The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Nutting” is a short autobiographical poem of fifty-six lines. It describes a youthful encounter with nature that helped to chasten William Wordsworth’s moral sense and heighten his poetic sensitivity to the life shared between himself and the outer world. In remarks dictated to Isabella Fenwick in 1843, Wordsworth said that the verses, written in Germany in 1798, started out as part of his great autobiographical poem on the growth of the poet’s mind, The Prelude (1850), but were “struck out as not being wanted there.These verses arose out of the remembrance of feelings I had often had when a boy, and particularly in the extensive woods that still stretch from the side of Esthwaite Lake towards Graythwaite.”

The geography of the poem is the magnificent English Lake District, through which Wordsworth’s life and art as a poet of nature have become famous. Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, West Cumberland. After his mother’s death, the eight-year-old Wordsworth went to Hawkshead Grammar School, near the scene of“Nutting,” in the remote rural region that he and collaborator Samuel Taylor Coleridge made the poetic center of a literary revolution in England. Wordsworth and his three brothers boarded in the cottage of Ann Tyson, “the frugal Dame” rearing the boy of “Nutting,” who gave to young Wordsworth simple comfort, ample affection, and freedom to roam the countryside on free days and some nights. These wanderings...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The apparent simplicity of “Nutting” should not blind readers to the subtleties of its rhetoric and meaning. The poem might be designated a pastoral narrative, because it is a seemingly straightforward story of a rural protagonist in a country setting, pursuing pastoral pleasures that touch on love and sex, despite the absence of conventional items such as shepherds, lutes, and love laments found in ancient bucolic poetry.

Yet “Nutting” is new, revolutionary poetry in form and meaning, created by Wordsworth as a conscious challenge to classical norms of literature. For example, it is an autobiography of unprecedented intimacy and such deceptive simplicity that traditionalists might have considered its unpretentious tale about a boy’s walk into the woods too commonplace to be dignified enough for elevated poetry. Such a detailed narration of an ordinary person’s spiritual crisis struck a daringly confessional note. Wordsworth spearheaded the innovations that would help to democratize modern poetry with an unrestricted range of subject matter and with a vernacular speaking voice.

Wordsworth’s mastery of an elegant yet flexible blank verse is part of the remarkable intimacy of “Nutting.” Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter that Wordsworth inherited from John Milton’s much more solemn Paradise Lost (1667, 1674) and transformed into a supple sound system capturing the speaking voice of a common man who is...

(The entire section is 452 words.)