Structure and Purpose in Lines

William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” gives off an air of nostalgia as Wordsworth reminisces on the site in front of him. The deliberate use of enjambments and semicolons make the poem seem like a monologue that depicts Wordsworth’s continuous stream of thoughts at that particular moment as he looks out into the scene in front of him. Perhaps that’s why the poem is titled “Lines,” because the poem to me feels merely that – uninterrupted lines of thoughts. The irregular number of lines and random indents in front of certain stanzas also gives the poem an unstructured format, which further contributes to the poem’s lack of flow. I’m not sure why Wordsworth decided to place indents at the beginning of certain sections. My theory is that perhaps he wants to make the poem feel more like an essay by placing indents at the beginning to indicate the beginning of a new paragraph. The part that posed the most challenge for me was the lack of rhythm in the poem. After reading Wordsworth’s “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned,” the transition to this poem took some time to adjust. Wordsworth’s first two poems have a more simple structure, but “Lines” maintains a slower rhythm with its enjambments and use of lines to add suspense and continuation of thoughts. These differences force me to slow down while reading the poem. Since the poem depicts Wordsworth’s thoughts and recollections, it makes sense to use these techniques to add feelings of nostalgia to the poem.

Form Conveys Meaning in Wordsworth “Lines”

While reading all the assigned poetry for the next class it was clear they all had a common theme to link them together. This theme is nature. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge romanticize nature and talk about how it has affected them and shaped their character. I though “Lines” was particularly interesting in conveying this and discussing nature as a whole.

 

Wordsworth talks about how he has not been to this specific place in five years and how a lot has changed within that time frame. He used to view nature as something fun to look at, something pretty for the eyes and soothing for the ears. It isn’t until recently that he experiences nature with a new appreciation. He understands nature for more than its aesthetic appeal. He believes nature is completely interconnected, a web within its own self. When referring to nature and this new found perspective, Wordsworth often uses religious words to describe nature, “blessed”, “serene”, referring to a “blessed mood.” This word choice is one part of the form that helps give insight on Wordsworth’s true feelings and ideas about nature. He views it as almost a religious entity, sacred and special. He has this close to spiritual and religious relationship with nature.

 

Another part of the form I though was interesting and helped convey meaning was the use of unrhymed lines. When I was reading this poem in my mind, the affect these lines had was very apparent. Instead of reading the poem slowly, using the rhyme as a sort of metronome, I was reading quick, stopping at different places and noticing randomness to the words that had emphasis. I think Wordsworth chose this structure because it parallels how nature is like in reality – every flowing and without pace. The poem flows freely and it seems without are, just like how nature has pays little attention to the forces around it and acts by itself.

Floating downstream with Wordsworth

I am somewhat familiar with the ideals of the Romantic Movement from studying Art History. It was an expressive and emotional movement that sought to break with the existing need to understand natural forces through scientific evaluation. In a time when nature’s chaotic beauty was scrutinized, rationalized, and at the mercy of industry and urbanization, the Romantics instead championed living in awe of and in accordance with the natural world. In its essence, nature moves poets, painters, artists of all kinds to create art. William Wordsworth’s Expulsion and Reply reads like a conversation between two individuals about where meaning comes from and what we owe our knowledge of life to – Mother Earth or books? Beyond this lies this question of how they view attaining that knowledge – is it passive or active? Is it deserving of respect and reverence? Lines 19-20: “Our bodies feel, where’er they be, against or with our will” speak to human instinct and learning through experience, a “wise passiveness.” I do not normally equate passivity with virtue, so I was unsure of how to read the tone of this poem. Perhaps Wordsworth is saying that there is value in dreaming away time, and that he is one of the few who holds this view.

In his next poem, The Tables Turned, he states that there is more wisdom in nature, and the language he uses (“come forth,” “lore,” “up!”) playfully seduces and charms the reader with his lyricism into wanting to explore nature. He is an enthusiastic speaker, making use of emphatic punctuation, but towards the end the poem becomes more serious and, in a way, instructional. It is as though the wisdom he has gained from existing in awe of and in harmony with nature is empowering him to sway others towards such spontaneous experience, towards “music,” with him.

That Time I Tried To Make The Poem Fit My Aesthetic And It Didn’t

I’m going to admit, I’m feeling a little repetitive in my blog posts already. I’m not sure if that means I’m simply not learning the things I think I’m learning, or if I’m just incredibly stubborn and want every poet to write the way I want them to. Knowing myself, it’s probably the latter. Nonetheless, I will once again be writing about rhyme, and lack thereof, in this week’s poems.

William Woodworth’s “Lines” doesn’t have a rhyme scheme at all. It still reads pleasurably, because his rhythm is pleasant and continuous, and once you realize you don’t have to look for a rhyme, it stops seeming necessary. The same is true for Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight.” Once again, because there is no rhyme, you don’t try to find the rhyme scheme and make the poem adhere to it. You can let go, because you know there’s nothing to hold on to.

