Class Blog

“This dead of midnight is the noon of thought”

“A Summer’s Evening’s Meditation” by Anna Laetitia Barbauld

This dead of midnight is the noon of thought,

And wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars.

At this still hour the self-collected soul

Turns inward, and beholds a stranger there

Of high descent, and more than mortal rank (51-55)

These lines recall “She mused away the gaudy hours of noon / And fed on thoughts unripened by the sun” (21-22). The “noon” in both places invoke the moon. The juxtapositions in this poem, light and dark, sun and moon, day and night, are demonstrated in the syntax of line 51, juxtaposing “dead of midnight” and “noon of thought” while playing with the words “midnight” and “noon.” These lines also introduce a juxtaposition of the silence and stillness of the night, and the excitement of the soul, with the quiet “w,” “s,” “h,” and “th” sounds in words like “wisdom,” “inward,” and “beholds,” in contrast with the strong verbs, “mounts,” “collected,” and “turns.” These lines and the poem in whole praise the capacity of human-beings, and women especially. As a mortal, the speaker’s wisdom can reach the stars. The speaker is able to contain the divine, “An embryo God” (56) like a mother. The sun being masculine fails to ripen the speaker’s thoughts, but the moon being feminine and usually associated with fertility, stimulates the soul. By observing and immersing herself in nature, the speaker has a sublime experience that elevates her spirit to a self-discovery. Apart from the sublimity, self-discovery, and the solitary hero (heroine in this case), giving humans immortal powers is also a Romantic trope (I’m thinking of Byron’s Manfred). The mortal is able to contain and become one with the infinite. The light dies with the sun, but the human soul comes alive. I’m also intrigued by astronomy and the empirical science in the Romantic era and the role of women in science. The speaker is simultaneously turning inward to observe the self and looking outside herself at the universe.

A Child in Nature

The poem “To the South Downs,” by Charlotte Smith, is a very romantic poem filled with nature, music, and intense emotions. Lines three and four of the poem speak to a personal connection with nature. “I wove your bluebells into garlands wild, / And woke your echoes with my artless song.” (3-4). In these lines, there is the use of your and I. The speaker personally addresses what seems to be the “South Downs.” This is important because it shows that the narrator of the poem is not speaking to the reader, instead they are speaking to these hills. The reader is an overseer of this connection of the narrator and this place of nature. It can be interpreted that the reader is supposed to be there, it is not an accident. This may be because the narrator wants to show their connection and how most people were once connected. This prods the question of how people are truly in tune with nature, and it brings about ideas of childhood and the wonders of it in the next few lines.

The first words of Smith’s poem are “Ah, hills beloved!” (1). This is also present in the beginning of line four. It seems that the narrator is calling out to these hills to hear their plea which is that they should give them a restored sense of peace that they lost after growing up. By using words like “soothe,” “restore,” “throb no more,” the hills seem to be the narrator’s last place of hope, they want to be saved and healed by these homelands that they once sung to. This plea matters because it shows a sense of childhood hope coming back into their life. When people grow old, their imagination begins to fade and the tree that they once hugged, the plants they once sung to, and the forts they built in the woods become a thing of the past. When humans grow older, there is less of a sense of connection to nature. The narrator is clearly showing this and being the representation for this loss. By doing so, the narrator sets an example and reminds people of the nature that once brought them peace that they can no longer return to for reasons unknown.

Unfortunately, the end of the poem is very depressing and ends on a note of death. Instead of repeating the first line, the narrator instead says “Ah, no! – when all, e’en Hope’s last ray, is gone,” (13). This line breaks after the ah very much like the ones before it and the change wording make it stand out. By creating this difference, the narrator seems to reach a conclusion in their ideas of their relationship with nature. In the last two lines, there is also no use of I and you which provide the idea that the narrator is no longer talking to nature but instead perhaps talking to themself. This is different because the narrator seems to abandon the idea of going back to this “happy child” and singing their “artless song” anymore. Instead, they state that “There’s no oblivion – but in Death alone.” (14). Overall, this ending connects to the narrator’s ideas of wanting to live in ignorant bliss with her beloved hills and going back to her childhood ways. However, she concludes that Death is oblivion. This speaks to readers as it shows how childhood obliviousness cannot always be restored. However, people should search to reconnect with the nature around them and search for their own personal peace.

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.

