William Wordsworth’s poetry is characteristic of poetry written during the Romantic period. His pantheism and development of ambiance, the thoughts and feelings expressed and the diction Wordsworth employs are all symbolic of this period’s poetry. In this paper, these characteristics will be explored and their “Romantic” propensities exposed. This will be done by utilizing a wide selection of Wordsworth’s poetry spanning the poet’s lifetime.
His experiences are certainly mirrored in the subject matter of his creations and because of the inextricable link between Wordsworth the man and Wordsworth the poet, the poems discussed in this paper have been separated into three sections. The first section will deal with poems from the Lyrical Ballads. The second section explores Wordsworth’s Sonnets. While the last section will deal with the “Ecclesiastical Sketches,” as they have been referred to by critics and poets the like.
In his famous poem “The Rainbow,” Wordsworth grandly proclaims that, “the Child is the Father of the Man” (line 7). If we are to consider this claim on the basis not of its philosophical merit but rather of its personal relevance to the poet, this statement must be considered an absolute truth. For Wordsworth, through his poetry, explores himself: his thoughts, motives and feelings; in short Wordsworth poetry is in essence an exploration of the soul not of the mind and it is because of this that his poetry is so profound, so fluid and so “Romantic” in nature.
Thus Wordsworth’s poetry reflects him the man and hence the subject matter of his poems changes throughout the years as he goes through different experiences. In the poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth discerns that there are three main stages of development: childhood, youth and manhood.
Indeed these stages can be likened to Wordsworth’s poetical development. The publication of Lyrical Ballads marked Wordsworth’s birth and early childhood while the Sonnets of 1802 and beyond definitely reflect a wiser, worldlier Wordsworth. However it is in his Ecclesiastical Sketches that Wordsworth the poet reaches the pinnacle of his development: his manhood in the world of poetry. Hence the separation of this paper into the three stages of his development.
This poetical development occurs because of Wordsworth’s own personal growth through his life experiences, many of which are recounted in his poetry. There is, undoubtedly, a direct correlation between his life and his poetical works and a thorough knowledge of his background is necessary to understand his poetry and the stages that it undergoes. For example, the poetry of the Lyrical Ballads is light and carefree in tone and ambiance while that of the Sonnets is somber and reflective. This is because Wordsworth suffers a period of political disillusionment with the defeat of the French Revolution which is heavily reflected in his poetry of the time.
It follows naturally that if the subject matter and ambiance are affected by Wordsworth’s life then so would the themes and images of the poems. For these reasons, the poems have been separated into three distinct groupings to be explored separately. However while these poems may differ in content, they reflect the same elements of Romanticism seen in Wordsworth’s poetry. In fact, the differences in content only serve to highlight Romanticism as a poetic style applicable to all genres of verse.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
Childhood”William Wordsworth is north of England. He symbolizes the yeoman of England with its sturdy constitution and independence of mind” (11). So says R.S. Thomas in his introduction to “A Choice of Wordsworth’s Verse.” His poetry is very reflective of his disposition and throughout his life the main constant in his poetry is its reverent response to and appreciation of nature.
If we are to return to the line, “The Child is the Father of the Man,” then Wordsworth’s poetry becomes as pure and as clear to us as the Cuckoo’s song was to him. For Wordsworth’s childhood, described at length in his epic poem the Prelude, was idyllic. In the Prelude book I he describes life as a baby in his nurse’s arms, hearing and being drawn to the music of the river Derwent. His childhood follows along a similar theme of communion with nature. Indeed nature’s influence on the spirit is the underlying theme of his poems in Lyrical Ballads.
Then at the age of seventeen, after the deaths of his parents in 1778 and 1783, Wordsworth was separated from his five siblings and sent away to school at St. John’s College in Cambridge. There his life was simple and unencumbered. Vacations were spent in walking tours around England and on the continent with friends. It was on these excursions that many of the ideas expressed in Wordsworth’s poetry began to take shape. His deep appreciation of nature developed into a more sublime, spiritual communion.
