A Revolutionary Age

In Wordsworth’s poem, “Old Man Travelling,” the speaker introduces a novel idea that is revolutionary in nature: Growing older is not something to be ashamed of, but rather it is something that should be accepted, even envied. The reason for this acceptance stems from the notion that one can achieve perfect peace with age, as well as gain wisdom and patience. The poem itself is contemplative by design, as it is written in iambic pentameter. The meter of the poem reflects the actions of the old man, as he is actively walking, and the rhythm of the poem is very flowing and leisurely, much like how it feels if one is taking a stroll. The speaker states: “[The old man] travels on, and in his face, his step, / His gait, is one expression” (l. 3-4). The expression that the old man wears is significant, as it speaks to the type of emotion that he is feeling. He feels a perfect peace that does not allow for pain to venture into his body or mind (l. 13). The speaker claims that this feeling of peace is “by Nature led” (1. 12). The speaker could mean this literally, that the nature that the man is surrounded by on his walk allows him to feel a sort of peace that would otherwise be unavailable to him. However, the speaker could also mean that through the natural cycle of the man’s life, he is able to gain a greater sense of peace after living through a number of experiences that shaped his development. While I think that an argument can be made for both interpretations, I am inclined to agree with the latter, as it is through his natural growth and personal evolution that he is able to receive comfort and satisfaction.

The speaker continues to describe the old man’s countenance. He says: “Every limb, / His look and bending figure, all bespeak / A man who does not move with pain, but moves / With thought. He is insensibly subdued” (l. 4-7). The old man does not feel pain. Instead, every action and step he takes is done “with thought” and intentionality. The old man is not in a hurry. He is contemplative and reflective, and “all effort seems forgotten” (l. 9). The old man is alone on a journey. He is free to experiment with his thoughts and relishes the quiet. The poem emphasizes this concept of slowing down and eventually taking intentional stops, as the syntax that is used in multiple lines lend themselves to this understanding. For instance, in lines four through seven, there are a number of times when the speaker uses commas to explicitly show when the man takes a moment to pause and redirect his thoughts. The enjambment that is included in lines six and seven, where the speaker states: “A man who does not move with pain, but moves / With thought. He is insensibility subdued,” marks the point in the old man’s journey when he finishes his thought and comes to an internalized conclusion.

The speaker ends the poem by claiming that “the young behold / With envy [the peace] the old man hardly feels” (l. 13-14). The desire of the young people to achieve what the old man has, and more, is representative of the feelings that the Romantics had regarding older poets. There was a desire to learn from the traditions of the past and then refashion them to create a new world order that valued new discoveries and experimentation. Thus, the Romantics understood that with age came the ability to revolutionize and reinvent the ways in which people thought in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England.

One thought on “A Revolutionary Age”

  1. I agree with your argument that the nature surrounding the old man has two plausible interpretations: the literal and metaphorical. As this poem ends in such a sad manner, we will never really know how the old man achieved “perfect” piece through nature. In terms of the line “With envy, what the old man hardly feels” (Wordsworth 1.13-14), it almost seems like the narrator is saying that with age, you only achieve a more perfect piece through feeling less emotions.

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