Context: This much-parodied and much-abused poem, composed twenty-one years before its publication, tells the story of Peter Bell, the potter. He is immoral, cruel, unsocial, living in the open air with access to all that is beautiful and grand in nature. But for all the effect that nature's beauties have upon him, he might as well be blind and insensible. Neither heart nor head is the better. Nature "ne'er could find the way/ Into the heart of Peter Bell." His experiences make no impression on his inner mind because he gives nothing of himself and so never furnishes any materials for his mind to be transmuted into the higher forms of thought and affection. Prior to an experience in the closing part of the poem which redeems his soul, he is "the wildest far of all."
In vain, through every changeful year,Did Nature lead him as before;A primrose by a river's brimA yellow primrose was to himAnd it was nothing more.