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"How many a man has dated a new era of his life from the reading of a book . . ."

Henry David Thoreau

As an English professor, I specialize in American literature, especially the works of Poe and his fellow writers of the nineteenth century, but my reading spans the centuries, from Homer's epics to the modern works of Maxine Hong Kingston and others.

“Cuckoo Song” (“Sumer Is Icumen In”)

Author: Anonymous

Year: Medieval Era

December 25, 2020: I re-read this poem, which I have read many times and had nearly memorized at one point.  It’s a fun little poem celebrating the return of beauty and lively activity in nature after winter.  The cuckoo and its song appear and re-appear throughout the poem in lines such as “Lhude sing cuccu” and “Sing cuccu by!”  The meadow blooms, the ewe bleats after its lamb, the bull starts, and the buck, well, “verteth.”  The prominence of a bird presages many other famous poems, such as “Ode to Nightingale,” “To a Skylark,””The Windhover,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and, of course, “The Raven.”

“Edward, Edward”

Author: Anonymous

Year: Medieval Era

December 23, 2020: I have read this poem numerous times, but I re-read it this evening.  I had been listening to some country music, and I was thinking of possible parallels in medieval ballads.  This one is a provocative ballad with an enigmatic back story.  A mother interrogates her son, Edward, about the blood on his hands, and he makes up excuses before confessing to killing his father.  She continues to question him, and he finally, in a surprising final line, reveals that she has “counseled” him, apparently to kill his father.  It features the repetition typical of medieval ballads, as well as the dark undertones.

Sir Patrick Spens

Author: Anonymous

Year: 13th Century?

I used to read this ballad aloud to Esse when she was a child.  It appears in Bill Harmon’s book The Top 500 Poems, but I think I encountered it a long time ago, maybe when I was an undergraduate.  It’s my favorite of the medieval ballads.  It features highly compressed action, some striking images (such as “I saw the new moon late yestreen / With the old moon in her arm), and a pleasing sound from the rhythm and rhyme.  I didn’t realize until I read a little about it that it was based on some actual incidents, including the sinking of a ship returning from Norway to Scotland.

“Gae Up and Bar the Door”

Author: Anonymous

Year: 17th Century?

This is a strange poem. I remember encountering it many years ago, perhaps when I was an undergraduate, but I didn’t remember the action. A husband tells his wife to get up and bar the door, apparently because of the wind, but she has her hand in her housewifery (is “busy with her chores,” according to a note accompanying the poem), and they wind up making a “paction” that the one to speak first would have to get up and bar the door. Intruders enter the house, and one threatens to kiss the woman, so the man speaks up, and the woman says he has to bar the door. The irony is obvious, and perhaps there is a comment about the greaterwillpower of the wife, but I’m not sure what else is here.

"Barbara Allen"

Author: Anonymous

Year: 17th Century?

I remember the title of this ballad from many years ago, but I did not remember the substance of the story. It tells of a dying man hopelessly in love with a woman named Barbara Allen. He sends a servant to her, and she comes to his deathbed, but shows no pity or love. Instead, she reminds him of a time when he “slighted” her. After his death, she grows remorseful and says she will follow him in death. She does, and a rose grows out of his heart and intertwines with briar growing from her. The women’s coldness to the man aligns with a motif we see in other poems, such as Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and points to a sentiment of heartache arising from a woman’s cold heart, but I think the little hint of the man’s indiscretion is notable. One might argue that he brought his fate on himself with his own action, but the ballad seems to call for sympathy for the man, perhaps reflecting a male expectation of forgiveness even in light of misconduct. When I looked on Apple Music for a musical rendition of this song, I found recordings by both Dolly Parton and Jerry Reed. If I wind up doing a series on country music, I might mention that this old ballad attracted attention

from country artists and that the sentiment in the song finds echoes in modern country music of heartbreak and men’s indiscretions.

"Thomas the Rhymer"

Author: Anonymous

Year: ?