The Revolutionary YearsIn 1791, Wordsworth’s poetic life began in earnest. He revisited France where he came into brief contact with a Frenchwoman, Annette Vallon, by whom he had a child. His reunion with his daughter is beautifully depicted in his sonnet, “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free.”On this visit to France, Wordsworth became engrossed in the literary work and philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Because of this influence, he developed strong republican sympathies and became absorbed in the revolution out of genuine concern and sympathy for the French people. In 1793 he returned to England where the excitement of the revolution quickly descended into disillusionment with the beginning of the Reign of Terror in September 1793.
Wordsworth’s actions during the French Revolution have been alternatively praised and criticised by critics. Those who praise his actions claim that Wordsworth showed himself to be a morally sound individual, who, sympathetic to the plight of a people, was moved into action. Others view Wordsworth’s timely departure before the war as a form of escapism.
Whatever the case, the French Revolution heavily impacted upon him and his poetry, and after the “death” of the revolution Wordsworth became depressed and angered with his fellow man. As Graham Hough, Professor of English at Cambridge University states,It is customary to reproach Wordsworth for abandoning it (the revolution), which is absurd; even Romantic poets must be permitted to grow up. What we can legitimately regret is that he abandoned so much with it, so many of the ideals that should have been immune to historical disappointment. (53)This abandonment of ideals is found in the Sonnets which tell of Wordsworth’s worldly disillusionment and later embitterment. The abandonment becomes even more apparent in the later Ecclesiastical Sketches which showcase Wordsworth’s seldom seen cynical side where biting remarks with a distinctly fatalistic tone reign.
Then in the winter of 1794, he fled England to avoid military conscription and went with his sister, Dorothy, to Germany. That winter was indeed a revolutionary one for it was here that Wordsworth’s and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s friendship blossomed. The winter spent in each other’s company precipitated the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 and marked in earnest the popularization of Romanticism in Britain.
The Reclusive YearsThe years 1802 and 1803 were busy ones for Wordsworth. 1802 saw him married to a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson. Before the wedding, Wordsworth revisited France for a settling of affairs between him and Annette. While in France he spent some time with his illegitimate daughter, Caroline. However following this, Wordsworth and his wife installed themselves at their new home from which he seldom vacated.
But more importantly, these years saw a revival in Wordsworth’s political interests which are reflected in his sonnets, composed around this time. For in 1802 the Peace of Amiens was concluded with France formalizing Britain’s recognition of the newly formed French Republic, a move which was welcomed by liberal sympathizers. This political revival elevated Wordsworth’s verse to new heights and his sonnets are profound in their expressions of disappointment, tempered with newfound hope.
The DeclineOnce again Wordsworth’s political hopes came crashing to the ground when the unstable period of peace ended in the beginning of a personal despotism with the introduction of Napoleon Bonaparte; made consul for life in August 1802. This was all too much for Wordsworth to bear and his later work shows his defeatist attitude and the lack of hope with which he became imbibed.
WORDSWORTH THE ROMANTIC
Romanticism, as succinctly defined by wikipedia.org, “is a complex artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Western Europe.” The Romantic Period ushered in a period of literary revolution where old fashion neoclassical ideals were permanently abolished.
Before the advent of Romanticism, emphasis in poetry was placed on the order and balance of reasoned thoughts. Poets had to adhere to strict rules of form and diction and the higher the level of elevation of language, the greater the substance of the poetry created. Furthermore, the subject matter of the poem was also a matter of tacit understanding amongst most poets. For poems depicted Kings, Queens and Gods and described major historical, social and political events.
Hence why Wordsworth’s poetry has been hailed by many as revolutionary; for it was only with the birth of Romanticism that ideas such as nature, human imagination, childhood, and the ability to recall emotional memories of both happiness and sorrow were able to be discussed and dissected in poetry.