Nature vs Man in “Lines Written in Early Spring”

     In his poem “Lines Written in Early Spring”, Wordsworth contrasts the natural world’s serenity with mankind’s conflict to grapple with the disconnect between humans and Nature. Despite recognizing the inherent “link” between humans and Nature, Wordsworth contrasts his “sweet mood” and “pleasant thoughts” toward nature with his “sad thoughts” toward mankind (l. 3-5). To explain these “pleasant thoughts”, Wordsworth articulates the beauty in the natural world through written imagery and description, but he also emphasizes this beauty through the poem’s meter and rhyme scheme. Each of the six stanzas in this poem includes four lines that follow an ABAB rhyme scheme; each stanza also includes a combination of iambic tetrameter and  iambic trimeter, which perpetuates a natural rhythm comparable to a heartbeat or a breath. The combination of a consistent rhyme scheme and iambic meter, then, affects the sound of the poem so that it emulates the same fluidity and beauty as the natural world. Wordsworth uses his own figurative language to depict the pleasures of the natural world, but also using poetic structure and sound to do so invites the reader to experience these pleasures as well. 

     Wordsworth explicitly describes some of the beautiful and enjoyable aspects of nature, such as the blossoming flowers and singing birds, and refers to these pleasures as being “heaven… sent” and a part of “Nature’s holy plan” (l. 21-22). By including religious allusions in his understanding of Nature, Wordsworth implies the natural world’s spiritual importance. Nature is not just an environment, then, but rather a transcendental feeling and experience of great tranquility, beauty, and pleasure. The beauty and spirituality of Nature, however, does not align with the material world and “what man has made of man” (l. 8). Although Wordsworth never directly explains “what man has made of man”, the historical context of his poem makes it likely that this line refers to the negative consequences of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The French Revolution showed humankind’s ability to harm each other, while the Industrial Revolution showed humankind’s ability to harm Nature. Both events showed a great contrast between Nature’s intrinsic pleasurability and humankind’s violence. Wordsworth does not criticize this dichotomy between nature and humans, however. Instead, he ends the poem questioning if he even can “lament” the actions and effects of humankind while living as a part of “Nature’s holy plan” (l. 21-24). This rhetorical question shows that, even at the end of the poem, he continues to grapple with the meaning of Nature and humanity’s role within it. Whether or not the spiritual aspects of Nature are strong enough to overcome the laments of humanity, then, remains up to the reader to decide. 

**Note- referenced poem from, so it is NOT the original edition as seen in the Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry.

Emerging Binaries through Burns


Robert Burns’ poem, ““Epistle to J. Laparik, An Old Scot Bard” sets up a sort of binary between traditional ways of learning such as school, and unconventional forms of gaining, knowledge such as through Nature. Nature, according to Burns, is the most beneficial and rewarding way to learn and become privy to knowledge. This idea is demonstrated through the fact that the concept of Nature, with an intentional capital N, envelopes Burn’s poem. The first stanza of the poem begins with Burns painting a scene of budding flowers and an animal running across the green. He regards nature as “an unknown frien’” and writes that this friendship provides Burns with a sort of freedom (line 5). From the previous lines we can infer that this freedom alludes to the capability to create something from nothing; the capability to write three beautiful lines of verse by simply looking around. The concept of freedom can also be found in additional poetry from the Romantic Era. Nevertheless, this intimate relationship with nature is mirrored in the last stanza of the poem when Burns regards Nature as “My Muse” (line 77). As previously mentioned, Burns’ capitalization of certain words is intentional. When Burns regards nature with a capital N, he is implying that Nature has authority and is a source of knowledge. It is something that we can and should learn from. “My Muse” emphasizes the intimate relationship Burns and Nature have. Burns has a sort of ownership over Nature that can only come from a passionate relationship that inspires.

The binary between traditional and unconventional ways of learning begins to emerge in the eleventh and twelfth stanzas. Within the eleventh stanza Burns takes on a sarcastic tone when he asks, “What’s a’ your jargon o’ the schools, / Your Latin names for horns an’ stools;” (lines 61-62). Burns is regarding this traditional form of learning as flashy and ostentatious. Schooling has all the adornments but is lacking in its production of knowledge. In fact, within the twelfth stanza emerges another binary, this time between information and knowledge.  Burns writes that individuals who go to college “gang in stirks, and come out asses” (line 69) implying that students leave college with a false confidence that could be attributed to the conflation between information and knowledge. This false confidence then spawns unachievable ambitions such as climbing Parnassus (line 72). Thus, traditional ways of schooling appear to only set its students up for failure, something which Nature avoids. Moreover, the concept of school is a stand-in for British rule over Scotland. When contrasted one can begin to see that disparities between the two sources of authority and knowledge but more importantly, everything Scotland can provide that England cannot. Read this way, this poem functions as an ode to Scottish Nature specifically.

