William Wordsworth was born in an English beautiful region, near the Scottish border where he lived for many years and which became his first source of inspiration because of his contact with nature when he was young.
During French Revolution he followed democratic ideals because he believed in a new and right society. An important aspect of his life was the friendship with Coleridge, which signed the development of the English romantic poetry; the two poets wrote together a collection of poems called “LYRICAL BALLADS”, which contains also the Wordsworth’s famous preface that became the Manifesto of English Romanticism. His masterpiece is “THE PRELUDE”, a long autobiographical poem. He became very famous and in 1843 he was made Poet Laureate.
Man and the natural world
Wordsworth is one of the English “nature-poet”; but he isn’t interested in natural world and in the observation of his phenomena, but in the relationship between natural world and human consciousness, with the influences, the sensations and the emotions which arise from this interaction. One of the most important concepts in Wordsworth is the idea that man and nature are inseparable, that man doesn’t exist outside the natural world, he is part of it. Men learn love, happiness and beauty when they look at natural elements. It's a pantheistic view: he thinks that in nature there are a lot of values which are the guide to the spiritual and moral life of men.
Nature means also the world of sense perceptions. He was influenced by the philosopher Hartley, he thought that our ideas aren't inborn in our mind, but we get them by the world. He believed that sensation lead to simple thoughts and then to complex and organised ideas. These 3 stages of the mind’s development correspond to the 3 ages of a man: childhood, youth and adulthood. In fact Wordsworth was interested in the changes of relationship with nature in the different moments of life.
For Wordsworth childhood is the most important (in a poem he says "the Child is father to the Man") age in man’s life because of imagination and memory that are more vivid than in the adults. In particular memory is important because it gives life and power to the poetry.
The poet’s task and his language
Poet is a teacher who show to other men how to explain their feelings and improve their moral being. He describes ordinary things and real emotions. He doesn't want to speak only to a little elite of people, but to a much more numerous audience, using an ordinary language that all people can speak and understand, he almost always used blank verse and also a lot of different kind of poem, as sonnets, odes, ballads and simple lyrics.
The text is taken from the preface of “Lyrical Ballads”; it is considered to be the Manifesto of the English Romanticism. Wordsworth expressed a new concept of poetry, which emphasised the authenticity of rustic life, the use of a simple language, and the importance of emotions and imagination.
At the beginning of the text Wordsworth writes an introduction where he tells about what he is going to say. The object of Wordsworth is to describe stories from common life, using a spoken and easy language, to present situations in an unusual way, with imagination, and he also describes what a poet is in his opinion.
Episodes of rustic life are chosen because in that condition heart’s essential passion are less under control and true and elementary feelings exist in a situation of simplicity so that they can be communicated easier. In that condition passion of men are incorporated with the beautiful forms of nature. The education and the civilised world are seen in a negative way, we return as the primitive man which live always in touch with nature. In the country life the man best feel all their feelings: this opinion reminds to Rousseau, that speaks about a child Emilio, that grows up without education and he lives in a forest out of the society.
Also the language is not sophisticated, because he believes that simple feelings have to be expressed with simple expression. In this way everybody can understand what the poet says and not only a little intellectual elite.
In his opinion a poet is a “man speaking to a man”, that means that he is a man like any other one. But a poet has got also much more sensibility, enthusiasm and tenderness than other men, has a great knowledge of human nature, a more comprehensive soul and more imagination that makes him looking at the nature with different eyes; he has got a good ability in the communication of his feelings to the reader.
At the end he speaks about poetry and emotions. He said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity, then it's contemplated, and gradually re-produced, recreated. So all genuine poetry is the result of the relationship between present and past experience; through memory with her re-creative power, another emotion is created. We find this topic in the poem Daffodils, when the poet remembers and describes his feeling after he had seen the flowers.
I wandered lonely as a cloud 1
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 5
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay: 10
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay, 15
In such a jocund company;
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
They flash upon that inward eye
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Rhyme scheme: ABABCC, repeated in all stanzas.
Sounds: long and soft. This creates a positive and pleasant atmosphere, reinforced by some similar words (sprightly, glee, gay, jocund).
line 1: "…lonely as a cloud" = simile
line 3: "…a crowd" = metaphor and personification
line 7: "continuous as the stars that shine" = simile
line 6, 12: "fluttering and dancing…" = personification of the daffodils
line 11: "saw I" = inversion or deviance
line 13-14: run on lines
line 15: "but be" = alliteration
line 17: "I gazed and gazed…" = repetition
line 23-24: "And…And" = anaphora
line 1: I wandered = he was walking
line 2: floats = fluttua
line 3: host = moltitudine
line 5: beneath = under
line 8: twinkle = scintillano
line 12: tossing = che scuotevano
sprightly = vivace
line 14: outdid = superavano
glee = gaiezza
line 15: gay = happy
line 17: gazed = fissare
line 18: wealth = quality, ricchezza
line 19: couch = sofa
line 20: vacant = relax
line 21: inward = interior
line 22: bliss = beatitudine
The daffodils are the protagonist, because the poet saw them. He describes their number (ten thousand), their colour (shine, golden) and their movement. This creates an image of the flowers seen by the poet. The daffodils are personified (they toss, dance and are compared to a crowd). They are all around the lake where the poet was walking lonely, they are a lot as stars in the milky way. The poet is hypnotised by the flowers and his feelings are happiness, impression and astonishment; he stares at them very impressed.
