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 Theme 12: The Poet
< Poem 3: The Poet’s Work >
poem, commentary, criticism, analysis

<     William Wordsworth     >

 Poems in Two Volumes (1807, 37)


NUNS fret not at their convent's narrow room,
And hermits are contented with their cells,
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest peak of Furness fells
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove dells:
In truth the prison unto which we doom
Ourselves no prison is: and hence for me, 
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Furness Fells : Pigot’s Directory for Lancashire (1828) has the following entry ‘the surrounding country is very mountainous, and abounds with the minerals peculiar to the Furness fells: the air is salubrious, and the Inhabitants famed for their longevity; in evidence of which, a stone in the churchyard is shewn, under which repose the remains of seven members of the same family, whose ages were, at their decease, 78, 80, 84, 92, 94 101 and 104 years’.

Sonnets are generally composed of fourteen lines, broken thematically, or at least with punctuation, at the end of the eighth line to form an octet and a sestet. Wordsworth clearly breaks this rule here with an enjambment between lines eight and nine, amusingly, because he is writing about the 'prison' of the sonnet form, consciously breaking out of that prison as he does so. The only other irregularity in the sonnet comes with the eleven syllables in line thirteen, where the 'weight of too much liberty' spreads itself in ungainly fashion over the line. Clearly it is something that the poet has been able to carry only with difficulty.

The poem is otherwise a pleasant example of the sonnet form which expresses a neat, somewhat paradoxical conceit: the fact that we can find a sort of freedom in self-imposed discipline. We ignore the obvious objection that nuns do in fact fret at their convent's narrow room, students get tired of their studies, maids of their wheels, and weavers of their looms. Whether bees get fed up with humming we leave to the discerning reader to fathom.

The poem as a whole gives no great insight into the process of composition, but there is clearly a fascination with rigid forms for Wordsworth, though he expresses this rather negatively himself, as 'brief solace'. One asks brief solace from what? Life? The difficulties of more arduous forms of poetry? We do not know.


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