Furthermore, Burns acknowledges that while Nature might not be as outwardly extravagant as college, it provides inspiration. Burns writes, “My Muse, though hamely in attire, / May touch the heart…” (lines 77-78). Although one may have to search for the beauty in nature and “drudge through dub an’ mire” (line 75) the outcome of learning through Nature is indispensable.

Lastly, through the uninterrupted meter and rhythm of this poem, Burns’ poem emphasizes structure through Nature. Though nature may be an abstract concept, it still offers structure and protection. One does not need traditional forms of schooling and knowledge to achieve this, according to Burns. Grammatically, the poem ending with an ellipse rather than a period can be inferred as Burns noting that this conversation is not over. There is still more to say because there is still more that Nature can provide.

Moving in Age

“The Old Man Travelling” embraces the themes of romantic poetry by emphasizing the idea of re-envisioning the concept of age and growing old and the sublime of this. This is similar to the way that the romantic movement focuses on the individual experience and compares it to nature and emphasizes the melancholy of the time. The enjambment of, “A man who does not move with pain but moves | With thought. He is insensibly subdued” (157), highlights the old man’s separation from his body. Because the enjambment separates “moves” and “with thought”, this causes a dive into the meaning of “movement”. He is able to move “with thought” as compared to “pain”, which could represent any kind of physical aging as a concept of pain. Instead, his ability to move “with thought” tells the reader of this idea of mind over body and the old man was able to achieve this. The movement that the man experiences in his life is primarily the movement of his mind. This re-envisions the typical image of old men, who are usually burdened by constant pain. Instead, this old man moves completely separate from it. The line, “He is insensibly subdued” following after “with thought” emphasizes that his movement in thought also does not carry any mental pain or burdens. He is one with his mind and his journey “travelling”. This brings me to my second point: even the title of the poem tells to the themes of it. The concept of an old man travelling is already seen as something out of the ordinary because old men would be seen as fragile and weak– in other words, incapable of “travelling” very far physically. Throughout the poem, the readers are pointed to the potential that maybe the old man is travelling through his experience. Maybe the way that the old man experiences his day-to-day life is in similar manner to the way a person travelling experiences the journey. The line, “To peace so perfect that the young behold | With envy what the old man hardly feels” (L 14-15), suggests that the old man is at a place in his mind– after a lifetime of age– where he travels through what is left of his life at peace. He does this in a way that feels enjoyable (or at least with content), similar to the joy of a journey as you travel.

The Collective Soul of Nature and Humanity

In his poem “Lines Written in Early Spring,” Wordsworth presents a highly Romantic notion: that humanity has an almost familial duty to Nature, who created a relationship between nature (small ‘N’) and humanity, her ‘children.’ The poem consists of six stanzas with four quatrains each that have an abab rhyme scheme, which helps Wordsworth create a very predictable, natural, and elegant flow to the poem. The second stanza particularly stands out to me: “To her fair works did Nature link / The human soul that through me ran, / And much it grieved my heart to think / What man has made of man” (Lines 5-8). 

Here and throughout the poem Nature is personified and capitalized, referred to as a “her” who has had a physical impact on the world. I believe that by using this pronoun, Wordsworth draws a connection in the mind of the reader to Mother Nature, specifically the nurturing and creating aspect of that figure. He describes her “works,” that is the physical nature around Wordsworth, as linked to the “human soul.” Additionally, by using the first person perspective throughout the poem, Wordsworth implies that this connection to the soul that “through me ran” actually runs through each reader, who puts themself in the narrator’s shoes. 

In the Notes section in the back of the Penguin Classics edition, it mentions that “Wordsworth at this period thinks of the human souls as part of a Platonist World Soul” (page 883). Essentially, this boils down to the claim that there is a natural connection between all living things, similar to how the soul is connected to the human body. To Wordsworth, the “human soul” is linked to the soul of Nature’s “fair works.” I interpret this bond between Nature, humanity, and nature as a sort of familial relationship, with all being connected and meant to support the other. (Mother) Nature linked the human soul and nature, and therefore both have an obligation to respect one another as equals. Obviously, things within nature (ex: plants, animals, etc) do not share the same body as humans, but it has been a common belief throughout history that the soul and body are separate, and I think Wordsworth is playing into the notion that this communal soul transcends the physical barriers between the two. 