The poet re-appears. He has changed the time and the setting of the scene. He talks about himself. He is lying on his sofa and as a flash he suddenly remember the flowers (memory in tranquillity) and he feels an other time the same happiness and pleasure he had felt when he saw the daffodils for the first time.
Verbs turn to present tens.
For Wordsworth loneliness isn't a negative thing, because only when you are alone you can imagine and think without problems or worries.
My heart leaps up when I behold 1
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began,
So is it, now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old, 5
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety. 9
Rhyme scheme: ABC CAB CDD, at the end there is a couplet.
The language isn’t particularly difficult.
line 1, 8: run on lines
line 3, 4, 5: "…was it…is it…be it" = inversions
"so…so…so" = anaphora
line 7: paradox, a statement apparently absurd with a deeper meaning.
line 1: leaps up = bit stronger
behold = look
line 6: or let me die = I prefer to die if this doesn’t happen
line 9: bound: linked
natural piety = love for nature, it's the Latin meaning of the word
- Love for nature (as in Daffodils) rainbow is a symbol of nature because it’s a natural event.
- The rainbow is chosen as the topic because it’s a simple symbol; everybody have seen a rainbow and can see it.
- The rainbow makes the poet very happy and joyful (as in Daffodils), not only at the moment, but during all poet’s life (lines 3,4,5,6), in fact he says that he loved the rainbow when he was young, he loves it now and he will love it also when he will be old. Otherwise he prefer to die.
- Line 7. The paradox: “the Child is father of the Man” means that what you feel and learn as a child remains in you forever and shape your personality. For instance he started to love nature and rainbows when he was a child and now he still like them.
Children weren’t considered in that period. Thanks to Rousseau (Emilio) they started to be important and so we have the rediscovery of childhood also in poetry and in romantic poems the child became the protagonist.
It's very similar to the poem Daffodils, because we see his love for nature and above all because in both of them he apparently talks about those elements, but the real protagonist is the writer and his feelings.
Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain, 5
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands 10
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas 15
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago: 20
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of today?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang 25
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending: -
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill, 30
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
Rhyme scheme: AB AB CC DD, repeated in all stanzas. The first rhyme isn't perfect, it's a half rhyme "field…herself".
Quite short, very simple devices. Simplicity of the language as in the other poem.
The four stanzas are made up of 8 lines. The sound is long and soft, it gives a pleasant atmosphere and also melancholy.
line 9: "no nightingale" = alliteration
line 10: run on lines
line 13: inversion
line 18: "perhaps…plaintive" = alliteration
line 31: "…I bore" = deviance, "music…my" = alliteration
line 1: behold = look
line 2: yon = you
Lass = girl
line 3: reaping = mietendo
line 4: pass = go away
line 5: binds = legare
line 6: strain = canto, melody
line 9: nightingale = usignolo
chaunt = sang line 10: weary = stanche
line 11: haunt = luogo
line 14: cuckoo-bird = cuculo
line 16: Hebrides = le isole Ebridi
line 18: plaintive numbers = malinconici versi
line 21: lay = canto
line 25: Maiden = girl
line 28: sickle = falce
line 31: bore = portai
The poet is in a field where he sees a girl who sings melancholy melodies while she is reaping. The scene is set in Scottish Highlands (the most traditional part of Scotland; Highland-Lass, "lass" is a Scottish word), this is the reason why the poet cannot understand what the reaper sings (line 17). She is a poor and uneducated girl and so she speaks in Gaelic, a Celtic language, the language of her town; which is completely different from English, that is an Anglo-Saxon language.
The poet stays there near to the reaper even if he couldn't understand what she’s saying. Probably she is singing about old event. Then the poet goes away, but the song of the girl remains with him in his heart, it's the importance of memory, which makes the poet able to remember his emotions (as in "Daffodils", when he says that he remembers the flowers when he is on his sofa).
At the beginning the poet speaks to a silent passer by (to the reader) and he describes to him the girl. She is apparently the protagonist of the poem, but on the other hand the protagonist is the poet, who sees the reaper and describes his emotions and his feelings.
reaper → a country girl → a symbol of nature (as in "Daffodils" and "The Rainbow")
reaper → a very common sight as the "Daffodils" and "the Rainbow"
He compares her to birds → he reinforces this idea of the girl as part of nature
The beauty of nature is very important: he is impressed by it → nature as a source of joy, happiness
As in the poem "Daffodils", firstly, the poet focuses on the description of nature, in this case the reaper, in fact in the first three stanzas the natural elements are in the background. Then he talks about his feelings; in the end the author is the protagonist with his emotions. The poet is in foreground (primo piano).