and standard iambic pentameter accentuates Wordsworth’s initial rose-colored reaction, then later heightens the tension of his haunting observations. The short quatrains aid the mercurial shifts of the emotional poet, more so than the lengthy stanzas of “Ode to Duty” which dwell on single concepts. The stanzaic breaks lend the impression of a longer poem, though “Elegiac Stanzas” has only six more lines than “Ode to Duty.” The montage effect also mirrors the composition of the subject matter; just as a painting is a composite of several pigments, brush-strokes, and impressions, so is “Elegiac Stanzas” a patchwork collection of complementary and opposing thoughts. And, as the painting’s impact on Wordsworth grew from simple acceptance to complex musings, so, too, can the quatrains be interpreted as neat organizations, or chaotic sequences.The struggle between chaos and calmness is at the heart of “Ode to Duty.” With an allusion to Milton and through the ode’s archaic language and form, Wordsworth connotes duty’s rigidity: “Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!/ O Duty! if that name thou love” (1-2). The rigidity is a divine shepherd for the errant and infirm: “Who art a light to guide, a rod/ To check the erring/ And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity” (3-4, 8). Wordsworth deploys a travel conceit to describe his youthful, independent straying: “I, loving freedom, and untried;/ No sport of every random gust,/ Yet being to myself a guide,/ Too blindly have reposed my trust” (25-8). Without an able guide, the autonomous voyager is blind. This is echoed in “Elegiac Stanzas,” as the poet contends that simple “happiness, wherever it be known,/ Is to be pitied; for tis surely blind” (55-6). The developed person welcomes “frequent sights of what is to be borne!/ Such sights, or worse, as are before me here,” though the visions may distress him (58-9). The parallel to completeness of character in “Ode to Duty” is suggested by the antithetical, constricting grip duty applies to windy freedom: “And oft, when in my heart was heard/ Thy timely mandate, I deferred/ The task, in smoother walks to stray;/ But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may” (29-32).Wordsworth’s deferential inquiry sounds a note in the chorus of the poem’s obeisance motif. His desire to mend his ways was brought about “Through no disturbance of my soul,/ Or strong compunction in me wrought/ But in the quietness of thought” (33-4, 36). The poem’s devotion to an abstract concept exemplifies the willful internality of the poet’s decision. This internality leads the poet to “supplicate for thy control,” an act that shifts the poem into the religious territory of reverence. Indeed, Wordsworth subtly raises his travel conceit from the earth to the heavens. “In the quietness of thought,” a time that is often reserved for prayer, he decides that “Me this unchartered freedom tires;/ I feel the weight of chance-desires” (37-8). The unmapped liberalism of random urges weighs him down and bounds him to the earth; the austere and personified guardian of duty, on the other hand, steps lightly between the earth and the sky: “Nor know we anything so fair/ As is the smile upon thy face;/ Flowers laugh before thee on their beds/ And fragrance in thy footing treads;/ Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;/ And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong” (43-8). The craving “for a repose that ever is the same,” a constancy that may, in the future, hold for him “a blissful course,” is made salient in the comparison to stars, long regarded as shapers of destiny (40, 21). The “repose” here means “sleep,” whereas in the fourth stanza “reposed my trust” means to store. The analogy here is not lost on Wordsworthto place one’s trust only in oneself and not a higher source is to slumber peacefully and ignorantly.Blissful slumber is Wordsworth’s critique of his former self in “Elegiac Stanzas.” His memory of Peele Castle is an unwavering one that he saw “every day; and all the while/ Thy Form was sleeping on a glassy sea” (3-4). The reminiscence of the castle evokes images of constancy: “So pure the sky, so quiet the air!/ So like, so very like, was day to day!” (5-6) The anaphoric use of “so” lulls the reader into a repetitive dream-state, one in which “it seemed no sleep;/ No mood, which season takes away, or brings”; his former self was locked into an oppressive stagnancy of disposition, one quite different from the helpful guiding hand of duty in “Ode to Duty” (9-10). Whereas wind blew the young Wordsworth in his exploration, wind is an impotent force of nature in his construct of the castle: “No motion but the moving tide, a breeze,/ Or merely silent Nature’s breathing life” (27-8).The speaker’s renewal charges his once-complacent view of nature with a brutal and morbid electricity that stresses its adjectives with caesurae and subverts the rote iambic meter: “And this huge Castle, standing here sublime,/ I love to see the look with which it braves,/ Cased in the unfeeling armour of old time,/ The lightning, the fierce wind, and trampling waves” (stresses in bold) (49-52). The analogy between the stoic castle and the stolid Wordsworth who must accept his brother’s death are apparent, but more subtle is the storm’s visibility and palpability that results in a possible pun: “O tis a passionate Work!yet wise and well,/ Well chosen is the spirit that is here;/ That hulk which labours in the deadly swell,/ This rueful sky, this pageantry of fear!” (45-8) The zeugma of “well,” as both a signifier of healthiness and of quality, connotes a third meaning, that of a physical well of water. Under this assumption, the “hulk which labours in the deadly swell” carries the image of chaos lurking within the supposedly safe confines of a well, another exhibition of chaos contained within comfort. What is more, the underground associations of the well polarize the elevated “rueful sky,” pointing again to the hectic battleground of the speaker’s emotions.As for the cause of the two divergent roads in Wordsworth’s yellow wood of art criticism, the shipwrecked death of his brother is the culprit. The Freudian implications of the nightmarishly imagined death in a violent storm are clear enough, but what distinguishes this revised attitude from that in “Ode to Duty” is the lack of choice in the matter. Unlike his pleasant supplication to duty, the speaker has now “submitted to a new control:/ A power is gone, which nothing can restore;/ A deep distress hath humanised my Soul” (34-6). His dependence on external forces, especially those of fickle nature, stand in stark contrast with the utter blankness of the poem’s first half, and the rapid series of quatrains form the connective tissue in his emotional repairs. His own caprices shine through in the second to last stanza, after having praised the stolidity of the castle but condemning his own previous and passive response: “Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone,/ Housed in a dream, at distance from the Kind!” (53-4) He has turned 180 degrees; from calmness layered over calmness to calmness within the storm, the poet has managed to mine catharsis and rebirth out of tragedy.There was no apparent tragedy in “Ode to Duty,” but perhaps Wordsworth felt mankind was on the verge of one. His feelings toward the French Revolution had soured, and he may have found the new liberation and fraternity being portioned out in unequal measures in poetry. Change is a good thing, both “Ode to Duty” and “Elegiac Stanzas” suggest, but only when adopted “in the quietness of thought”; otherwise, rash decisions only mirror the frenzied environments out of which they grew. Whether or not “Ode to Duty” or “Elegiac Stanzas” have veiled political agendas is unclear; what is ingenious is Wordsworth’s ability to deliver so many comparable messages in such contrary envelopes.
The Wordsworthian Child: A Symbol for Romantic Idealism in “We Are Seven” and “Intimations of Immortality”
The turn of the 19th century was a morbid, dark time period: death was a common visitor, as plagues and diseases diminished the children, and the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars diminished the overall population. In response to such loss, humans became relegated to a number in a new, practical system of population management, as government officials went door to door, inquiring of the household size. Idealism and childlike views of nature and one’s place in the universe were viewed as radical, liberal ideas in this age of pragmatism and rigid logic. Additionally, this era of industrialization left no room for a childlike passion and appreciation for nature. In the midst of this culture, William Wordsworth came forward, using poetry to propose an alternate lens to view the world. According to Wordsworth, in his famous essay that set in motion the Romantic Era of literature, “the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature” (Wordsworth “Preface” 174). These views of nature as the key to seeing beauty in an imperfect world were reminiscent of childhood, as Wordsworth felt that children possess the ability to see the world in this romantic way he idolized. Thus, children are major players in Wordsworth’s poetry as a tool to explain the world in this romanticized way he felt it should be perceived. Two of his poems in particular, “We Are Seven” and “Ode to Intimations of Immortality”, strongly provide a juxtaposition between the grim realities of the early 19th century and the aforementioned Wordsworthian romantic illusions.
