William Wordsworth & Dorothy Wordsworth


William Wordsworth's Biography

(1770-1850), is considered by many scholars to be the most important English romantic poet. In 1795, Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two men collaborated on Lyrical Ballads (1798), a collection of poems frequently regarded as the symbolic beginning of the English romantic movement. Wordsworth argued that serious poems could describe "situations from common life" and be written in the ordinary language "really used by men." He believed such poems could clarify "the primary laws of our nature." Wordsworth also insisted that poetry is "emotion recollected in tranquility" and that a poet is "a man speaking to men," different from his fellows only in the degree of his sensitivity but not in any essential way. Wordsworth has frequently been praised for his descriptions of nature. However, he rightly claimed that his primary interest was the "mind of man."
Early life. Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, which is now in the county of Cumbria. His mother died in 1778, his father in 1783. Relatives provided for his education. Wordsworth entered Cambridge University in 1787, the year he wrote his first significant poem. During a summer vacation in 1790, he visited France, then in turmoil because of the French Revolution. After graduating from Cambridge in 1791, he returned to France and became a supporter of the revolution. He returned to England in December 1792.
Wordsworth's masterpiece is his long autobiographical poem, The Prelude. He wrote it between 1798 and 1805, but he continued to revise it for the rest of his life. The poem was published in 1850, shortly after his death. The revisions that Wordsworth made in The Prelude between 1805 and 1850 clearly indicate how his values changed as he aged. In its best passages, The Prelude achieves a remarkable combination of simplicity and grandeur. Wordsworth wrote most of his best poetry before 1807. But he wrote several important works, notably The Excursion (1814), later. This long poem discusses virtue, education, and religious faith. Wordsworth also wrote 523 sonnets, many of which compare with those of William Shakespeare and John Milton.

"The Solitary Reaper"

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,
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
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
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:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
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
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

"The Solitary Reaper" Discussion Questions

1) What is the "solitary Highland lass" doing when the speaker sees her?
2) To what does the speaker compare the woman's singing in the second stanza?
3) What possible subjects of the woman's song does the speaker imagine?
4) What does the speaker bear in his heart as he continues his walk?
5) What do the comparisons in the second stanza suggest about the woman's song?
6) What does the final stanza reveal about the impact of the experience on the speaker?
7) In what ways does the type of life portrayed in the poem contrast with the type of life you would imagine the nineteenth-century factory workers must have lead?

"The World Is Too Much with Us"

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

"The World Is Too Much with Us" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. According to line 2, with what activities are people preoccupied? How does this preoccupation change people's lives? What does the speaker think of this change?
2. In lines 5-8, with what things are people "out of tune',? What larger ideas might these particular things symbolize, or stand for?
3. In lines 9-10, who does the speaker say he would rather be? What sights and sounds would he experience then? Why would these sights and sounds make him "less forlorn"?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Sum up the theme, or main idea, of the poem. In your opinion, is this theme still relevant to life today? Explain.

"It Is Beauteous Evening"

IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder--everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

"It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free"
Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. In lines 2-3, to what does the speaker compare the evening? What does this simile (see page R14) suggest about the speaker's attitude toward nature?
2. In line 8, what does the speaker hear? Who does the speaker believe is making this sound? What does this belief suggest about the speaker?
3. Whom does the speaker address in line 9? How does her response to their surroundings differ from the speaker's? How is it similar?

Evaluate and Connect
4. At what point in the poem does the rhyme scheme, or pattern, change? (See page R13.) Why is this a logical point at which to change the rhyme scheme?

"My Heart Leaps up"

My heart leaps up when I behold
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,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

"My Heart Leaps Up" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What natural phenomenon does the speaker admire? What qualities are usually associated with this phenomenon?
2. To what three stages of life does the speaker refer in the poem? What does the speaker hope these three stages will have in common? Why?

Evaluate and Connect
3. Restate the paradox (see page Rll) in line 7 in your own words. In what sense is the statement contradictory? In what sense is it true?
4. What childlike quality would you like to retain? Why?

"Lines Composed a Few Miles above
Tintern Abbey"

FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. .--Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:--feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:--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.
If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft--
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart--
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.--I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.--That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world ,
Of eye and ear,--both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being. Nor perchance,
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance--
f I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence--wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love--oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

"Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"
Discussion Questions

1. Describe the setting (see page R14) of the poem. What sights and sounds does the speaker mention in lines 1-22?
2. How many years have passed since the speaker's first visit to the countryside overlooking Tintern Abbey?
3. In what ways has the speaker changed since his first visit? How does he look upon nature now?
4. Who accompanies the speaker on his return visit?
5. How does the speaker feel the visit will affect his companion in the future? How will the visit affect him?

6. In lines 1-22, what is the speaker's attitude toward the sights and sounds around him?
7. Why has the speaker so often "returned in spirit" to these peaceful scenes since his first visit?
8. How does the speaker feel about the changes he sees in himself since his first visit?
9. How does the presence of a companion enhance the speaker's pleasure in returning to this particular place?
10. Why does the speaker believe his companion's thoughts will return to this place in future years? What do these reasons tell you about his opinion of their relationship?

Dorothy Wordsworth's Biography

When Dorothy Wordsworth was six years old, her mother died, and the young girl was separated from her brothers and sent to live with relatives. Many years later, Dorothy was reunited with-and formed a close relationship with-her brother William Wordsworth, who became one of the most important poets of the Romantic period.
Dorothy and William enjoyed a deep friendship with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom they walked and talked daily for a number of years. The three were so close that Dorothy once described the trio as "three persons I with one soul." After William married, Dorothy lived with him and his wife and helped them raise their children.
Although Dorothy wrote some poetry, her best writing is found in her journals and letters. Her Grasmere Journals offer a remarkably detailed and rich view of English cottage life in the first part of the nineteenth century. Dorothy's journal writing shows her to be a keen observer of nature and of the people around her. One biographer has called her "probably. . . the most distinguished of English writers who never wrote a line for the general public."
When Wordsworth was in her mid-sixties, she fell seriously ill. She remained unwell until her death at the age of eighty-three.

from "Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal"

THURSDAY, APRIL 15. It was a threatening misty morning-but mild. We [Dorothy and William] set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs. Clarkson went a short way with us but turned back. The wind was furious, and we thought we must have returned.. We first rested in the large boathouse, then under a furze bush opposite, Mr. Clarkson's; saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath; the lake was rough. There was a boat by itself floating in the middle of the bay below Water Millock Lane. We rested again in the Water Millock lane. The hawthorns are black green, the birches here and there greenish, but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows-people working, a few primroses by the roadside, wood-sorrel flowers, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry yellow flower which Mrs. C. calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park, we saw a few daffodils close to the waterside. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more, and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness, and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake. They looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up, but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the sea.

"Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Describe the journey the Wordsworths take. What weather conditions db they encounter? What stops do they make? Why do they stop? 2. What kinds of observations does the author record in her journal? What do these observations seem to suggest about her attitude toward nature?
3. What human qualities does the author give to the daffodils? What do you learn from this use of personification? (See Literary Terms Handbook, page R11.)
4. Read the stanza from William Wordsworth's poem. Which details are similar to the ones Dorothy provides in her journal entry? Which are different?