However, Wordsworth has noticed that much of humanity does not respect this relationship between it and nature. While “what man has made of man,” which is repeated twice in the poem, could be interpreted as the cruel actions humans enact on other humans, I also think it can be interpreted as “what man has made of nature” since they are metaphorically equals, at least in this interpretation of the poem. Wordsworth grieves this betrayal on the behalf of humanity, because many people are ignoring their responsibility to protect, enjoy, and love the works of Nature, to which we are intrinsically linked. Many may object to the notion that nature and humans are equal in all ways, but this idea just proves Wordsworth’s deep love for the natural world. 

Grove Thoughts

In Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring”, he utilizes a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme in each of the six quatrains. This consistent and repetitive rhyme allows the reader to move easily through the poem, the true intention being for Wordsworth to elucidate his thoughts as inspired by his setting. The conclusion he reaches, represented through repetition and contrasts, is that nature is so wonderful it saddens him in remembrance of man’s contrasting faults due to his divergence from the cadence of nature. Wordsworth repeats the word “thoughts” four times over the course of the poem, and the verb form “think” is twice repeated. Thus, Wordsworth continually foregrounds the importance of his thoughts in the context he is describing; they are the true object of the work. In the first stanza, he immediately introduces the primary conflict, “While in a grove I sat reclined, /In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts/Bring sad thoughts to the mind” (l.3-4). It is already evident that the setting (pleasing nature) is instigating less pleasing personal thoughts within the speaker’s mind. Additionally, the first stanza is the only in which contrasting words like “pleasant” and “sad” are seen together, clearly presenting the conflict right away. Throughout the rest of the poem, positively connotated words are seen in each stanza that describes a specific nature scene, Wordsworth uses “Enjoys” while describing flowers in stanza 3, “pleasure” both when describing birds in stanza 4 and “budding twigs” in stanza 5. In strict contrast, the stanzas without specific nature imagery contain a repeated ponderance conjoined with negative phrases. At the end of stanza two, Wordsworth writes, “And much it grieved my heart to think/What man has made of man” (l.7-8). At the very end of the poem, he closes with similar lines, “Have I not reason to lament/What man has made of man?” (l.23-24). Thus, when nature is no longer the focal point of his experience, when retreating inside his mind, this is when the negative thoughts crop up within Wordsworth. His enjoyment of the scene before him pushes him to ponder his own role in the setting–that of man. He deliberately separates his descriptions and surface-level reaction to the different elements of the setting and his deeper thoughts into different stanzas, inserting the simplistic natural stanzas between the iterations of his question about the nature of mankind. Wordsworth thus makes the origin of his thoughts–a lament for the departure of man from the order of the natural world–clear while also maintaining a distance between his outer and inner mental workings.

Begin the Scottish Marriage Waltz, Though Tragic is the Morrow; Behold the Poet’s Joyful Bliss, The Maiden Left in Sorrow.

At first glance, Robert Burns’ poem, “A Red Red Rose” is a pure love poem, but examining the literal content alongside the formal elements reveals a darker turn. This poem describes a private profession of love at a wedding. The groom sings, “O my luve’s like a red, red rose, / That’s newly sprung June; / O my luve’s like a melodie / That’s sweetly played in tune:” (l.1-4). In these lines it isn’t clear whether “my luve” is the bride (my luve), or a description of the way he loves her (my luve), but these lines reveal that the poet has lost the distinction between his art and his wife: she became his poetry.  Both the metrical and rhyme schemes of the poem reinforce this all-encompassing love. 

The rhyme scheme of this poem is abcb, a ballad rhyme. This form was originally sung and still carries a musical quality which is only reinforced by the meter: the odd numbered lines contain four metrical feet, and the even lines have three. This description of the form of the poem is necessary because it places the lovers in the setting of the poem while allowing the poet to focus solely on his bride and share his private vows. There is an odd number of beats in the line, so as the poet pauses to catch his breath in the even numbered lines of the poem, he twirls his bride. He is only sharing his promises when he is looking directly at her. For example, in the next stanza, “As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, / So deep in luve am I;” (twirl) “And I will love thee still my dear, / Till a’ the seas gang dry – ” (twirl) (l. 5-8). The italicized pieces of the words note the accented syllables. Note also the combination of an accented syllable and the strong punctuation at the end of the even numbered lines which emphasize that pause of breath where the lover increases his beloved’s anticipation of the completion of the rhyme (and likewise his promise) with the romantic twirl.  