Prior to the Romantic period, children were regarded with much less emotional attachment from their parents than what is considered normal today, a perspective that is largely due to the child mortality rate. As Wordsworth knew from personal experience, in the late 18th century, “on average, one in four children died within a decade of birth, less than in previous generations but a stark reality nonetheless; rare was the family that hadn’t lost a child” (Rovee 2). Because of this reality, parents seldom allowed themselves to become too attached to their offspring, as they accepted that they will inevitably have to bury one or more young children. Wordsworth, employing emotional rhetoric in his poem, attempted to elicit loving feelings for children, portraying them as charming embodiments of innocence. This is seen especially in the poem “We Are Seven”, which depicts a disagreement between a child and a census collector. The child, originally one of five siblings, has two siblings who now “in the church-yard lie, / [her] sister and [her] brother” (Wordsworth l.21-22). Despite the speaker’s insistence that the dead siblings no longer count toward the family size, the child adamantly repeats that “nay, [they] are seven” (l.59), while continuing to describe her time spent with her siblings each day as she plays and eats her meals alongside their graves in the church yard. Through this narrative, Wordsworth is creating a child who is “embodying innocence, immediacy, and uncultivated vision…an idealized construction offering a model for the male poet seeking to redeem the dying-away light and joy” (Rovee 1). The child in this poem is providing a new perception: the joy of the child, despite the death that surrounds her, and the love she has for her separated siblings, suggests that children have an understanding of love that overpowers the pessimism brought by a culture infiltrated with death.
Indeed, the lack of attachment and appreciation toward children was a cultural norm that Wordsworth felt was problematic, as he continually challenges this status quo in his poetry. The Romantic poet’s’ “concern with childhood is not strictly psychological. On the contrary, [he] conceive[s] it as a period of communion with Nature, a time of sensory preparation and spiritual awareness” (Gatti-Taylor 250). Wordsworth’s “Ode to Intimations of Immortality”, therefore, uses a child to urge the audience to find joy despite the grief brought by death and suffering. This poem is thought to be Wordsworth reminiscing on his own childhood, and it begins with the poet appearing “hopeless, and own[ing] a sense of nostalgia, for he is not a child anymore. Therefore, he cannot enjoy nature in a way a child does” (Rowhanimanesh 181). Wordsworth then praises childhood for its innocence and ability to recognize beauty despite being surrounded by grim realities. The speaker in this poem refers to “delight and liberty, the simple creed / Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest, / With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast” (Wordsworth l. 141-143). By making the claim that childhood’s “creed” is “delight and liberty”, Wordsworth changes his mood and “becomes hopeful. Although those days [of childhood] are gone, joy will never die”: Wordsworth has come to the realization that “joy and love give meaning to life” (Rowhanimanesth 181). Also worth noting in this poem is Wordsworth’s image of a child being “fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses / with light upon him by his father’s eyes” (Wordsworth l. 89, 90). This affectionate scene between child and parent that Wordsworth illustrates is contrary to the detachment of children from their parents that was the most common dynamic of parent-child relationships during this period, largely due to the frequency of child deaths. It stands to reason that the close relationships between parents and their children that is normal today, as well as the view of children as the untouchable innocents, is attributed to Wordsworth’s lasting, romantic influence.
The pre-romantic view of children additionally revolved around their functionality: children were miniature adults, therefore capable of working in the factories as soon as they were physically able. The small size of children was not regarded as charming but purely practical to this industrialized era, as they were able to more easily clean inside small crevices such as chimneys, a chore which resulted in a higher child mortality rate due to complications such as asthma, stunted growth, accidents, and “chimney-sweep’s cancer” (Mayhew 351). The acceptance of this practice was one example of how industrialization dominated the culture of thought in the early 19th century: children were not nurtured or protected as if they had inherent value, but treated as merely laborers. Wordsworth opposed this mindset, believing instead that children are inherently “incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of Nature” (Wordsworth “Preface” 174). Thus, instead of depicting children in the context of labor, he focuses on the free spirit of children existing in communion with nature. In “We Are Seven”, the child is shown playing freely around her sister’s grave (line 55) and running and sliding in the snow (line 57, 58). Not only is this ideology shown through the actions of the child, but additionally “poets who referred to this theory sometimes treated it under the guise of imagery” (Gatti-Taylor 255). This might explain why Wordsworth, in line 9 of the poem, describes the child as having “a rustic woodland air”. Wordsworth is making a profound connection between nature and the beauty of childhood, further asserting his ideology that children are not designed to be workers meant to further industrialization; rather, they are sacred representations of nature’s divinity.
Indeed, Wordsworth was strongly opposed to the ill effects of commercialization on a society, and therefore “central to Wordsworth’s romanticism is the role of poetry to combat the evils of industrialization” (Brennan 38). Therefore, “Ode to Intimation of Immortality” similarly paints childhood in the context of oneness with nature, separate from modern industrialization. Instead of referring to child’s small stature in terms of functionality in the workforce, the speaker describes the child romantically as a “six years’ darling of pigmy size” (Wordsworth l. 87). The speaker continues to describe the child’s vocation not as a laborer but as an imaginative actor who creates a “humorous stage” (l.104) that is filled “with all the persons / …that life brings with her in her equipage” (1.105, 106). The speaker suggests that it is as if the child’s “whole vocation / Were endless imitation” (l. 107, 108). In other words, instead of the child’s purpose being to immerse himself in labor, the child is meant to embrace creativity in which “the child’s creative spirit can be summarized as follows: it abandons itself to the external objects, penetrates them, contemplates itself through objects, and discovers with naive wonder the qualities in Nature which it has partly imparted to it” (Gatti-Taylor 255). Indeed, this poem romanticizes childhood as a time not for the burdens of labor or industrialization, but an ambrosial season of life meant for play and freedom.
With the demands of factory work, and the low life expectancy as a result of the conditions therein, came a degree of pragmatism that was contrary to Wordsworth’s romantic idealism. Part of this took form in the surgence of a census count in 1798, in which prior to “there had never been a complete and accurate count of Britain’s population” (Robbins 202). In response to a goal proposed by Parliament, government officials would visit each home to inquire about the “number and circumstances of [the] family”; families who refused to answer would be given “the discipline of the horse pond” (Robbins 202). This attempt at regulating the population is arguably a practical one, but it left no room for idyllic illusions, instead “reducing individual subjectivities to numbers and categories” (Robbins 204). “We Are Seven” gives a clear illustration of these contrasting ideologies, as the poem is thought to be representative of the first census of Britain. The census collector asks the young girl how many people are living in her home, and she insists on including her deceased siblings. This response offends the rational sensibility of the speaker, who insists that “they are dead; those two are dead! / Their spirits are in heaven!” (Wordsworth l. 55, 56). The child is not deterred by this attempt at reason, instead acting “as if she is a philosopher…she says they are seven. She believes that the dead are still alive…the girl’s imagination helps her come to that conclusion” (Rowhanimanesh 181). In this respect the young girl serves as a symbol for the Romantic period and how the tenets of romanticism were viewed as radical and irrational in the eyes of the staunch pragmatists of the era.