This ballad has some characteristic elements, including a mysterious and attractive woman, a natural setting, and strong rhythm and rhyme.  This woman, who says she is the “queen of fair Elfland,” tells Thomas that he must serve her for seven years.  After a long ride, she refers to two roads--a narrow one “beset wi thorns and briers” and a “braid braid road”--and explains the former is “the path of righteousness” and the latter “the path of wickedness.”  There’s nothing new here: a traditional view of the difficult righteous life and the easier life of giving into temptation and earthly pleasures.  Less conventional is the third road, which she explains is “the road to fair Elfland.”  She warns him that he may not speak or he will not return to his own country.  The poem ends abruptly with this stanza: “He has gotten a coat of the even cloth, / And a pair of shoes of velvet green, / And till seven years were past and gone / True Thomas on earth was never seen.”  In failing to report what Thomas saw, the poem provides little to satisfy our curiosity, but the conclusion may be deliberate, as it leaves the details of Elfland up to our imaginations and  avoids the danger of failing to capture what we imagine to be the extraordinary nature of this otherworldly place.  In this sense, it parallels Poe’s conclusion to “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“The Unquiet Grave”

Author: Anonymous

Year: Medieval Era

December 24, 2020: This poem, in which a widower spends a year at his wife’s grave in mourning, anticipates Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”  Unlike the latter poem, this one features a return from the dead, as the wife tells her husband, warns him against kissing her, and tells him, “So make yourself content, my love, / Till God calls you away.”

"The Cruel Mother"

Author: Anonymous

Year: 16th Century?

January 5, 2021: This ballad tells of a mother who murdered her child with a penknife and then  buried the child. “As she was going to the church,” the mother sees the baby, who tells her, “O mother dear, when I was thine . . . Ye did na prove to me sae kind.” It’s not clear why the mother killed the baby, perhaps because she could not afford it. One distinctive feature are the refrains “Fine flowers in the valley” and “And the green leaves they grow rarely,” which appear in the second and fourth lines of each stanza respectively. The poem, including these refrains, is enigmatic, but it seems that the refrains suggest a contrast of beauty and the lack of life represented by “green leaves.”

"Stirling Brig"

Author: Anonymous

Year: ?

January 6, 2021: I don’t recall reading this Scottish ballad until today. I came across it on a website called “Mostly Medieval.” It tells the story of a battle--actually a rout--that took place on September 11, 1297 at Stirling Bridge. The Scottish rebel William Wallace, along with fellow rebel Andrew Murray, held back their troops while the Earl of Surrey’s English troops began crossing the bridge, and then the Scots attacked them, leaving them in bad way. I think I know why I had not encountered the poem in any of my English classes. It narrates the story succinctly enough, but generally lacks any distinctive elements of character, figurative language, irony, and the like.

As You Came from the Holy Land of Walsingham

Author: Anonymous

Year: ?

January 27, 2021: This poem has the form of a dialogue between someone who has lost his love and a traveler.  The lover describes his love not with concrete terms but with subjective ones--“There is none hath a form so divine / in the earth of the air--but the traveler seems to recognized her anyway, suggesting that her beauty is indeed so supernal as to be distinctive.  (It may be just coincidence, but Charlie Rich’s famous song has a similar notion: “Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world?”)  The lover’s lament is a common one in English poetry: the cold woman does not return his love: “She hath left me here all alone, / All alone as unknown, / Who sometimes did me lead with herself, / And me loved as her own.”  In this case, the lover explains, she no longer loves him because of his age, but it’s not clear how she has retained her beauty; since she loved her even when he was young, she must not be much younger than he.   The poem also laments the irony of obtaining and losing love: “He is won with a world of despair / And is lost with a toy.”  The final stanza is a tribute, however, to “true love” and, as such, an indictment of the false love of this woman: “But true love is a durable fire / In the mind ever burning; / Never sick, never old, never dead, / From itself never turning.”