For as Hough reiterates in “The Romantic Poets,”The effect of Wordsworth’s critical doctrines is indeed not exhausted yet; though there are probably few poets today who are directly under his influence, many of the feelings about diction and poetic ornament that now seem almost instinctive are the direct result of the Wordsworthian reforms. (67-8)These Wordsworthian reforms are legendary: the poet’s thoughts on language and diction, his austere pantheism and the wide variety of the emotions his poetry evokes in the reader are all precepts upon which modern poetry has been founded.
The elements of Romanticism that will be focused on in this paper have already been outlined. Wordsworth’s emphasis on Nature, his language, the thoughts and feelings expressed and his development of tone and ambiance will all be examined in detail.
While his reverence for nature and his thoughts on language remained unchanged during his poetic lifetime, the thoughts and feelings expressed in his poetry were all linked, as previously indicated, to his personal development. Thus differences in subject matter will be fully noted and their historical importance explained.
Furthermore, Wordsworth’s development of tone and ambiance will also be integral as it was through this development that he managed to evoke emotions in the reader. The emotions the poems evoked in me personally as a student of the “Wordsworthian reforms” will be explored and the poems viability as Romantic pieces of literature will then be ascertained.
NATURE: THE SUPREME GODDESS
Nature in the Lyrical BalladsWilliam Wordsworth is singularly remembered by most as the pre-eminent poet of nature. Critics have debated for decades over how to classify the influence that nature has had on him and his poetry. Most agree that Wordsworth’s poetry is pantheistic but this view may wrongly implicate him. While I personally agree with the critics, there is another side to the story.
For Wordsworth was, in earnest, more of a mystic than a pantheist in that he believed in a higher spiritual experience that man could enjoy. He was always denied being a pantheist, but the spiritual experience which he described lent divine qualities to both the Child and to Nature which strengthened critics’ claims that Wordsworth believed there was divinity in all things. However this was never the case, though he definitely associated both Nature and the Child with the divine.
Romanticism was concerned with nature in this regard. Romantic poets all shared Wordsworth’s belief that man, through quiet reflection and communion with nature, could be cleansed. This is in fact just what Wordsworth prescribes. In the face of the social and political upheaval of the French Revolution he created the poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”, a testament to Wordsworth’s belief in nature as divine.
In fact, nature’s divine presence in Wordsworth’s life is explored in many of his early lyrics. He uses Lucy to represent himself-beautiful and blessed because of Nature’s bountiful blessings. He describes nature as an actual being, an influence- a parent, teacher, guardian, comforter and guide.
However it is in the poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” that Wordsworth really comes into his stride in describing the metaphysical union that he shares with nature. In this poem, two important Wordsworthian themes are discussed: Nature’s tranquillity and the sublime qualities of nature.
In the poem, Wordsworth opens with these soft and soothing lines:…I hear/ These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs/With a sweet inland murmur.– Once again/Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs/ which on a wild secluded scene impress/ Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect/ The landscape to the quiet of the sky. (2-8)Later in the stanza he describes the scene as a “pastoral farm” and this utopian concept certainly, with the above excerpt, conveys the tranquillity that Wordsworth feels at the river Wye. He later expresses that when in the city or when stressed or sad, he would conjure up the image of the wide natural vista of the landscape and become immediately calm again.
Such is the effect of the river; of nature!In the poem, Wordsworth calls himself a “worshipper of Nature,” and this is certainly a pantheistic poem:To them [the natural landscape] I may have owed another gift/ Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood… In which the heavy and the weary weight/ Of all this unintelligible world/ Is lighten’d-that serene and blessed mood/ In which the affections gently lead us on/ Until, the breath of this corporeal frame/ And even the motion of our human blood/ Almost suspended we are laid asleep/ In body and become a living soul/ While with an eye made quiet by the power/ Of harmony, and the deep power of joy/ We see into the life of things. (37-47)The above quotation is probably one of the most talked about phenomenons in English poetry for here Wordsworth is blatantly alluding to a metaphysical experience of sorts; but even more so, a metaphysical communion with nature. This idea was regarded as avant-garde at its conception but has since been recognized by many to hold considerable philosophical weight.