Wordsworth continues to use children as a symbol for romantic ideas in “Ode to Intimations of Immortality”, in which he reminisces on childhood when “meadow, grove, and stream, / The earth and every common sight, / To [him] did seem / Apparell’d in celestial light” (Wordsworth l.1-4). This description of childhood is one when the ordinary aspects of nature appear extraordinary, as if “children own powers that enable them to enjoy the beauty of nature in a way that adults will not be capable of doing so” (Rowhanimanesh 183). To the child, the meadows, streams, and other common facets of nature are not merely accidents of evolution but divine instruments that contain a supernatural presence. Wordsworth further empowers the child symbol by stating that he is “glorious in the might / Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height” (Wordsworth l. 126, 127); the implication being that the child is granted inherent innocence and freedom by nature itself. This idea would be considered preposterous to believers in pragmatism who viewed nature, like children, as merely functional rather than divine.
Accompanying the value of reason was the view of one’s presence in the universe to be solely the literal, physical space one occupied. Wordsworth and his fellow romantics adhered to an idea of transcendental presence that trespassed the boundaries of physical space. In this invisible world, “the glory of the soul becomes visible when the impressions of sense are forcefully usurped by an upsurge of power” (Davidson 1994). This idea of spiritual presence is especially prominent in “We Are Seven”, as the census collector attempts to gather information about the physical occupants of the child’s home. The child not only insists that her deceased siblings are still part of the family, by describing them as part of the seven that simply “in the church-yard lie” (Wordsworth l.31), but she also includes her two other siblings who are “gone to sea” (l.20). It does not matter to the child that her siblings are not physically present in the home, and it is the job of the adult in the poem to “conjure up within himself a child-like sensibility, in order to project once more upon his own thoughts as well as upon the external world, the attitude of wonder that transforms an ordinary sight into a vision” (Gatti-Taylor 259). It is this childlike wonder that allows her to view her siblings as truly present and active participants in her family, even if they are no longer physically present. This contrast between physical presence and a sense of transcendental presence is representative of the contrasts between radical Romantic ideas versus reason.
Possibly one of the most gruesome realities of the early 19th century from which the Romantic era of literature sprung was the Napoleonic wars, in which the French army performed a series of invasions on the British front. One of the most prominent threats of this era was “the Great Terror of 1803-1804”, in which “all of Great Britain entered a state of high alert as the threat of an ambitious French invasion loomed” (Matlak 21). It is said, therefore, that “Wordsworth’s poetry of spring 1804 seems inspired by the political climate and his witness to patriotism” (25). Wordsworth published “Ode to Intimations of Immortality” in 1804, which can therefore be considered a response to the aforementioned political climate and fear that reigned over Britain. In this poem, Wordsworth laments being an adult who is aware of the surrounding horrors brought by war and destruction, rather than being a child who is able to “undergo such childhood experiences” of nature. (Rowhanimanesh 181). This nostalgia is felt in the following lines:
A single field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone;
The pansy at my feet Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream? (51-57)
Later in the poem, however, Wordsworth has an epiphany in which he is able to “expand on the concept of child’s special powers of vision” (Lawrence 44), and he once again sees nature through the eyes of a child:
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
the years that bring the philosophic mind. (184-192)
In the midst of human suffering, Wordsworth is able to recall his innocence and summon that power inherent in childhood that allows one to see the beauty in the world despite being surrounded by an abundance of human suffering. For Wordsworth, this poem seems to be a therapeutic escape from the war torn Britain and a way of reconciling the nostalgia of his childhood.
Suffice it to say, the many ideologies present in Wordsworth’s poetry have had lasting effects on the viewpoints that dominate the culture today. No longer are children viewed as strictly functional, miniature workers; rather, society has maintained the image of children as embodiments of all that is innocent and pure and everything that is contrary to the horrific realities that plague modern society. Throughout the wars that dominated the turn of the 19th century, Wordsworth used his poetry to fight a war of his own against a culture that he felt diminished the goodness that can be found in nature and everyday life. Using children as his constant, consistent example and symbol, Wordsworth by large won this battle, inflicting a change of heart and providing a new lens through which to see the world. Indeed, the 21st century can be thought to be a continuation of the Romantic Era, as Wordsworthian ideologies are present in all parts of the modern culture.
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Matlak, Richard. “Wordsworth and the ‘Great Terror’ of 1803-05.” Wordsworth Circle, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 21-26.
Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. Oxford University Press, 2010.
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Robbins, Hollis. “‘We Are Seven’” and the First British Census.” English Language Notes vol. 48, no. 2, 2010, pp. 202-213.
Rovee, Christopher. “The Romantic Child, c.1780-1830.” Representing Childhood, http://www.representingchildhood.pitt.edu/romantic_child.htm. Accessed 10 October 2016.
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Literature and Language. vol. 2, no. 2, 2011, pp. 179-184.
Wordsworth’s Empathetic Repetition and Tautology in ‘Lyrical Ballads’
Critics like Stork have declared the majority of Wordsworth’s self-designated ‘ballads’ to not truly be ballads at all, since they are more interested in dwelling on thought or emotion than propelled by action, which he seems to admit in Part Second of ‘Hart-Leap Well’: ‘To freeze the blood I have no ready arts / ‘Tis my delight, alone in summer shade, / To pipe a simple song for thinking hearts.’ Although he focuses on emotional and ideological shifts and the reader’s empathy for those changes, Wordsworth uses the limitations of the ballad form to create that empathy – particularly repetition and tautology, as repeated statements in popular ballads originate from the form’s origins as being sung and singers’ need to memorize lines, and he is particularly interested in elevating the mundane, like the workers’ songs of ballad origins, through the meditative focused spaces of his poetry.
In volume I of the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth appended a note to ‘The Thorn’, regretting that he had not made the difference between him as the poet and ‘the character of the loquacious narrator’ clearer. In describing the traditional storyteller behind a ballad, he creates a kind of enclosing fiction around the main story: ‘The Reader will perhaps have a general notion of [this character], if he has ever known a man, a Captain of a small trading vessel for example, who being past the middle age of life, had retired upon an annuity or small independent income to some village or country town of which he was not a native, or in which he had not been accustomed to live.’ This conception of the ballad narrator as a Captain in a foreign environment may explain what Wordsworth imagined the reason for repetition in ballads to be: an easily-remembered nostalgic comfort, and a tribute to the shanties and working songs that had a direct purpose for their repetitive style.
Variation upon that repetition and tautology are used in ‘The Thorn’ to build a narrative or journey within the description of a plant while still lingering in the emotional moment of observing that thorn. Verse I ends: ‘It stands erect, and like a stoneWith lichens is it overgrown.Verse II begins:Like rock or stone, it is o’ergrown,With lichens to the very top.’In repeating the description of the thorn, Wordsworth creates an almost chiasmic effect of the phrases ‘is it overgrown’ and ‘it is o’ergrown’ being surrounded by mention of lichens. These initial stanzas discuss the thorn in ways that foreshadow the revelation of a baby being buried in the mound, and this syntactical suffocation invites a second glance at the imagery of a thorn overgrown with lichens to that end. The change from ‘like a stone’ to ‘like rock or stone’ may also connect to the uncertainty surrounding the baby’s actual death. The assonance of ‘like’ and ‘lichens’ as well as ‘or’ and ‘o’ergrown’, and the internal rhyme of ‘stone’ and ‘o’ergrown’, make the second verse appear more cohesive or intentional than the first, and spurs the reader to think about the overall imagery because it has been repeated. The changes from one verse to the other demonstrate how Wordsworth can use the incremental repetition of popular plot-driven ballads like Babylon, Edward and others to build a journey of heightened emotions where a temporal one does not exist.