"To a Mouse"

Author: Robert Burns

Year: 1785

January 13, 2021: This poem is best known for the lines “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley,” although what I have heard is closer to “The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry.” I looked up “best-laid plans” today because the phrase occurred to me when I was writing about Franklin’s remarks about planning in Lecture 2 of What Would Franklin Do? I can’t recall whether I had ever read the entire poem, but I suspect I hadn’t because the poem is so rife with regional vocabulary that it’s impossible to understand without a gloss. I read it once to myself, listened to it once, and listened it to two more times while following along with

my eyes, and I still don’t understand the entire thing, even though I have consulted a source, where I found translations of some of the words. I understand the basic message, though. The speaker has accidentally disturbed a mouse’s dwelling, and he is remorseful. He feels some connection with the mouse as a fellow creature, saying, “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion / Has broken Nature’s social union / An’ justifies that ill opinion / Which makes thee startle / At me, thy poor, earth-born companion / An’ fellow mortal!” The final stanza--as conclusions often do--contains a clever, insightful turn. The speaker seems to have been feeling some pity for the poor mouse, but then he turns his eyes on his own state, which he says is worse, since he can be troubled by the past and the future, not just the present: “Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me! / The present only toucheth thee / But och! I backward cast my e’e / On prospects drear /

An’ forward, tho’ I canna see / I guess an’ fear.”

"The Sun"

Author: Dan Chiasson

Year: 2003?

January 26, 2021: I came across this poem on the Poetry Foundation’s website, where it was featured as the “POEM OF THE DAY.”  I found it enigmatic, but intriguing.  The dominant image is there in the title: the sun, but this sun is not merely an astronomical phenomenon.  The first line alludes to something subjective: “There is one mind in all of us, one soul . . .”   This entity (force?) seems to control both light and darkness, which is of course the absence of light.  Perhaps it is a subjective ability, capable of perceiving light or ignoring (or even obscuring) it: “He is in charge of darkness also, also / in charge of crime, in charge of the imagination.”  The power of this “Sun” to control light is suggested in the lines “He makes the stars disappear, but he makes small stars everywhere, on the hoods of cars . . .”  The final sentence points to the power of this subjectivity: “The only god is the sun, / our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

"BLK History Month"

Author: Nikki Giovanni

Year: ?

Reflection: This was today’s Poem of the Day on the Poetry Foundation’s website.  It seems to be a response to those who question the value of Black History Month.  Giovanni implicitly compares the month to natural forces leading to growth.

"As kingfishers catch fire, as dragonflies draw flame"

Author: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Year: 1877

January 20, 2021: The central point of this Italian sonnet is that living things, like stones and bell clappers, express their essence and their calling.  The final line of the octave makes the point cogently: “What I do is me: for that I came.”  As he so masterfully does elsewhere, Hopkins has meticulously and lovingly crafted this poem, creating a rich, ornate work of art.  The form conveys the meaning, speaking out its message just as he says living things do.  The rhyming words “name” and “same” in the fourth and fifth lines suggest identity, for example.  In line 11, a kind of semantic and syntactic cynghanned identifies action and identity: “Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is.”  I recall learning about cynghanneds in Bill Harmon’s poetry class; he may have mentioned there that Hopkins embraced this sound device, as he had a special fondness for Medieval English poetry and language.  The first line has a striking example of alternating voiceless velar stops and labiodental fricatives in the first half and and voiced alveolar stops and more labiodental fricatives in the second half.  Poetic devices aside, Hopkins had a gift for highly compressed, clear, and evocative expression as in the observation that “each hung bell’s / Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name.”  There’s something about “fling out broad” that strikes me: the expression is original, yet immediately clear.  Nobody could write a sonnet like Hopkins.

"A Party of Lovers"

Author: John Keats

Year: 1819

January 8, 2021: I wasn’t sure what to make of this poem at first. Keats is, of course, a brilliant poet. “Ode to a Nightingale” is one of the best poems I have read, and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” is rich in language and suggestion. This poem, on the other hand, seems light, trivial, and far too cute. It tells of an apparently shallow party of vapid guests, as well as the bathos of the rescue of a fly from the milk. I later read that Keats referred to the poem as “a few nonsense verses.” I guess he wasn’t striving for much.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn"