Woodworth’s “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned” are the exact opposite. Every stanza follows the “ABAB” rhyme scheme (the next being “CDCD” and then “EFEF” and so on), making it a predictable and incredibly pleasurable poem to read. They sound almost like nursery rhymes and every rhyme payoff is satisfying. It’s easy to focus on the meaning of the poem because you can anticipate sounds, thus putting all your energy on the meaning of the words. Again, highly pleasurable.

And then there’s “Dejection: An Ode.” I cannot even word how frustrated I felt reading this. Everyone is entitled to their tastes and opinions, of course, but I couldn’t stand it. The first three stanzas were doable. They followed a decent rhyme scheme that helped me anticipate when rhymes were expected and when they were not. However, then stanza four hit and I blanched. AABCBBCBDEFE. It was unreasonably annoying to expect a rhyme, or think you’ve figured out how the rhythm is going to go, only to be thrown a curveball of a new rhyming letter. One that never even comes back to rhyme with again. Same with stanza 5; AABBCDCCCCEFFGHGH. I’d love to know what made him use C rhymes so many times, and then drop an orphan D and E in there, never to return again. It was so frustrating for me to read that the meaning of the poem was lost completely, because I was so focused on trying to find a rhyme, that in the end I had no idea what I even read.

Stanza Length/Stanza 3 and Enjambment in “Lines…”

Lines puzzled me a bit as a poem initially. I feel like the poem almost repeated itself in its discussion of the landscape. While I understand that Wordsworth is describing the landscape in the most detailed way he can to help invoke the same emotion in the reader that he himself experienced, it felt that he might have overdone it in this poem.

The length of the third stanza was also quite interesting. I am unsure as to why he decided to make it so much shorter than the other four, but it stood out since it was so different. The subject material of that third stanza also seemed to be different from the rest of the poem. While he was praising the landscape in all the others, it is a little more difficult to understand the connection between his words here and the image that is being described through the rest of the poem. The line:

…when the fretful stir,

Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,

Is especially confusing to me. What exactly is he saying is “unprofitable” and how does this fit into the rest of the poem?

Regardless, I did enjoy how this poem was easier to comprehend and therefore a much smoother read for me than last week’s poems. After puzzling over the third stanza for a bit, I noticed something else interesting in this poem. There was an extensive use of enjambment throughout. I began to see portions of the poem where every line would use enjambment, and then others where there would be a large section without it, often in different stanzas. I tried to piece together the reason for this difference, and assume he is using the dialectic method to try and help the flow of the poem. This is especially useful, because it is quite a long and dense poem, so this helped me read along.

Stanza Organization in “Lines…”

The confusion in “Lines…” pertains to it’s arrangement.

“Lines…” has 5 stanzas of varying lengths, as short as 9 lines and ranging into 54. The rhyme scheme is nonexistent. However, Wordsworth definitely chose some sort of arranging factor. He has very few lines of extreme length and rarely ends lines where a complete thought would stop. They seem to be split apart rather arbitrarily.

The first confusion: the amount of stanzas. The amount could potentially be tied to Wordsworth’s first 2 lines, which discuss “five years…five summers..” and “five long winters”. In this way, the 5 stanzas reflect the 5 years of waiting.

The length of each line can also be explained. It seems as though Wordsworth utilizes iambic pentameter. Not every line seems to follow this perfectly, but the majority of the lines have 5 feet, with unstressed-stressed syllables. So the line breaks, are in fact, not “arbitrary”.

The question of stanza length remains debatable. He may group the stanzas together thematically. For example, the fourth stanza discusses Wordsworth’s view of nature from his experience as a boy, contrasted with his view as an adult. In this way, the lengthy stanza is grouped methodically, it just appears long-winded. Perhaps this long length is a way to emphasize Wordsworth’s equally long process of reinterpreting the significance of Earth.

One final confusion pertains to why Wordsworth’s method varied between “The Tables…” and “Lines…”. “The Tables…” has an abab rhyme scheme and 8 stanzas of 4 lines. Perhaps “The Tables…” is more structured because Wordsworth is responding to an intellectual critic and attempting to prove the value of nature as an educator by displaying his own abilities to keep form. The lack of clear stereotypical poetic arrangement in “Lines…” can be contributed to Wordsworth’s sister functioning as a listener – so instead of a critic, he is speaking to an understanding ally.