Russell summarises Wordsworth’s prefatory note as ‘identifying passion as not merely an original motivation, but a continuing component of poetic language: repeated words are of ‘themselves part of the passion’.’ Martha’s ‘doleful cry’ of ‘O misery! Oh misery! / O woe is me! o misery!’ is proof of passion being evident through repeated words, returning as a refrain to four of the stanzas. ‘It emerges from the narrative that this lament, repeated over ‘some two and twenty years’ (115) has accumulated the significance of ritual, sustaining as well as expressing the passion felt by the solitary woman.’
The ritual of repetition here has become crucial, and the poem returns to her as often as it does to the thorn and the idea of ‘graves’. Coleridge complained about the eddying, circular motion of Wordsworth’s poetry in his Biographia Literaria, despite writing in the ballad form himself, but as Alexander argues, this repetition and tautology allows Wordsworth to turn the mundane into something compelling enough to be discussed multiple times. In the note, Wordsworth addresses the ‘lyrical’ and ‘rapid’ metre used, and how it juxtaposes the stillness in a poem that meditates on different scenery and creates a plot through gossip rather than action: the metre and repetition work in tandem to create a sense of moving fast through emotions or ideas while lingering in actual locations.
In ‘The Idiot Boy’, a strong lineal plot is denied when Wordsworth provides no clear explanation for where the boy went, and instead constructs some false ‘Perhaps’ scenarios. Heather Glen argues that this omission is to bestow an interiority on the boy that is unreachable for the reader, as a real person’s would be diminished face-to-face, and separate him from the ‘tale’ of everyone else. The limitations of his writing here only enhance the reader’s empathy for the character Wordsworth decides. When she is reunited with her son at the end of the poem, Wordsworth also chooses to echo the second stanza’s phrase ‘him who you love, your Idiot Boy’: ‘And now all full in view she sees / Him whom she loves, her Idiot Boy,’ and ‘It is no goblin, ’tis no ghost, / ‘Tis he whom you so long have lost, / He whom you love, your Idiot Boy.’ The repetition of this phrase imbues the nickname with affection, since it is always preceded with ‘love’. The syntax always defines him by ‘who she loves’ before any naming, as well, and frames their mother-child experience as universal through non-specific pronouns. In the poem ‘Strange Fits of Passion have I known’, he also uses similarly unusual syntax:’When she I loved looked every dayFresh as a rose in June,I to her cottage bent my way,Beneath an evening-moon.’The syntax of ‘she I loved’ and ‘I to her cottage’ creates an intimacy between the narrator and the object of his action through physical proximity on the page: as stated in his preface he has prioritised feeling over logical placement.
In ‘Simon Lee’, Wordsworth describes the kind of simple village inhabitants that his invocation of the popular ballad form may be a tribute to, and uses variation on repetition to explain this subject:’O Reader! had you in your mindSuch stores as silent thought can bring, O gentle Reader! you would find A tale in every thing.’He defends his choice of writing a poem about such an unassuming moment through addressing the reader directly, and uses significant variation to try and engender the same empathetic frame of mind his narrative voice takes on during the poem. The expected repetition of ‘O Reader!’ is disrupted by the inclusion of ‘gentle’, as if he has extended his kindness to the reader in the same way that he has to Simon Lee, proving the imagination that ‘silent thought’ has given him by lending the reader a personality trait. His ability to find ‘a tale in every thing’ is also arguably proven by the journey from ‘O Reader!’ to ‘O gentle Reader!’ as if his relationship with this hypothetical person has progressed.
The repetition of words in describing Simon Lee working may serve to patronize the old man: he first states ‘So vain was his endeavour’, and later describes ‘The tangled root I sever’d, / At which the poor old man so long / And vainly had endeavour’d.’ The repetition may emphasize his weakness by recreating the repetition or duration of the old man’s action in swinging his tool ‘in vain’. Wordsworth’s narrative voice could be making himself seem stronger in comparison to Simon, especially since the rhyme of ‘sever’d’ with ‘endeavour’d’ directly contrasts their attempts. The structure of the verse, however, may contrast this self-serving view, as it proffers the old man’s action as the final line, leaving the reader with an impression of ongoing weakness that Wordsworth’s intervention has not solved, much like the lasting pessimism of the overall poem’s last word, ‘mourning’. McGrath discusses Wordsworth’s assertion in the preface that a craving for extraordinary incidents leads to a blunted mind, and claims that the narrator here sees the fallibility of one extraordinary incident. The overall effect is to create empathy in the reader for both Simon and the narrative voice, seeing an ongoing struggle for the old man that lasts beyond the moment that has been lingered on, and therefore a kind of interiority in this seemingly humble character.
In both ‘Simon Lee’ and ‘The Idiot Boy’, Wordsworth overtly teases his reader for having the wrong anticipations of what constitutes a ‘tale’, emphasizing the importance of dwelling on a moment instead of rushing to action. Rather than contradicting the rules of a plot-fueled popular ballad form, he may have seen this priority for thought and feeling as served well by the ballad stanza’s repetition, as his style can circle and linger on something apparently mundane through repetition and tautology. In his preface, he discusses his goals in writing: ‘For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings; and, as by contemplating the relation of these general representatives to each other, we discover what is really important to men, so, by the repetition and continuance of this act, our feelings will be connected with important subjects (…) that the understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified.’
The shifts of emotion or thought in Wordsworth’s lyrical ballads are not always linked to a strict lineal ‘tale’, and his use of traditional repetition even in moments of tranquility or circular admiration demonstrates that fact through their juxtaposition. The humanist, ‘lyric’ quality of the poems is created twofold by the presence of repetition in local songs: as tribute to the practical songs of workers and thereby elevating the unpoetic, and in expressing ongoing emotions through their disruption of temporal reality.
“Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”
Wordsworth’s pastoral poem “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey” eloquently expresses the poet’s feelings of ambivalence regarding maturation, nature, and modern society. The poem is formatted in a distinct approach that serves to highlight the poet’s own conflicting emotions. Wordsworth initiates the composition by presenting himself as revisiting a beautiful and sprawling landscape he once enjoyed as a child. In proceeding through his maturation into an adult, he begins to describe a new environment—one of a cold and selfish modern society. The din and darkness of his new adult life serves as a stark contrast to the peace and tranquility of the riverbank he holds in his nostalgia. As the poem unfolds, Wordsworth allows himself to return to his place of serenity not only in his memories, but also through the eyes of his younger sister. He projects his own faded recollections of youth onto her and utilizes this opportunity to return to the banks of the Wye. As he is now too old, or perhaps too jaded and world-weary, to truly return, he relishes in the novelty of the sister’s experience at the riverbank.The poem opens with invocations of time and familiarity. In the first two lines, Wordsworth demonstrates, through his use of the word “again”, that not only has he visited this scene previously, but that the riverbank landscape is so dear to him that the lengthy separation of “five summers” has felt as long as “five winters” (1-2). He is careful to note, however, that despite his long absence from the banks, he has not forgotten the true beauty of the scenery. To him, his nostalgia serves as a breakaway from his now mature life. In this sense, the passing of time is a source of deep-rooted ambivalence.Wordsworth remembers the banks chiefly through the serenity he experienced while visiting there as a child. His sense of peace is worth noting, as the landscape itself is described as being fraught with opposing scenery. The “steep and lofty cliffs” are “wild” and yet connect with the “quiet of the sky”. The naturally simple green hues of the woods “disturb” the landscape while “wreathes of smoke” are sent up in silence (14-19). Despite how opposite these images may seem, they somehow naturally connect together and flow, forming a tranquility that brings comfort to the poet’s childhood memories. As the poet matures, however, he is placed in an environment of chaos that, unlike the banks of his youth, cannot come together in peace. The “fretful stir” and “fever of the world” hang heavy on his heart (53-55), and thus he often turns to his memories of the banks and their unity for solace.Wordsworth notes an important shift in his appreciation of the banks through his maturation. Initially, he experienced the scene in a child-like wonderment and open appreciation of the natural beauty. He experienced it as it was and asked for nothing of the passionate emotions the landscape evoked. Now, as he is older and utilizes these memories as a bulwark against the modern world, he appreciates the banks more as a place of refuge. He returns to this place “more like a man flying from something that he dreads” (71-72). Now it seems the pure pleasures of his boyish days are all gone by. Despite his melancholy, he ambivalently remarks that he does not regret this change in himself. Now that he is older and has matured he is finally able to fully sense the “sublime” in nature and enjoy a true appreciation of those powers the scenery evokes. In the lines “if I were not thus taught, should I the more suffer my genial spirits to decay” (113-114), he even attributes his poetic sense of creativity to his newly matured perspective. The poet ultimately is still “A lover of the meadows and the woods” (104), yet more in the sense of holding this natural beauty as the core of his soul rather than superficially experiencing the scenery.The poet is cheerful in the new realization that his current experience in visiting these banks will provide further memories for the future. Just as he has utilized his youthful memories as refuge against the modern world, he will now recall this new visit as a moment of sublime majesty that proves beauteous nature can still prevail over the sad dimness of society’s landscape. His new “life and food” (65) may not be gathered in the same manner as they were in his youth; that said, he remains hopeful that the presence of these memories will serve as a way to subdue the “still, sad music of humanity” (92). There is a sense of conflict demonstrated in the poet’s disconnect with modern society. Despite the idea that his appreciation of the scenery serves as a refuge against oppressive society, ultimately it is this same awareness that becomes his own humanistic connection to the rest of the world. As he lingers on the beauty of the scenery, he begins to understand that the presence of nature is “something far more deeply interfused” and “rolls through all things” (97-103). The powerful appreciation of natural beauty is what connects the poet with all of humanity. This reiterates a sense of flowing union between all things that was previously demonstrated through Wordsworth’s flowing description of the riverbank’s conflicting scenery.As the poem continues, the poet realizes that “time is past”, and he begins to reinforce the sense of confusion he feels regarding his lost youth. Despite his claims of contentment in his current perspective, the poet still attempts to regain a child-like pleasure and sense of novelty through the eyes of his younger sister. He wishes his sister to love the scenery for the sake of loving nature—as he did when he was in his youth. In this sense, he is able to relive his own initial reactions and pleasures through her experience. Her naïveté regarding the true power of nature, coupled with the newness of the scenery, brings nostalgia to the poet as he observes his own “former pleasures” in the “shooting lights of thy wild eyes” (119-120).There is more underlying his desire to share the scenery with his sister than a mere need to regain a lost youth. The poet expresses a hope that his personal experience in maturing will serve as a model for his sister’s own individual journey through life. This exposes a sense of fraternal protectiveness. He intends to allow his sister to relish in the riverbanks’ beauty in a fashion similar to his. This is so she will be capable of gaining these memories as a shield to utilize against society when she is faced with the dimness of the world. Through the evocation of these memories, the “dreary intercourse of daily life” (132) can hold no power over either of their lives. The poet further understands that the nostalgia of the riverbank will eventually mature in his sister, like they did in him, and she will evolve to find a more sober pleasure in the scenery. Underlying all of the poet’s requests, there lingers the fear of not being able to protect his sister in his death. The final stanza implies that his extreme intent on exposing his sister to this scenery is in hopes that if he should be where he “can no more hear thy voice” (148-149), then the memories will serve as her protector against the world. Essentially, if he is not present to provide her comfort, then at least she will be able to turn to her memories of the beauteous riverbanks and instead find solace in them. In the final lines of the poem, the poet is confident that his sister will come to truly appreciate the value of this pastoral landscape and will understand why he holds it so dear. To not forget the memories of their “many wanderings” (157) along these riverbanks will provide her the ultimate protection against any pain, solitude, or grief that the world may bring.
Two Interpretations of “A Slumber did my spirit seal”
William Wordsworth’s poem “A slumber did my spirit seal” compels different interpretations with different readers. In this case, two critics, Cleanth Brooks and F.W. Bateson, analyze the poem and produce two contrasting interpretations. For the most part both critics focus on examining the same facts in the poem, especially, the final two lines of the poem. However, although Brooks and Bateson draw their conclusions from shared facts, they approach the text with different assumptions. Brooks uses the method of New Criticism, wherein one focuses only on the words in the poem. Bateson, by contrast, takes into account influences such as the author’s life, his other poems and his philosophy about nature in general. Brooks struggles with a narrow spectrum for interpretation that leads him to a more biased report, while Bateson’s integration of other texts allows him to appear less biased and develop a more comprehensive interpretation. Brooks’ commentary on the poem reveals that he is strongly influenced by the concept of New Criticism. This approach concentrates solely on interpretation through the poem’s language. It rejects the examination of biographical information, which can color the way one understands the poem. For example, Brooks reads the depiction of Lucy’s death literally. Brooks takes “No motion has she now, no force” (1.5) and “[s]he neither hears nor sees” (l.6) to mean that Lucy is dead; he does not consider that this could describe Lucy resting calmly. Also, Brooks does not consider Lucy’s spirit; he does not read any other information into the description of her lifeless presence. To Brooks, the poem’s last two lines have no spiritual significance. If he had drawn on Wordsworth’s related works he might have reconsidered this assessment – but then he would not have followed the tenets of New Criticism.Despite his adherence to New Criticism, Brooks is still unable to escape his own biases. For example, Brooks describes the elements of nature in the poem (rocks, stones, trees) as contributing to “the girl’s falling back into the clutter of things” (Hirsch p.7). The perception of nature as harsh is Brooks’ own. Similarly, Brooks writes that Lucy “is caught up helplessly into the empty whirl of the earth” (Hirsch p.7), claiming implicitly that the earth is a place in which people can become lost and confused – a personal belief, not a generally accepted fact and certainly not an idea put forward by Wordsworth. Another example of Brooks’ anti-nature belief appears in his argument that Lucy is “falling back into the clutter of things, companioned by things chained like a tree” (Hirsch p.7); he portrays a tree, which most people would see as a symbol of life and growth, as a constraint. In these and other examples, Brooks’ own negative attitude toward nature and the earth comes across repeatedly. His New Criticism is not as objective and strictly text-driven as it would be if applied perfectly. Bateson analyzes the poem under influence of other texts, particularly Wordsworth’s “The Lyrical Ballads” and “Tintern Abbey.” Bateson takes a more positive outlook on “A Slumber did my spirit seal” because he takes into account Wordsworth’s romantic views towards nature. In his preface to “The Lyrical Ballads,” Wordsworth describes how “[l]ow and rustic