Nuns Fret Not by William Wordsworth is an Italian style sonnet with a volta around line 7 or 8. This is where the speaker shifts from a lighter tone to a more serious one; in the beginning the sonnet lists examples of people who choose to be confined to a small space, and show that they are content there. The list includes nuns, students, and maids, but the one that stood out to me most was the line about bees: “bees that soar for bloom/High as the highest peak of Furness Fells/Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells” (Wordsworth 5-7). This line specifically calls upon the natural world to show how living things need their narrow spaces to feel at home in. No matter how high the bees fly, they always return “by the hour” to their foxglove bell homes. The bees have more freedom than the humans listed in a literal sense because they can fly, something no human can do, yet the natural and human world imitate each other by creating these “prisons” as the poem refers to them. However, in the line directly after the prison is mentioned, the poem contradicts itself by saying that these spaces are actually not prisons at all, but provide something similar that the “sonnet’s scanty plot of ground” (Wordsworth 11) provides to a poet. Wordsworth says that he has found “short solace” in the confines of a sonnet, and suggests that others “who have felt the weight of too much liberty” (Wordsworth 13) could do the same. The sonnet is a place to talk about ideas that are very broad or complicated in a condensed form, which forces the writer and the reader both to think critically about each word, each line, and to analyze the way that each idea in the poem is laid out in this specific form. In Nuns Fret Not, the sonnet starts out with fairly simple pictures of nuns in a convent, or bees in a flower, but then zooms outward to impress upon the reader what the true topic of the poem is. And just when the ideas are falling into place, the 14 lines come to an end, leaving the reader to think about it themself.
One thought on “the sonnet as a container”
I really like your idea of return, and I think it is reflected nicely across the poem at large. The first quatrain starts small, talking about containers, then begins to expand out and amplify in the second quatrain. About halfway through, the poet returns to the bees and how they return to their flowers, and then closes the poem with a discussion about how people can return to their small spaces too and how it promotes peace. Wordsworth in this way is practicing what he preaches, valuing the small things even even after seeing the merit of the bigger ideas.