Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It is characteristic of Wordsworth’s poetry to describe nature in a way that evokes some spirit infused in what lies open to sensory observation. As he says in a famous passage from “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,”

. And I have feltA presence that disturbs me with the joyOf elevated thoughts; a sense sublimeOf something far more deeply interfused,Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,And the round ocean and the living air,And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

The octave in particular exemplifies this outlook. Yet the metaphor of the nun is surprising. Early in his poetic career, Wordsworth is rarely so explicitly Christian, and a Catholic term is most unusual, since Wordsworth was Anglican and even sympathetic with Methodism.

Even more surprising is the child. Usually, for Wordsworth, adults have been worn down by life’s difficulties and demands and have become insensitive to the beauty and healing spirit of nature. Children are much closer to this spirit, and it is the “natural piety,” as he calls it elsewhere, that binds the adult through memory to childhood, which provides a nurturing recollection of a higher presence. This child seems indifferent to...

(The entire section is 531 words.)