life was generally chosen as the topic of poetry because in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity” (p.1). In other words, Wordsworth believes that themes of nature will resonate with readers. Nature has not been molded by society; it is untouched and almost spiritual. Given Wordsworth’s apparently positive association with nature, Bateson sees references to nature in “A Slumber did my spirit seal” as positive as well. Unlike Brooks, Bateson interprets nature as a positive effect on Lucy. He discusses how “[t]he vague living-Lucy of this poem is opposed to the grander dead-Lucy who had become involved in the sublime processes of nature” (Hirsch p.7). Whereas Brooks sees Lucy is simply dead and gone at the end of the poem, Bateson argues that her spirit is reborn in nature. He reads “Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course / [w]ith rocks and stones and trees” (l.8) as a resurrection of Lucy’s spirit into the natural world: “Lucy is actually more alive now that she is dead, because she is now a part of the life of Nature, and not just a human “thing”” (Hirsch p.7). His capitalization of “Nature” underscores Bateson’s appreciation for this theme.Wordsworth’s romantic associations with nature also appear in “Tintern Abbey,” a poem that gives Bateson additional insight into “A Slumber did my spirit seal.” For example, Bateson reads spirituality into the use of “rolls through all things” (1.17) in the former poem and applies the same interpretation to “[r]olled round in earth’s diurnal course” (l.7) in the second, connecting the spiritual “rolls” to “earth’s course” in a way that celebrates the earth.The concept of the sublime, or connection between nature and spirituality, runs through the poems and informs Bateson’s interpretation. Wordsworth describes his religious belief when he refers in the preface to “The Lyrical Ballads” to “elevated thoughts; a sense sublime…” (l.12). His references to “the light of setting suns” (1.14), “living air” (1.15) and other natural elements in “A Slumber did my spirit seal” and elsewhere echoes the sublime. “Tintern Abbey” contains the lines: “[a] motion and a spirit that impels/ [a]ll thinking things, all objects of all thought” (l.15-16), in which “motion” represents nature. In his interpretation Bateson explains that the “dead-Lucy… [is] involved in the sublime processes of nature” (Hirsch p.7), suggesting that like Wordsworth, he too sees nature as heavenly.Both Brooks’ and Bateson’s methods of criticism effectively substantiate the critics’ arguments. Using New Criticism, however, Brooks does not have the freedom to explore every aspect of the poem; nor does Brooks manage to leave his personal bias against nature outside of his interpretation. Bateson’s method affords him much more latitude to expand and deepen his argument. Unconstrained from the rules of New Criticism, Bateson provides a more well-rounded and ultimately more convincing argument than his fellow critic.Works CitedHirsch, E.D. “Objective-Interpretation”. English 202 Course Packet. Ed. Henry Staten. Seattle: UW, 2007. 7.Wordsworth, William. “A slumber did my spirit”. English 202 Course Packet. Ed. Henry Staten. Seattle: UW, 2007. 6.Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”. English 202 Course Packet. Ed. Henry Staten. Seattle: UW, 2007. 4.
‘Daffodils’ and ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’ Analysis
William Wordsworth himself once said, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Wordsworth, like most romantic poets, had a strong attitude towards the rebellion against the industrial revolution and strove to revert back to the “bliss” of nature. He believed that by returning to nature, mankind would become unrestricted by the constraints imposed upon them by an industrialised society. Humanity had corrupted his view of human nature and man from a state of innocence and natural beauty. Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” are poems that convey Wordsworth’s preoccupations with nature, politics and the imagination through the beauteous image of the daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the breeze” and a city adorned with an almost celestial light.During the romantic period nature became a powerful symbol; a vision of life as it should be. “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” colludes with the idea that nature is pure and beauteous. This is evident as early as the very first line where the Earth is personified as a “fair” and beautiful woman. This mimics the sonnet form of Shakespeare, where the crux of the sonnet dealt with the everlasting beauty of women. Perhaps this leads on to say that the beauty of nature is eternally existent for those who simply look for it. “This city now doth like a garment wear the beauty of the morning; silent, bare,” these lines further emphasise the beauty of nature. The garment that the city wears is the beauty of nature’s morning. While the industrialised society “seem[s] asleep” the “smokeless air” is bare of pollution and the streets are silent, free from the hustle and bustle of the noon city. The garment masks the ugliness, that is the city, but these clothes can not be worn all the time because they would become ruined by the corruption of man. Wordsworth is trying to inform us that the morning is the only time that God, nature and man can co-exist in harmony.Religious imagery is used to reinforce the notion that God-made (nature) is perfect and magnificent, whilst man-made is corrupt and destructive. “The river [that] glideth at his own sweet will,” provides a religious connotation to God in a Pantheistic view. This establishes a hierarchy between the binary opposition of God-made, at the top, and man-made, at the bottom. The “Earth had not anything to show more fair,” meaning that everything was flawless, that is, until man corrupted nature’s purity and perfection with their “ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples.” Following this, came commercialisation and industrialisation, along with pollution in all forms and dystopia. Wordsworth is critical of the man who can not stop to appreciate the beauty of the city in the hectic intercourse of daily life, “Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching…the beauty of the morning.” He comments that society has lost touch with the divinity that allows man to see natural beauty.Wordsworth contrasts the morning city and the noon city, creating two entirely different worlds. The noon city expresses images of congested traffic, loud senseless noises and polluted air – an industrialised society working at full capacity. It destroys the good qualities of sympathy and kindness in humanity, and replaces them with a sense of malice and corruption. The morning city however; has an implied “smokeless air” and is beautiful, clean, fresh and majestic. The binary opposition between the morning and the noon cities represents the opposition of God-made and man-made respectively. Wordsworth is astounded, in that the average person is able to simply “pass by” the “splendour” of nature, which gives him nourishment and contentment each day. He is overcome by this site of perfection that he calls out to God, “Dear God!”, to thank him for being a witness to this site, while others merely “pass by” with their “heart[s] lying still.”The thematic preoccupations of the “Daffodils,” are the tranquillity and unity with nature that the poet experiences through introspection. The first stanza discusses how mankind is disconnected from nature. Wordsworth says that the majority of people float “high o’er [the] vales and hills,” like a cloud, where the hosts of daffodils grow. The great distance between the cloud and the daffodils show a disconnection and lack of a proper relationship with nature, and ultimately God. Wordsworth muses upon the tranquility to be found in nature, and when in “pensive mood” he contemplates the “flash,” the brief memory of the daffodils. His “heart with pleasure fills” as he contemplates on his experience with the daffodils and becomes at one with nature.The second, and in particular, the third stanza illustrates the unification of nature and the poet. “A poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company,” here, the poet is at one with the daffodils. Not only are the daffodils personified as people by stating that their presence is associated with intelligent company, they are described with human characteristics, “fluttering…dancing… [and] tossing their heads.” The personification of the daffodils shows a close relationship between the poet and the natural world. This relationship is further intensified with the reverse personification of the earlier stanza. “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” The poet compares himself to a natural object, implying an inherent unity between man and nature. This reflects the poet’s desire to become a part of the natural world and Wordsworth yearns for the reader to experience the “bliss” of nature, too. Wordsworth, in effect, becomes a social critic to the loss of spontaneity, purpose, innocence, passion and imagination.For Wordsworth, the child and childhood represented a spontaneous and natural feeling of wisdom which is innately linked to nature, in a way which adults have lost touch with. Children are not corrupt by the ‘vaulting ambition’ which drives adults to perform uncanny behaviour, and therefore have the natural divinity to clearly see and experience nature. Natural and religious imagery are combined to symbolise the purity and incorruptibility of children, and reveals how children are inherently at one with nature. “God being with thee when we know it not,” at this point the poet believes that his daughter is unconsciously devout, though she is outwardly untouched by the beauty of the evening. Wordsworth capitalises the words “Temple,” “Nun” and “Girl,” showing that there is an essential link between religion and the purity and beauty of nature. The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, however; in the very first line this strict rule is broken, having eleven syllables. This shows Wordsworth’s overflow of emotion with regards to his imagery of the “beauteous evening” and the love he feels for his daughter, who is pure and innocent of heart.Wordsworth’s poems and sonnets, “Daffodils” and “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” convey the thematic preconceptions of politics, imagination and most importantly the relationship between God, nature and man. Wordsworth is able to effectively utilize literary techniques, such as personification, metaphor and simile, to describe how he feels not only about nature itself, but of his concerns of those in society who are “dull…of soul” and unknowingly “pass by” the absolute beauty, peace and tranquility of nature. Wordsworth encourages us to experience nature’s beauty first hand and to veer away from the pollution and corrupting intentions of a commercialised and industrialise society. And as the man himself said: “Come forth into the light of things; let nature be your teacher.”
