Wordsworth: Some of his Poems

March 31, 2009 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

Although we will look at several of Wordsworth’s short, lyrical poetry, to fully understand his creative genius and the influence he has had on poets all the way up until today, you really should read his longer poems, such as Ode: Intimations of Mortality and The Prelude. Wordsworth creates what I would call a cartography of memory, the dynamics by which selfhood depends upon a reconciliation of the past, the present and the future. He uses his long poems to explore his individual emotional development, and to try to understand his self-hood in the context of time.

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”The following are questions aimed to provoke you into reading the poem closely.

1. Wordsworth uses a lot of figurative language: poetic devices meant to twist the usual meaning of words, such as metaphor, simile, personification, etc. Scan through the poem, and check off instances in which you find Wordsworth using language figuratively.

2. Ponder the first two lines of the poem, in which Wordsworth forms as simile: “I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o’er vales and hills.” How does the simile work? What does the poet suggest about his state of mind in that he wanders lonely like a cloud? Recall how we used Blake’s “The Sick Rose” to interpret the symbolism. Do the same here by thinking of the associations you can make to “cloud,” “floats,” etc.

3. What is significant about the “daffodils” the poet “wanders” upon? What figurative language does Wordsworth use when he describes the daffodils with such terms as “dancing,” “host,” “crowd”? What images do the daffodils conjure in your mind? What metaphor do you think Wordsworth forms with the vision of the stretch of daffodils?

4. Why do you think the poet comapres the daffodils to the stars and milky way? How does the simile in lines 7 – 8 emphasize and increase the importance of the daffodils?

5. After seeing the daffodils, why do you think the poet says, “I gazed–and gazed–but little thought / What wealth the show to me had brought”?

6. How is the final stanza of the poem very different from the preceding stanzas? Consider the poet’s location in line 1, and his location in line 19. What does the movement between the two locations in the poem say about the poet’s state of mind?

7. How has the vision of the daffodils affected the poet? Based upon the poet’s response to the daffodils by the end of the poem, what do you think they symbolize? Or think of it this way: what do the daffodils represent to the poet other than their amazing sight on his sojourn into nature?

“My Heart Leaps Up.”

This is a deceivingly simple poem. It is actually quite complex. What does the poet mean when he claims his “heart leaps up” when he sees “a rainbow’? Does it strike you as a bit dippy at first?  When in our life may the sight of a rainbow have made us “leap up”?  Do we “leap up” when we see a rainbow in the sky now?  What may have happened to our experience of seeing a rainbow in the intervening years of our life?

Look at line 3 -5. Each line begins with “So.” What effect does this have? What does each line represent? Look closely at the grammar and tense of each line.

How do you interpret the startling exclamation of line 6, “Or let me die!” Do you think that this is hyperbole (a poetic device in which a poet purposefully exaggerates, often for rhetorical reasons), or do you think Wordsworth cries out with sincerity?

How do you interpret the fairly cryptic line, “The Child is father of the Man”? What does this mean to you outside of the poem, and what does it mean in the context of the poem? If any of you have read King Lear, you may recall Edgar’s mysterious line concerning Lear, “He childed as I fathered.”

Finally, how do the final two lines create both the conclusion and the “frame” around the poem?  Think carefully about the words “wish,” “bound,” and the phrase, “natural piety.” In fact, look the word “bound” up in the dictionary.

Now, step back from the poem, and think about the rainbow once again. What does the rainbow symbolize?  (Again, think of all the things you can associate with a rainbow). Finally, what does the rainbow allude to. (Allusion is another figurative device in which a poet / author refers to another piece of literature.)

I have seen these types of daffodil fields in England, and they are quite spectacular.

I have seen these types of daffodil fields in England, and they are quite spectacular.


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