Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277
Context: This poem, first appearing in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, relates the tale of an English girl whose entire life was filled with misery and woe. Ruth, her mother dying shortly after the birth and her father remarrying, was neglected as a child and grew to maturity in melancholy isolation. Wooed by a handsome youth from Georgia who stirred her imagination with his tales of the strawberries, magnolias, cypress trees, and lakes in his native land, she took him as mate and "did agree/ With him to sail across the sea,/ And drive the flying deer." Before they could sail, however, her mate fell in with a disreputable group and gave himself to dissolute living. He promised reform, however, and again they laid plans to go to America. But again his base desires were master of his good intentions, and he deserted her at the shore. The distraught Ruth, who had vainly sought for happiness in life, was driven mad by the abandonment. Placed in an asylum, she escaped after three years and spent the remainder of her life roaming aimlessly throughout the countryside. Wordsworth directly relates her husband's lack of self-control to the nature of his experiences before he met Ruth:
But, as you have before been told,
This Stripling, sportive, gay, and bold, . . .
Had roamed about, with vagrant bands
Of Indians in the West.
The wind, the tempest roaring high,
The tumult of a tropic sky,
Might well be dangerous food
For him, a youth to whom was given
So much of earth–so much of heaven,
And such impetuous blood.
His genius and his moral frame
Were thus impaired, and he became
The slave of low desires: . . .
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