Author: John Keats

Year: 1819

January 9, 2021: One of the best-known poems of the Romantic era or any era, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a memorable statement on both art and the ideal. I read it for the first time many years ago, probably when I was in high school or college, and I listened to it twice today as I was going for a walk. I know I’m not plumbing all the depths of it, but I appreciate the key insight into the purity of the ideal, which cannot be sullied by the imperfections of reality and, because it cannot be realized, cannot disappoint: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter . . . . Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve; / She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, / For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” I find the final stanza more elusive, but still provocative. In light of the appreciative, even ecstatic tone of the first few stanzas, especially the first, the final one seems to have a darker hue. Several words have negative connotations: “overwrought,” “trodden weed,” “old age,” “waste,” and “woe.” The most striking phrase, “Cold Pastoral,” alludes to a corrupt form of an idealized, beautiful, natural poetry. Perhaps the speaker has been reminded of the real, which looks even worse when juxtaposed with the ideal here, but finds solace in returning to the “Attic shape.” He says to it, “Thou, silent form, does tease us out of thought / As doth eternity” and adds, “Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe / Than ours, a friend to man . . . .”

I just happened to decide to re-experience this poem (perhaps because I have been listening to some of Keats’s poetry the past few days) at an appropriate time, since I am thinking of writing an article about wonder with Tania Luna. After I began listening to the poem, it occurred to me

that it was very relevant to the subject of wonder. Keat’s use of questions and exclamations conveys the speaker’s sense of wonder, as if he has come across this wondrous urn and is marveling at it, awed by the sublime truths it expresses.

"Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--"

Author: John Keats

Year: 1819

January 21, 2021: In this English sonnet, Keats opens with a wish, but immediately qualifies it.  The speaker desires the star’s steadfastness, but not its solitude.  In the first two quatrains, the star appears as a detached observer--of “the moving waters at their priestlike task / Of pure ablution” and “the new soft-fallen mask / Of snow upon the mountains and the moors.”  In the next quatrain, the speaker expresses a desire to be steadfast on the breast of his beloved “To feel for ever its soft fall and swell.   The final line poses two possibilities: eternal life and death in a swoon.  Either state would be appropriate for what the quatrain describes: a sensuous existence, all the more sensuous when juxtaposed with the cold detachment of the star as depicted in the first two quatrains.

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"

Author: Christopher Marlowe

Year: 1590s?

January 18, 2021: I think I read this poem for the first time in high school because I recall Raleigh’s response, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” It is perhaps the best-known example of pastoral poetry in English. The shepherd opens with the classic line “Come live with me and be my love,” setting up the poem as an invitation. The invitation quickly turns to a promise, made to entice his love: “And we will all the pleasures prove, / That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields, / Woods or steepy mountain yields.” The enticement amounts to an assortment of “pleasures” that can be drawn from nature. The reference in the second stanza to “Melodious birds” singing madrigals alludes to the first “art,” which is what produced by nature, and presages Romantic poems such as Shelley’s “To a Skylark.” The poem takes an interesting turn in the third stanza, where the shepherd promises to make his love “beds of Roses,” “a cap of flowers,” and more. The reference to making objects reminds us of the opposite of nature--that is, art. The shepherd is thinking of attempting some art of his own, just as he has done in composing this poem, and thus sets himself up as a counterpart to nature, although it’s not clear he thinks he can match nature in his creativity. The final two stanzas return to the initial invitation, even repeating the initial line exactly or almost exactly in their final lines. The final stanza seems superfluous, at least in form, since the previous one completes the invitation, and the final one only--and oddly--adds an extra enticement, the promise of “Shepherds’ Swains” dancing and singing. It’s an odd ending, one I don’t recall seeing explained anywhere. In any case, the lovely initial line--altered slightly at the end--is worth repeating, as it not only is perfectly iambic, but also features an interesting and appealin gig kind of consonant and assonant cynghanned in the words “live”/“love” and “me”/“be.”

"To His Coy Mistress"

Author: Andrew Marvell

Year: 1650s?