Whatever your stance on the power of nature over man, the pure power of Wordsworth’s poetry in this passage cannot be denied for here Wordsworth’s power comes from his conviction and the reverent tone with which he describes the experience.
Nature in the SonnetsIn the poem “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,” Wordsworth’s reunion with his daughter is chronicled. In this poem religious imagery abounds and nature as sublime is seen in Wordsworth’s link between nature and God. Moreover the ability of nature to sooth the poet is seen almost reflected in his thoughts as he must first look to nature for support and comfort before he can address his daughter.
The divinity of nature is seen in the opening lines of the poem. In fact the whole octave of the sonnet describes nature in this way: “The holy time is quiet as a Nun/ Breathless with adoration…The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea” (2-3, 5). In these lines nature is compared with explicitly religious ideas to introduce the idea of nature as a link between man and God- the truly divine. By associating both nature and the child (“Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year” (12)) with God, Wordsworth creates continuity.
The lines, “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free…the broad sun/ Is sinking down in its tranquillity” (1, 3-4), clearly describe the soothing presence of nature on Wordsworth. This whole poem reflects the quietness of the atmosphere in the lofty description of nature and the gentle address to his daughter.
Nature in the Ecclesiastical SketchesOne of Wordsworth’s most compelling narratives is the poem “Resolution and Independence,” which describes a meeting between the speaker and an old “Leech- gatherer.” In this poem, while none of nature’s beauty is lost, there is some discord between nature and the speaker’s state of mind. In the previous poems the poet’s continuity with the atmosphere and with nature was seen however in Resolution and Independence, nature is almost mocking the speaker. This change is definitely in keeping with Wordsworth’s new attitude of worldly disillusionment as the poem will prove:
There was a roaring in the wind all night, /The rain came heavily and fell in floods; /But now the sun is rising clam and bright; /The birds are singing in the distant woods…I saw the hare that raced about with joy; / I heard the woods and distant waters roar; / Or heard them not…fears and fancies thick upon me came; / Dim sadness-and blind thoughts, I knew not, nor could name….Solitude, pain of heart, distress and poverty. (1-3, 16-8, 27-8, 35)The above passage spans stanzas I-V and describes the landscape and the speaker’s state of mind. The night before there was a storm and now nature is calm and gay whilst the speaker is undergoing an inner storm of doubt and worry. The contrast between nature’s blitheness and the speaker’s own dreary disposition emphasizes the discord that Wordsworth felt with his fellow man and by extension with the universe.
His ideas on continuity have already been recounted and thus the extent of the pain he felt because of his disunity can be fully understood. For in his later years, Wordsworth was unable to recapture the beautiful spiritual experience of which he describes in Tintern Abbey. The loss of his ability to commune with nature on that level has been linked to his embitterment with man due to political disappointment which greatly depressed him.
Wordsworth then becomes almost jealous of nature’s harmony because he is unable to partake in it and so tries to block nature out. This is almost an unspeakable crime in Wordsworth’s ethical rulebook; one does not ignore nature. Moreover, the poet’s description of the Old Man, and importantly the Old Man’s link to nature, further underscores the poet’s fall from grace: “Motionless as a Cloud the Old Man stood, /That heareth not the loud winds when they call/And moveth all together, if it move at all” (73-5).
However in true Wordsworthian fashion the speaker, and presumably the poet, are made to see sense and are pulled out of their dreary wanderings by a conversation with the wise and humble old man who puts everything in perspective for the poet. Therefore the effect of nature on the poet is still seen as it is almost as if the Leech- Gatherer is sent by Nature herself to rouse Wordsworth’s spirits, such is the link between the old man and the surroundings.
Thus through these distinctly Wordsworthian concepts, the undercurrent of Romanticism is evidently seen. For while Wordsworth uses personal experience to fortify his stance on nature, the Romantic idea of appreciating nature’s beauty for not only it’s aesthetic greatness but also for the emotional healing it offers those willing to look.
