How might one analyze William Wordsworth's poem "Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known," focusing particularly on theme, style, and meter?
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William Wordsworth’s poem titled “Strange fits of passion have I known” (one of the “Lucy” poems from the Lyrical Ballads) is typical of much of Wordsworth’s poetry in its themes, style, and meter. Among its typical aspects are the following:
- The opening reference to “Strange fits of passion” is typical of the common Romantic emphasis on strong emotion.
- The reference in line 3 to a “lover’s ear” is typical of the emphasis in Wordsworth’s works, and the works of other Romantics, on romantic love.
- The reference in stanza two to a “cottage” is typical of Wordsworth’s focus on country people of modest means. Stanza three also implies a rural setting.
- The poem’s emphasis on individual experience is also typical of Wordsworth.
- It would be hard to imagine lines more typically “Romantic” than these:
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature's gentlest boon!
The references to sweet dreams, kind Nature, and Nature’s gentleness are all typical of the tendency of many early Romantics to see Nature as peaceful, beneficent, and highly appealing (although, for a darker view, see Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner).
- Although the poem is set at night, little about the nighttime setting seems threatening or dangerous; in fact, just the opposite idea (night as calm and calming) is stressed for most of the poem.
- Only in the final stanza do the “strange fits of passion” appear, when the speaker’s imagination (a common focus of Romantic writing) leads him to worry that Lucy may have died.
- The purpose of the poem seems not to teach any simple didactic lesson (as was often the case in poetry of the “neo-classical period) but seems instead to be to invite reflection, mediation, and sympathy.
- The fact that the speaker refers to himself as “I” and that he uses the poem to express personal emotion makes this work a lyric poem, a genre much favored by Wordsworth.
- The reference in stanza two to a rose and to the moon is typical of the Romantic emphasis on the beauties of nature.
- The phrasing of the poem is very simple and clear and thus reflects Wordsworth’s desire to bring poetry more into touch with common, vernacular speech.
- The poem lacks the kinds of allusions to classical myths and classical figures that were common in “neo-classical” poetry.
- The meter and rhyme scheme of the poem are both very simple and straightforward. The poem uses iambic meter (odd syllables unaccented, even syllables accented), alternating between lines of eight syllables and six syllables.
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