William Wordsworth’s Expostulation and Reply: A Neoclassical and Romantic Analysis
The first volume of William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) was published, as Wordsworth states in Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802), “…as an experiment.” (482). The introduction to Lyrical Ballads by William Richey and Daniel Robinson suggests that the experiment contested the valued literature of the time in such a way that it sought to “strip away the pleasing illusions of late eighteenth-century art in order to reveal things as they (were).” (1). Thus Lyrical Ballads became one of the first examples of literature of the romantic era, with William Wordsworth leading as one of the authentic romantic poets. A focus on the poor and disenfranchised, written in the real “language of men,” characterized literature of the romantic era, which contrasted with the literature of the neoclassical era. This literature featured an emphasis on the lives of the aristocracy and was written in a sophisticated manner (2). Although Lyrical Ballads did not seek to provide a strong reaction against Neoclassicism, evidence of such a movement is obvious in the content of its poems, namely, “Expostulation and Reply.”The poem provides an interesting conflict within itself regarding the transition from neoclassicist ideas into romantic ideas and therefore would best be approached by such criticisms. The ultimate message of the poem favors romanticism, yet an approach of romantic criticism alone will not entirely provide a reasonably valid judgment of the work’s strengths and weaknesses, a secondary analysis of the poem with regard to Neoclassicism is also necessary. The grounds for this judgment are based on the comparison of Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth to An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope. William Wordsworth’s essay represents the means for a romantic criticism and Pope’s essay represents a neoclassical criticism.”Expostulation and Reply” was written in the style of a poetic dialog that takes place between two gentlemen ,on the topic of scholarship. The poem is made up 4-line stanzas with an a-b-a-b rhyme scheme. The first gentleman, Matthew, asks his companion William why he is idly sitting: “Why William sit you thus alone,/ And dream your time away?” Then Matthew chides him for not spending his time amongst the books and knowledge of scholars past: “Up! Up! And drink the spirit breath’d/ From dead men to their kind.” William replies that his actions are not idle in nature, that he is sensing nature without even trying to do so: “Our bodies feel, where’er they be,/ Against, or with our will.” He says that the mind can be fed passively and can thus be used to teach itself, “…we can feed this mind of ours,/ In a wise passiveness.” He asks his companion why one should seek knowledge when it comes automatically through nature, “Think you…That nothing of itself will come,/ But we must still be seeking?” William ultimately responds that man can learn all he needs to know from nature and that is why he is sitting and dreaming: “I sit upon this old grey stone,/ And dream my time away.” (103-4).The poem encapsulates the neoclassical values of Matthew, who reasons with William for the purpose of dissuading him from his romantic values. William replies, as the title suggests, with sound support for his values, thus creating a sense of persuading the reader. In just a mere 8 stanzas, the poem presents the logical transition between Neoclassicism and Romanticism that likely took place on the societal level. It is probable that the poem reflects a conversation that may have occurred in William Wordsworth’s life and was thus the inspiration for such a poem.Elements of Neoclassicism are indeed present in the poem, despite its debut as a romantic piece. Matthew presents his companion, William, with an argument that is supported by neoclassical beliefs. Matthew suggests that William pick up a book and learn from the spirit of the dead men through their rhetoric. The idea of learning from old truths is an element of Neoclassicism that is found specifically in Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism, which followed the tradition of Horace and provided advice for critics of literature and for poets (297): “You then whose judgment the right course would steer,/ Know well each ancient’s proper character;/ His fable, subject, scope in ev’ry page;/ Religion, country, genius of his age” (301). Pope is suggesting in this passage, lines 118-121 of his essay, that in order for one to follow down the best path, he or she should select the well-worn path. In order to proclaim the general truths, the writer must learn from the thinkers of past times. This truth, then, should be communicated to others and that learned others will recognize the truth, because they had heard it before. “Some by old words to fame have made pretense,/ Ancients in praise, mere moderns in their sense;/ Such labored nothings, in so strange a style,/ Amaze th’ unlearned, and make the learned smile.” (301). Matthew would have William understand that there is no other way to learn than from the knowledge and wisdom of books.In the poem, Matthew proposes that without the books, common man would be nothing: “Where are your books? That light bequeath’d/ To beings else forlorn and blind!” (103). This reflects the neoclassical notion that without the knowledge of the great thinkers of the past, the common man is blind; he is hopeless and aimless without it. This also presents the neoclassical distinction of classes within society, providing that the common man would lack intellect and the capacity to construct knowledge on his own.Matthew also accuses William of having no common sense or rationality because he is reflecting on nature as if he has no purpose and as if he was the first man to take in nature, “You look round on your mother earth,/ As if she for no purpose bore you;/ As if you were her first-born birth,/ And none had lived before you!” (103). To the neoclassicist, the scenario of William sitting idly on a stone would make him seem like a fool, and his rationale for doing so would seem nonsensical. The voice of Neoclassicism is heard strongly in the poem as Matthew echoes the beliefs of Alexander Pope and other Neoclassicists.Having thus revealed the presence of Neoclassicism in the poem, it is important that one discover the fundamental romantic message of Wordsworth’s work. His message appears not only through the poem’s content, but also through its style. William’s reply to Matthew claims that he is sensing and learning from nature without even trying to do so. This reflects Wordsworth’s claim that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, which only come to a man who possesses organic sensibility (484). In the poem, William is in the process of writing a poem, but perhaps he is gaining the emotional experience necessary to do so. William suggests that man can feed his mind through passiveness. This passiveness that Wordsworth describes reflects his statement “For the human mind is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants.” (484). Ultimately, William suggests that things come of themselves. Here Wordsworth implies that poetry comes from the emotions man derives from his personal experiences in nature (490). Therefore, the romantic rationale behind William’s actions is supplemented through his reply and personal defense.The experimental value of Lyrical Ballads, as well as the romantic style in which they were written, contradict the neoclassical style. Pope condemns writing with such experimental intentions in his essay by stating “True ease in writing comes from art, not chance.” (302). Although Wordsworth’s ideas were experimental in the realm of literature, he was not a writer simply by chance. His ideas were new and his way of conveying them was somewhat of an experiment. Wordsworth believed that poetry should be adopted from the language of men, thought that poets who used the more philosophical language “separate themselves from the sympathies of men” and therefore “indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, or their own creation” (483). Wordsworth would suggest that because he wrote this poem in the language of the common man, it could be read and enjoyed by the common man as well as the aristocracy, therefore creating pleasure for all. And pleasure, Wordsworth asserts, is the end of poetry, its ultimate goal (489).The poem resembles a work of Romanticism through its style. As previously mentioned, the work was written in the language of the common man. The word choice in the poem, as well as being in the language of the common man, refers to experiences of the common man. For instance, the poem is likely set in a rural environment because William