THE LANGUAGE OF COMMON MEN
Wordsworth’s thoughts on language are best described in his own words. In the Preface of the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth expresses his view of poetry, the role of the Poet and his stance on language and poetic ornament. Wordsworth’s expression of poetry as, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquillity” became a benchmark of Romanticism and with it came his views on language:The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men,… being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly, such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets.
This quotation, while rather long, is extremely important for it expresses Wordsworth’s purpose as a writer and completely separates him from neoclassical poets. For here we have Wordsworth boldly proclaiming that his poetry is for everyone! It is a reflection of ordinary life he says; poetic ornament is necessary he cries and poets who pride their poetry on this are not poets.
So why does Wordsworth embark on such a grand literary revolution? Let us not forget where he came from. Wordsworth was a highlander; a yeoman. He grew up reading poetry that was unrelated perhaps even at times incomprehensible to a young man from a background such as his. Hence it was his responsibility to create a whole new genre of poetry that could be read and enjoyed by the masses. This is really what Romanticism was all about: changing the rules to create a new level playing field where everyone had a voice.
Throughout Wordsworth’s literary career, he remains true to his thoughts as intimated in the preface. Poems such as Lucy Gray, The Rainbow and the Solitary Reaper published in 1799, 1802 and 1807 respectively are all testament to Wordsworth’s view of language.
In his preface however, Wordsworth states his opinions as fact which is where my opinion seems to differ from his. For Wordsworth’s feelings about language as being more profound in its simplicity are more personal opinion than absolute truth. Indeed the poems where he does not adhere strictly to his rule on language are some of his most profound. Tintern Abbey, Mutability and Intimations on Immortality are some of his most widely praised poems and they all violate his golden rule.
This is not to undermine Wordsworth’s edict but rather to show that it is not an absolute one for he was able to confer the same profundity into all his poems, no matter the diction used.
Wordsworth has been known to refer to himself as a philosopher however I am not of the opinion that he was ever truly one. In his poems though, many aspects of other people’s philosophies are dissected and given a Wordsworthian twist.
While the discussion of philosophy featured prominently in neoclassical poetry, what is different about Romantic poetry is that emphasis was placed on thoughts and feelings over reasoned thought. In Wordsworth’s poetry he was able to combine these two elements of emotion and philosophy to create ideas that were truly unique if not a tad inconsistent.
Thoughts and Feelings expressed in the Lyrical BalladsMany of Wordsworth’s lyrics are deceptively simple poems, not only because of his diction but also because of his simple rhyme scheme. One such poem “Lines written in Early Spring” expresses two extremely essential ideas: Hartley’s philosophy of Associationism and Darwin’s theory of the Sensibility of Plants.
Associationism is a complex psychological theory that gives insight into the human personality. Many critics of Hartley claim that his description of the emotional and moral process is coldly mechanical in that he saw human development as bound by environment and necessity. Hartley thought that the human mind linked similar situations together until we developed “sensibilities” from these associations.
However Wordsworth was not concerned with the root of Associationism but rather the grand idea of it all as expressed in the poem: “To her fair works did Nature link/The human soul that through me ran.” Only Wordsworth the “nature poet” could take such a scientific theory and manage to convey a spiritual association between the divinity of nature and the human soul. But this was a central Wordsworthian belief as we have already seen and in the preface Wordsworth says that man and nature are essentially adapted to each other.
Another great Wordsworthian concept was the belief in Darwin’s theory of the sensibility of plants, i.e. that plants have the natural capacity for conscious thought. This belief is clearly seen the poem: “The birds around me hopped and played…The budding twigs spread out their fan/ To catch the breezy air/ And I must think do all I can/ That there was pleasure there” (13, 17-20).
