"Nuns Fret Not At Their Convent's Narrow Room"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As a man, Wordsworth was led by the cry for freedom into supporting the French Revolution; he discovered, much to his horror, that too much political or social freedom has turned into a Reign of Terror. As a poet, he was fond of very long, discursive poems like The Prelude and The Excursion, but he discovered that the freedom of indeterminable length tended to stifle his inspiration and invention. Not until 1801 when his sister was reading to him the sonnets of Milton did he discover that the tight confines of this poetic form, one of the most condensed and strictly organized in English poetry, also had dignity of sentiment and majestic harmony. Trying his hand at the form, he found that he could fully express his conception and still be bound by rules that prevented his tendency to become profuse. As he grew older, he learned that this combination of dignity and tightness was increasingly suited to his talents, and as an elderly poet he produced sonnets that are remarkable for their harmony, simplicity, and serenity. This poem, used by him as an introduction to a collection of sonnets, explains his love for a poetic form which had grown unpopular during the eighteenth century and to which he had given new life.

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells. . . .
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 't was pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
. . .