January 11, 2021: I have often thought of this poem, which I read decades ago--in high school, I think.  It has some memorable lines, which are apt to come to mind because they are so relevant to our lives. The two that have frequently come to mind for me are “Had we but world enough and time” and “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.” Marvell apparently wrote this poem when he was still a relatively young man, but it carries more resonance for someone older, I think. As has been said, youth is wasted on the young, and we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. “To His Coy Mistress” calls for the speaker’s lover--and indeed the speaker himself--to love while they can. In the first part of the poem, Marvell imagines eons of life, when he could love her “ten years before the flood” and she could, if she liked, “refuse / Till the conversion of the Jews.” If they had that much time, he says, he could spend thousands of years admiring and praising her physical features and heart. The poem turns on a brilliantly cogent pair of lines in the middle: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” The speaker goes on to remind his lover that death will put an end to their love and “then worms shall try / That long-preserved virginity,” and her “quaint honour” will turn his lust into ashes. He urges them, “while the youthful hue” is on her skin “like morning dew,” to sport while they can. Of course, on one level, the poem is an attempt to woo a lover into bed, the larger statement is the old one of “Carpe diem.” It’s worth remembering in youth and in age.


Author: Andrew Marvell

Year: 1653

January 12, 2021: This poem belongs to a group of works inspired by the new world. I’m reminded of The Tempest and some of Donne’s work, for example. It claims to reproduce a song that sailors sing as they sail in the vicinity of Bermuda. The poem exalts the abundance, safety, and beauty of this region and gives glory to God for protecting them in their voyage. I don’t see much more here, but I suspect it has more depth than I’m perceiving. One intriguing feature is the observation that this region is “yet far kinder” than their home. Perhaps their song represents a fantasy, an idealized view of another land as a kind of paradise.

"The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd"

Author: Sir Walter Raleigh

Year: 1600

January 18, 2021: I really like Raleigh’s clever response to Marlowe’s famous poem. Raleigh takes Marlowe’s idealized pastoral poem as an opportunity to lament the realities of this world. The poem begins perfectly with the conditional word “If” and, in the second line, alludes to the possibility that the shepherd’s promise may actually be a false one, since humans don’t always tell the truth, especially when they are wooing someone. Together the first two lines say, “If all the world and love were young, / And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue . . . .” He goes on to observe that flowers fade and the promised garments “soon wither.” The final stanza is a kind of counterpart to the first, repeating that she “might” respond under idealized conditions: “But could youth last, and love still breed, / Had joys no date, nor age no need, / Then these delights my mind might move / To live with thee, and be thy love.”

"To a Skylark"

Author: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Year: 1820

January 14, 2021: I think I appreciate this poem more now than I did the first time read it, probably in college some 30 years ago. It might be fateful that I revisited it tonight, since it could be helpful if I wind up working with Tania Luna on an article about wonder. Shelley seems to be in a state of wonder at the mysterious something underlying the skylark’s unearthly song. The first stanza suggests that the singer is not natural, but supernatural: “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! / “Bird thou never wert, / That from Heaven, or near it, / Pourest thy full heart / In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.” For this reason, I will use the word “singer” instead of “skylark” or “bird” when referring to the source of the magical art the speaker hears. Other parts of the poem--the reference to “unbodied joy,” for example--point to a similar conclusion. When the speaker says, “Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,” we might think of a invisible, mysterious force capable of moving us. the following stanza hints at the same conclusion, especially in the final line: “Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.” The speaker makes the point more explicitly in the line “What thou art we know not.” The impact of this force is expressed in the next stanza: “Like a Poet hidden / In the light of thought, / Singing hymns unbidden, / Till the world is wrought / To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.” Later, the speaker wonders what could inspire such beauty: “What objects are the fountains / Of they happy strain? / What fields, or waves, or mountains? / What shapes of sky or plain? / What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?” Like the speaker of Burns’s “To a Mouse,” this speaker contrasts the singer’s state with that of humans: “We look before and after, / And pine for what is not: / Our sincerest laughter / With some pain is fraught; / Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” Still, the speaker longs for what the singer has, as expressed in the final stanza: “Teach me half the gladness / That thy brain must know, / Such harmonious madness / From my lips would flow / The world should listen then, as I am listening now.” I love this final line, which expresses an imaginative thought--that someone might be as moved by his own art as he has been moved by this singer’s.

"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

Author: Walt Whitman

Year: 1856

February 2-__, 2021: Connections run through this poem, a favorite of mine. 