sits on an old grey stone and then converses with his friend by Esthwaite Lake. This use of the rural setting is a predominant feature of romanticism: “Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart fine a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are under less restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language” (483). The action that takes place in the poem resembles the experience of ordinary men as well and can thus be perceived by them. Wordsworth states that it is necessary for the poet to give immediate pleasure to the reader: “The end of poetry is to produce excitement in coexistence with an overbalance of pleasure…” (487-9). The poem does give the reader a sense of pleasure in that he learns that he can create things of his own capacity, without the help of intellectuals of the past. Wordsworth also makes reference to the distinct purpose that a poem has: “(a) description of such objects as strongly excited those feelings will be found to carry along with them a purpose2E” (484). The purpose in “Expostulation and Reply” is clear: to enlighten the readers about the nature’s value to knowledge and to dissuade the reader from relying solely upon books; more bluntly put, to move the readers toward romanticist values and ideas and away from Neoclassicism.In order to perceive these strengths in the poem, it is necessary to use romantic criticism. Though it is also valuable to use this criticism to analyze the weaknesses of the poem, it is difficult to do so because the piece was written in accordance with the values of romanticism. One weakness of the poem is, however, the assertion of the importance of feeling by Wordsworth in his preface, “that the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation.” Meanwhile, the poem struggles to show such importance of feeling and succeeds at conveying the perception of nature (484). It is not evident to the reader what strong feelings the poem conveys, nor what action and situation it gives importance to. However, if the work were to be analyzed through neoclassical criticism, the work would have fewer strengths and many more weaknesses.A neoclassical criticism of the poem would find a great deal of strengths within the first 3 stanzas, and then perhaps would find weakness in the argument provided in the last four stanzas. The language of the poem would be a weakness, as well as its apparent rural setting. The content of the poem is presented in two parts: the expostulation and the reply. Pope suggests that some critics attempt to make the whole message of the poem depend upon its parts, and this he says leads to the sacrifice of the entire work based on the failure of one part (301). Perhaps Pope would have difficulty critiquing the whole of Wordsworth’s poem, given that it has 2 obvious and opposing parts.It is clear that the work is rich with strengths through a romantic criticism. Romantic criticism for “Expostulation and Reply” provides the basis for a sound analysis because it is a work of Romanticism, but furthermore, it truly serves to elaborate the strengths of the work in a way that no other criticism could. Concurrently, the poem thrives on the analysis of a Neoclassical criticism because the neoclassical elements of the poem provide elements of interest necessary for a secondary criticism; elements for which Romanticism alone does not provide the sole basis of judgment. Because of the changing time in which the work was written and the experimental nature of its origin, the poem is a unique example of a work of Romanticism with lingering Neoclassical beliefs still intertwined. Indeed the work is valuable for its presentation of the historical transition that took place between the eras of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, especially because it shows it on an everyday level, as would be the experience of the ordinary man.Works CitedPope, Alexander. An Essay on Criticism. Critical Theory Since Plato: Third Edition. Adams, Hazard and Searle, Leroy. Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005: (297-306).Richey, William and Robinson, Daniel. Introduction. Lyrical Ballads and Related Writings. Richey, William and Robinson, Daniel. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002: (1-7).Wordsworth, William. “Expostulation and Reply”. Lyrical Ballads and Related Writings. Richey, William and Robinson, Daniel. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002: (103-4).Wordsworth, William. Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads. Critical Theory Since Plato: Third Edition. Adams, Hazard and Searle, Leroy. Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005: (481-492).
Primary and Secondary Nature in Wordsworth’s “The Thorn”
It is not often that one would consider gossip, rumor, fear, and slander to be a part of nature, and yet it is; at least, of human nature. And as William Wordsworth is a poet of nature, one might ask of which form of nature? That of humans or of birds and trees, and so forth? Regardless, Wordsworth crafted a poem named “The Thorn” which is exemplary in demonstrating both the primary nature (nature unmediated by society) and the secondary nature (the nature which is imprinted by society) of humankind. The secondary nature is the easiest to pick out in the poem, for the poem is rampant with rumor and gossip (among other things), which are at the heart of a societal reaction to uncertainty. The primary nature is the more subtle aspect of the poem, however, and deals with the reaction to the uncertainty which is wholly innate, that being the reaction to the unknown.The second nature in “The Thorn” is the essential of the two natures, as the poem is a tale of superstition. Martha Ray’s story is thus: she was betrayed by her lover when he married another woman, and left her with child. She was understandably distressed. But this is all that is revealed as fact in the seaman’s account of the woman, and the child that may or may not have even been born, much less murdered. The nature of society to gossip-mongers, however, adds a macabre color to the events:”I cannot tell, but some will sayShe hanged her baby on the tree;Some say she drowned it in the pondWhich is a little step beyond;But all and each agreeThe little babe was buried there,Beneath that hill of moss so fair. (ll. 214 – 220)As Edmund Burke stated about second nature, it is something that can even include prejudices created by society, and the stigma attached to unwed mothers was no small discrimination. Far from being looked upon with sympathy, they were looked on, rather, as harlots or sexual-deviants (as evidenced by Wordsworth’s choice of a scarlet cloak worn by Martha Ray, related biblically to sin). What Wordsworth, therefore, has given the reader in “The Thorn” is an uncompromising look at the secondary nature of society in form of rumors and prejudice.Though less pronounced than the illustration of second nature in “The Thorn”, man’s primary nature is still quite apparent in the poem in the form of the mariner, and the supposed town and country folks’ natural reaction to Martha Ray and what they knew of her story. Firstly, and quite simply, several times the mariner describes the “heap of earth o’ergrown with moss” (ll. 49) as being “like an infant’s grave in size” (ll. 52). A mound of earth the size of an infant’s grave would also be the size of a great many things; a great many more probable things. Yet, the mariner is inclined to describe it thus, for it is a primary nature in men to ascribe to natural things the characteristics of the unnatural, as murder surely would be. And following that point, murderers are generally viewed with fear, or at best an anxious interest. But especially to England of pre-twentieth century values, the prospect of a murderous woman was of an intense fright, for women throughout history have been viewed as pure, and innocent, but also nave and easily swayed by the devil’s whims (as the more Christian England believed in foregone times). Therefore, the possibility of Martha Ray having murdered her own newborn child, though based somewhat on a societal prescribed notion, would spark a wholly natural fear in those who knew of her: the fear of the unknown; is there anything more natural to humanity outside of society than that?”The Thorn” is far from William Wordsworth’s masterpiece, and yet it does two things that very few of his poems do both of: show humans both in their primary nature, and in their secondary nature. As it is human nature in society to trade secrets and rumors about people such as Martha Ray, though little is even known for certain about them, so it is human nature in it’s most elemental form to fear what it is that is not known. This is why children need night-lights, and eventually strangle their imagination as they grow to adulthood.