“Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” is one of several poems in which Wordsworth explores the experiences of solitude and loss. Personifying the idea of solitary beauty in the figure of his chief character, Lucy, the poet uses his reactions to the girl’s growth in the country and her death to examine his own attitudes about the value of life and the importance of nature in shaping life.
The very simplicity of Lucy’s lifestyle has strong appeal for Wordsworth. Looking back over almost two centuries of poetry shaped by Romantic ideas about the importance of nature and its prominent place as a counter to the evils of civilization, it may be hard to imagine the significance of Wordsworth’s achievements in this and the other Lucy poems. Wordsworth’s contemporary Francis Jeffrey, editor of the influential Edinburgh Review, thought that in “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” the poet was trying to handle the “copious subject” of “Love, and the fantasies of lovers” in “one single thought.” It is “improbable,” Jeffrey thought, that any reader would comprehend Wordsworth’s meaning from such a simplistic endeavor (Edinburgh Review, 1808).
Such an opinion would hardly be considered tenable in the twentieth century. The tenets of Romantic poetry, which include a recognition of the power of unadorned speech, have gained considerable ascendancy in literary criticism, and twentieth century readers are...
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