While these thoughts or concepts are expressions of the poet’s moral wanderings, the soul of Wordsworth’s poetry is in the emotion or feeling he conveys to the reader. In this poem, Wordsworth’s feelings of lost revolutionary zeal are expressed. He grieves for “what man has made of man” (8) and plaintively appeals to mankind: “have I not reason to lament what man has made of man?” (23-4)Thoughts and feelings expressed in the SonnetsThese sentiments of lamentation are echoed in Wordsworth’s sonnets. In his “London 1802,” he expresses his general dissatisfaction and disillusionment with England.
The poem opens with an apostrophe (direct address) to the great British poet John Milton. With this cry of desperation, Wordsworth launches into a heated description of present England and why the country is in need of a saviour:She [England] is a fen/Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen, /Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower/Have forfeited their ancient English dower/Of inward happiness. We are selfish men; / Oh! raise us up, return to us again; /And give us manners, virtue, freedom and power. (2-8)In this quote, Wordsworth denounces the church, state, literary world, the home and the throne. Here he is strong and direct in his placement of blame for he says “we are selfish men.” The whole country is to blame for the erosion of the moral values that once shaped the country and Wordsworth calls valiantly for their return.
Thoughts and Feelings expressed in the Ecclesiastical SketchesThe poem “Ode: Intimations on Immortality” is almost a philosophical discourse. In this poem ideas are all interconnected, so much so that readers are distantly reminded of Hartley’s theory. However this poem is a very important one historically as it is Wordsworth’s own explanation to the line “the Child is the Father of the Man:”Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: / The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star/ Hath had elsewhere its setting, / And cometh from afar: / Not in entire forgetfulness, / And not in utter nakedness,/ But trailing clouds of glory do we come…
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! / Shares of the prison-house begin to close/ Upon the growing Boy/ But He/ Beholds the light, and whence it flows…The Youth who daily farther from the east/ Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest… At length the Man perceives it [the light] die away, / And fade into the light of common day. (59-64, 66-70, 71-2, 76-7)Wordsworth’s explanation of his famous line in this metaphysical exultation is only one of the two ideas so beautifully expressed in the passage above. For Wordsworth’s cynical view of the world is also seen. However to first discuss the metaphysical, Wordsworth believes that the Child is born trailing clouds of immortality in that the child is born with some knowledge of the divine home from which we were all brought. However as time passes and especially with adolescence, the child loses the ability to recall the divine until, in adulthood, the ability is completely lost.
This idea in itself is not a new one; the idea of losing one’s childhood innocence to the conventions and routines of daily adult life is an ancient one. However it is the sadness and anger with which Wordsworth expresses these sentiments that makes them so profound. The first line of the passage sets the tone as a rather cynical proclamation of defeat. We are born to die, Wordsworth says as he goes on to elucidate his view.
EMOTION RECOLLECTED IN TRANQUILITY
As previously stated, one of the benchmarks of Romantic poetry was Wordsworth’s statement of creative purpose documented in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads. In this preface he described poetry as the, “spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquillity.” In Romantic poetry and especially in Wordsworth’s poetry the reader’s sympathy and emotional commitment to the subject matter of the poem is almost expected and the poet aims for the reader to relive the experience at hand.
In Wordsworth’s poetry this effect is achieved by the development of tone and ambiance. In the poems “A strange slumber did my spirit seal” and “Strange fits of passion have I known” not only is there the utmost attention to tone but the subject matter of the poems are of human issues of loss and morbid inclinations.
In “A strange slumber did my spirit seal” Wordsworth describes the loss of a friend. From the opening line quoted as the title above, a hypnotic effect is created that is never quite dispelled. This effect is created by the powerful alliteration, the obscurity and the rhythm of the line. Also the effect directs attention away from what the poet is actually saying so that news of Lucy’s death is obliquely conveyed.
Because the death is conveyed to us in such a vague manner it may seem as though Lucy’s death was not one of any personal significance to the poet. On the contrary, Wordsworth does not want us to feel sorry for Lucy’s death that is not his aim and so he prevents this by barely making us aware of her as an actual person.