As beautiful as the opening stanzas of the poem are, there is also a darker turn to this scene. The poem contains sixteen lines, and a clear dramatic volta at the twelfth line, where the repeated allusions to the sea, sun and rocks reveal the lover’s occupation as a sailor, and one who has been called away on his wedding night to fulfil his latest voyage.  Dragged away from the scene, he calls, “And fare thee weel, my only luve, / And fare thee weel, a while – / And I will come again, my luve, / Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!” (l. 12-16). At the volta, the rhyme scheme breaks from the more complex abcb to a more solemn abab. In addition, the word “fair” used in the second stanza used to describe the poet’s wife when he only had eyes and a mind for her has been transformed into “fare” as an admission of defeat, and another indicator of weather and travel as used in the term “wayfarer.” Most interestingly though, this poem could function as a sonnet, stopping after fourteen lines with a dramatically abrupt final couplet. But the poet adds two extra lines to the end of the poem as if to reassure his bride that he will return. The final lines of the poem read almost as if he is being dragged away from the ceremony and has managed to escape for just long enough to blow a final kiss to his beloved. 

Why Even Include the Wedding?

Although the setting of the wedding in “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” almost seems unnecessary, it actually serves to emphasize the extraordinariness of the mariner’s story by being such a mundane or ordinary event.  At the beginning of the poem, Coleridge writes that, “The Guests are met, the Feast is set – / May’st hear the merry din.’// But still he holds the wedding-guest – / ‘There was a Ship’, quoth he” (lines 7-9).  The wedding is about to begin.  Everything is “set,” and any minute the bride will walk down the aisle, yet the mariner prevents the wedding guest from entering the venue with the “merry din” and excitement and begins his story.  Coleridge places the moment the wedding is about to officially commence alongside the moment the mariner begins his story, and the wedding guest is left with no choice but to listen.  Coleridge’s decision to do this implies that between a celebration of matrimony and a story of a ship, the latter is more important.  The audience as well as the guest who is supposed to be at the wedding is meant to hear the story instead of the couple’s vows.  The importance of the story is further proved when “The Bride hath paced into the hall” and yet the wedding guest “cannot chuse but hear” the mariner’s story (lines 37 and 42).  This story takes precedent even over the entrance of the bride, which is an important event that no wedding guest would normally be ok with missing.  

The reason the wedding is so mundane compared to the mariner’s story is that it lacks the sublime present in the recounting of the mariner at sea.  Before the bride’s entrance, the mariner had informed the wedding guest of the sun that “came up on the left, / Out of the sea came he; / And he shone bright, and on the right / Went down into the Sea” (lines 29-32).  The picture painted by the mariner encapsulates the sublime, describing the rising and setting of the sun as it shines onto the ship and the sea while establishing the direction the boat sailed.  The wedding guest is enthralled by the sublime, and the bride, though “Red as a rose,” cannot compare to the image of the sun glittering on the sea as the ship sails southward (line 38).  Readers see that nature overpowers human constructions (the wedding) because the guest is already hooked on the mariner’s story just by the description of the movement of the sun.  The wedding represents the epitome and the peak of human and societal constructions, and the sublime represents the peak of nature, or the opposite of the wedding.  Then, the two are written to occur at the exact same time so as to force a decision to be made about which one is more important.  And in Coleridge’s poem, nature is.

The inclusion of the sublime in this poem is significant because it provides an example of the deep appreciation for nature and the sublime the romantics had.  The continuous depictions of nature that evoke awe in the mariner’s story reveal the positive inclination romantic poets had towards nature, and such depictions can be seen again and again in other works.  Not just Coleridge, but many romantic poets, authors, and artists repeatedly make use of the sublime in their work.  In “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” the significance of the sublime is played up as it is contrasted against the normal, ordinary wedding service.  The story the mariner tells continues to be extraordinary with more inclusions of the sublime, and the wedding continues to be customary, so much so that readers forget this setting of the poem until the end of it.