Difficult Form and Meter in Tintern Abbey

 

In reading this week’s poems, the one that stood out the most was Line Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. I have read other poems by William Wordsworth, but this one is exceptional because it is much lengthier and the form is a bit more confusing than the others. The stanzas are very long compared to the other two poems of his we read, 4 consistent lines compared to stanzas of varying length – some up to 50 lines. The changing length and lack of rhyme made it more difficult to read than the previous poems, but it still managed to have a natural speaking flow to it. He uses iambic pentameter which makes it a more rhythmic read. While it does flow well, it is a little hard to stay on track with the different ideas he’s talking about in each stanza because they are so long. It feels less like a poem and more like an essay. He uses enjambment which ushers the following line in smoothly. Using enjambment also brings more focus to the word that the line ends on. At first glance, none of the end words seemed that important, but going back, I see that a lot of the words he ends on have to do with emotion or nature – big themes of romantic poetry. He ends on words like “mountain-springs”, “cliffs”, “sky”, “heart”, “mind”, and “mood”. These words evoke the both the visuals of nature and the reminiscent feelings of Wordsworth.

Rhyme vs. Understanding

The William Wordsworth readings for this week all pertain to nature as a common theme; however, the different styles throughout his poems really made a big impact on me. I always thought that rhymes are what made or broke a poem. Through this class, I realized how this is not true and Wordsworth’s poems brought this fact full circle.

Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned are both comprised of rhymes whereas Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey has no rhyme at all. The first two readings had very nice flows and reading the poems were fun. However, at the end of the poems, I thought, “huh?” I did not really understand them. It is really hard for me to grasp what Wordsworth is trying to portray. On the other hand, in Lines, the absence of rhymes may make the flow and sound of the poem less entertaining, but reading this text was a little less hard to comprehend then the other two pieces. I think that the rhymes distracted my thought process for once. I never thought that a rhyme could take away from the meaning of the poem, however, for me at least, I think the rhymes acted as a distraction from what Wordsworth was trying to say because I read the poem only to hear the rhythmic flow.

This made my outlook on rhymes change. I always thought (and previously wrote a blog post on) on how rhymes made poems so much more understanding and fun to read. But, this week, they made comprehension exponentially harder.

 

 

Didactic Poetry and Nursery Rhymes in Wordsworth

While reading Wordsworth, I was suspicious of his poetry’s simplicity. Suspicious not because I knew that Wordsworth had the ability to write highly dense and intellectual works, but because in an environment in which respect and reward correlates with archaic and difficult texts, Wordsworth seems to not fear the criticism of his contemporaries. Even more suspicious is the fact that his poetry is directly addressing these associates in a didactic manner. For example, in Expostulation and Reply, Wordsworth almost takes on the role of a father, chastising Matthew for being “unwise”.

This brings me to my second point, which is that all of his poems seek to teach something. Of course Wordsworth argues in favor of nature over books, but the tone of his poems seem to suggest that he believes himself to be on higher spiritual ground than others. For example, he says “Think you” to his friend Matthew, perhaps implying that Matthew is somehow below him in understanding of the world.

Wordsworth’s writing style heavily seeks to replicate nature. The “abab” rhyme schemes makes reading effortless and seeks an almost musical quality. Phrases like “Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can” seem to share the same qualities as nursery rhymes.

Yet, there must be another reason for writing poetry with such simplicity other than trying to replicate a natural form. It could be that Wordsworth is trying to make his poetry more accessible as a way to spread Romanticism.

However, the question still remains: why so simple?

 

A Dense and Lengthy Emotional Appeal to Nature in “Lines”

The poem I had the most difficulty with from this week’s reading was “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour” by William Wordsworth. My main problem with the reading of this poem came due to its sheer length and density. (The lengths of the two Coleridge poems for this week also posed a challenge for me, but I chose to focus on “Lines” for this blog post). Upon first reading the poem, it was baffling to me as to why Wordsworth would choose to utilize this abundance of heavily-packed lines to get his point across. It seemed to me that he included a good deal of frivolous and overly wordy descriptions of the natural world. Due to the poem’s denseness, it was difficult to read it with any quickness. I find that when reading poetry, if I am unable to keep up with the rhythm and flow, it is difficult to gain an overall insight to the poem as a whole. Instead, I tend to read it as individual lines rather than a collective work. So for this Wordsworth poem, I found myself almost getting lost in the reading as he seems to go on and on about nature. I found that it helped tremendously to look at each of the five stanzas as individuals; each has its own distinct idea that they convey, and by looking at them singularly, it is easier to distinguish the narrator’s specific “messages.” For example, the first stanza outlines the beauty of these Banks of the Wye as the narrator recalls he has not experienced the place in five years. The second stanza shows the narrator’s intense emotions that are brought about when seeing this tremendous beauty (“Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart/” (28)), and how the thought of such beauty has kept him sane over the years. The third explains briefly the benefits of connecting to nature for mankind. The fourth explains how the narrator feels in the present moment as he takes in the natural world, and how the beauty affects his emotions. The last stanza focuses on a human connection to his sister, and how that relates to the world around them. By gaining an understanding of how each stanza works as an individual, I was better able to understand the poem as a whole; it no longer seemed like a dense emotional appeal to the natural world.

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