1. The opening stanza alludes to two--one between the speaker and the flood tide and another between him and the clouds in the west.  The phrase “face to face,” which appears in both lines, could be literal in the first connection, since the water might be reflecting the speaker’s face, so that he identifies with this natural element below him.  In the second stanza, the poem turns to a different kind of connection, a human one between the speaker and other people, both ones of his own age and “you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence.”  Here again Whitman’s words are suggestive, as “curious” has an appropriate double meaning, both “marked by desire to investigate and learn” and “exciting attention as strange, novel, or unexpected.”  In short, the people he describes both intrigue him and could themselves be intrigued, perhaps by him.   This two-way flow of attention or energy characterizes much of the poem and even finds expression in the notion of a ferry, which goes back and forth, connecting while moving in two directions.


2. In the second part, Whitman introduces one of the poem’s major themes: the relationship of the parts within the whole.  The speaker is “disintegrated,” and “everyone disintegrated yet part of the scheme.”  He also continues with the theme of connections, referring to the “similitudes of the past and those of the future” and to “The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them.”  The second stanza of this section features anaphoras complementing his theme: “Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore, / Others will watch the run of the flood-tide, / Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east, / Others will see the islands large and small.”  I share the speaker’s comfort in the awareness of a larger scheme and of the sense of belonging within it.


3. This  section of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” may be my favorite passage in all of Whitman’s poetry I have read.  He seems to be writing from the heart here, not merely crafting the words of a persona.  There’s something intimate and personal in the words “I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, / Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,  / Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt . . .”  Connection is again a focus, captured in the opening line: “It avails not, time nor place--distance avails not.”  The catalog in the second stanza of this section invites readers to recognize the images he describes and thus fortify their connection.


4. This section is only five lines long and does not seem as rich in meaning as others in the prom.  The speaker again refers to the parallel experiences that he and others have.  The most interested line to me is this one: “Others the same--others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them.”   The word “because” indicates that his looking forward actually caused people of the future to look back on him.  It strikes me as more than a fanciful assumption based on some mystical force; rather, his anticipation of these people made him write these lines, which we can read and thus have reason to look back on him.  Literature creates connection.


5. This section opens with an ambiguous line on connections: “What is it then between us?”  It initially might seem to point to an obstacle, as we sometimes say something along these lines when we are recognizing something that divides people; however, “it” may refer to a connection, especially since the poem to this point has been pointing to connections, not obstacles.  The next line, furthermore, dismisses the time that would seem to separate him and us.  In the next stanza, the speaker explicitly says, “it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails not . . .”  He goes on to point to more commonalities and ends on a characteristic note--with a reference to physicality, in this case this body.

"Lines Written in Early Spring"

Author: William Wordsworth

Year: 1798

January 15, 2021: This poem contrasts the purity of nature with the corruption found in humanity. The third stanza reads, “Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, / The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; / And ’tis my faith that every flower / Enjoys the air it breathes.” The birds show “a thrill of pleasure” in their movements. The speaker even thinks he detects pleasure in the “budding twigs.” The poem ends with this stanza, in which the final line repeats a previous line: “If this belief from heaven be sent, / If such be Nature’s holy plan, / Have I not reason to lament / What man has made of man?” Perhaps Wordsworth means that humans have corrupted themselves--pure parts of nature as created, but now turned away from perfect. I suspect there’s much more than I am seeing, but I’m not convinced that the poem is as profound as, say, “Ode to a Nightingale” or “To a Skylark.” It seems just a start on theme.

"It is not to be thought of"

Author: William Wordsworth

Year: 1802

January 16, 2021: This sonnet seems to be a response to a threat to Britain’s freedom, perhaps from Napoleon. The key message in the first part of the poem is “It is not to be thought of that the Flood / Of British freedom . . . / Be lost forever.” The structure is interesting: this message stretches over the entire octave plus the first part of Line 9. The sestet recollects the “Knights of old,” as well as two British literary giants--Shakespeare and Milton--the English tongue, and “faith and morals.” The poem seems unfinished, since the final lines do not offer any kind of resolution. Overall, it doesn’t do much for me, but then I’ve never been a great admirer of Wordsworth.

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