Rather his aim is to convey how powerless we all are over death and how much we take life, the only thing that we have some control over, for granted most time to our detriment. This is expressed in the lines, “No motion has she now, no force/ She neither hears nor sees; / Rolled round earth’s diurnal course/ With rocks and stones and trees” (5-8). These lines speak of Lucy and the poet’s hopelessness with death. She’s no longer able to do anything, rather she is moved now by an outside force; she is powerless.
“She seemed a thing that could not feel/ The touch of earthly years” (3-4), describe Lucy before her death. The use of the word thing conveys that she was not important to Wordsworth before her death. However this is the reason for Wordsworth’s resentment for it is because he never took the time to get to know her before she died that he is so resentful of death in lines 5-8.
Personally as a reader, Wordsworth’s use of language and the change in tense between the two stanzas all combined to create an ambiance of resentment for death and disappointment for the poet himself. Upon reading the poem I was struck by the poet’s unique style and also moved by his truthfulness in relating real life experiences. This personalization created a new dimension of sympathy in me for I knew that Lucy was real and that Wordsworth felt this in earnest.
In the other Lucy poem, “Strange fits of passion have I known” Wordsworth builds an atmosphere of tense anticipation of what is to come. The first stanza opens with the mysterious statement that Wordsworth will only dare to tell what happened to him in the ear of a lover. Then in the second stanza he describes Lucy in the past tense foreshadowing her death: “when she I loved looked…fresh as a rose in June/ I to her cottage bent my way/ Beneath an evening-moon” (7-8)In the third stanza the anticipation reaches its climax as the speaker, Lucy’s lover, fixes himself solely on his destination and a sense of foreboding was keenly felt. Then in the fourth stanza he reaches the familiar ground of the orchard plot when he begins to dose off- “Kind Nature’s gentlest boon” (18).
“My horse moved on; hoof after hoof…When down behind the cottage roof/ At once, the bright moon dropped/ What fond and wayward thoughts will slide/ Into a Lover’s head! /”O mercy!” to myself I cried”/ If Lucy should be dead!” (21, 23-4). The anticlimactic nature of the poem, while a disappointment to some readers, was quite enjoyable to me personally.
I had a good laugh after reading the poem for it describes the oftentimes morbid and involved trains of thought that we tend to follow in hopes of inviting wild passions into our lives but which never result in much more than a good tale. Indeed I think that this was Wordsworth’s intention to showcase the morbid side of human nature which was never before really expounded upon in poems. In this poem, Wordsworth laughs at his own thoughts showing us that even in seriousness their can be relief.
What this paper has done is to examine four important constituents of Wordsworth’s poetry and to debate whether or not these aspects of his poems reflect Romanticism. The aspects examined were Nature, the thoughts and feelings expressed, poetic diction and the development of tone and ambiance.
All four of these aspects were found to be Romantic in nature and moreover all of these aspects are irrevocably linked in the true Wordsworthian fashion of continuity. These four elements of his poetry fuse to form a unique, revolutionary and profound doctrine of ideas that show Wordsworth to be, in truth and in fact, one of the founding fathers of the Romantic Movement in England and a true Romantic above all.
This continuity of ideas is because of his singleness of purpose- to recollect his emotions in the language of men, for the enjoyment of all. For, his pantheism-or should I say- his belief in nature as divine is seen again through his use of philosophy; as was demonstrated through the examination of the poem Lines written in early spring.
Furthermore, his simple language is reflective of himself the man and his revolutionary ideas on poetic ornament and diction emphasize the link between the man and the poet which is echoed in the subject matter and feelings expressed in the poems.
And of course it is through tone and ambiance that these feelings expressed are able to resonate with the reader, fulfilling the true aim of Romanticism whereby poetry is able to create feelings of pleasure for all.
Hough, Graham. The Romantic Poets. Ed. Professor Basil Willey. London:Hutchinson University Library, 1953.
Thomas, R.S., ed. A Choice of Wordsworth’s Verse. 1971. London: Faber andFaber Ltd., 1981.
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9083836/RomanticismWordsworth, William. Preface. Lyrical Ballads. 2nd ed. London: 1800.