Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371
One of the most obvious themes in the poem is the majesty of nature and the many powers it has on the spirit, mind, and body.
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The first benefit of nature lies in its ability to evoke serenity and peaceful contemplation in its observer. The poet uses vivid, sensual imagery to describe the powerful and calming effect that the sun setting over the ocean has on him.
In addition to promoting feelings of well-being, the poet hints that nature can provoke wisdom, as it causes one to engage in "solemn thought." Wordsworth believed that nature was a creative force that acts as a catalyst for meditations on life and truth. He believed these meditations inspired by the natural world served to forward a man's intellectual capacity and understanding of the world and the people that live in it.
Finally, Wordsworth believed that nature provided an opportunity for man to connect more deeply with the divine. This can be seen through the religious words and images he uses in the poem itself, such as describing the scene as a "holy time" that puts one in the mind of a nun that is "breathless with adoration." As the speaker walks along the shore with his daughter, he is reminded of the awesome power of God. This can be seen when he remarks on the atmosphere reminding him of the "gentleness of heaven." He also envisions God's actions in the world as "eternal motions" that never cease. He compares the sound of the ocean to thunder created by a "mighty" God whose influence is boundless.
In addition to nature, the theme of the nature of childhood appears in the poem. Wordsworth walks with his daughter and notes that she is not as absorbed in meditation as he is. Her thoughts are "untouched" by the majesty of the setting they share; however, this does not create worry in the speaker. He believes children carry the divine and holy in them naturally, as they are still filled with innocence and wonder, unmarred by the world's vice and corruption.
This poem combines the author's two main loves of nature and God; he seems to say that they work together, each one enhancing an appreciation for the other.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531
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 nature, yet she does not lack a relation to the divine. To describe her religious sensibility, Wordsworth turns to a more biblical and orthodox language than is usual for him and makes her relation to God a matter of inward, spiritual proximity rather than conscious awareness.
Thanks to letters and a journal kept by his sister Dorothy, there is a record of the specific occasion that inspired this sonnet. While traveling in France in the years just after the French Revolution, Wordsworth met Annette Vallon. They fell passionately in love and had a daughter, Caroline, in 1792. Although Vallon was French, Catholic, and from a reasonably prosperous family, whereas Wordsworth was English, Anglican, and penniless, they intended to get married. Her family was strongly opposed and kept them apart. Out of money and with an impending war between France and England, Wordsworth was forced to return to England at the end of 1792.
A few letters from Annette may have reached Wordsworth, but the couple were out of touch until a brief peace in 1801-1802. By then, Wordsworth was about to marry Mary Hutchinson. However, first he needed to settle his relations with Annette. He and his sister traveled to France to meet her and Caroline at Calais. It was one of many walks on the beach that led to the sonnet. Annette was no lover of nature, and the whole Vallon family was deeply Catholic. This may explain Caroline’s indifference to the beauty of the scene, and the nun in line 2 may be a quiet allusion to the family religion. Wordsworth did not conceal this story from his friends and family, but he probably judged it inappropriate for public disclosure and in any case distracting from the fundamental contrast the sonnet explores—namely, in contrast to his earlier thinking, that even someone not responsive to the higher power that can be felt in nature might nevertheless have a close spiritual relation to the divine, in a specifically Christian way.