Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454

“Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” is one of several poems in which Wordsworth explores the experiences of solitude and loss. Personifying the idea of solitary beauty in the figure of his chief character, Lucy, the poet uses his reactions to the girl’s growth in the country and her death to examine his own attitudes about the value of life and the importance of nature in shaping life.

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The very simplicity of Lucy’s lifestyle has strong appeal for Wordsworth. Looking back over almost two centuries of poetry shaped by Romantic ideas about the importance of nature and its prominent place as a counter to the evils of civilization, it may be hard to imagine the significance of Wordsworth’s achievements in this and the other Lucy poems. Wordsworth’s contemporary Francis Jeffrey, editor of the influential Edinburgh Review, thought that in “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” the poet was trying to handle the “copious subject” of “Love, and the fantasies of lovers” in “one single thought.” It is “improbable,” Jeffrey thought, that any reader would comprehend Wordsworth’s meaning from such a simplistic endeavor (Edinburgh Review, 1808).

Such an opinion would hardly be considered tenable in the twentieth century. The tenets of Romantic poetry, which include a recognition of the power of unadorned speech, have gained considerable ascendancy in literary criticism, and twentieth century readers are much more likely than Jeffrey was to sympathize with Wordsworth’s intent in this poem. The direct statements concerning the speaker’s idle reverie have an immediacy of impact that makes the poet’s central ideas easily understandable. This poem is about the simple joys of love and the intensity of feeling that one person can have for another; it emphasizes the tremendous sense of attachment such a feeling provokes. At the same time, the poem serves to remind readers of the tremendous sense of loss that follows the death of a beloved. Wordsworth has carefully woven into his lover’s reverie the possibility of such impending doom through his consistent references to the descending moon; its path through the night sky serves as a symbol for the fading lover whose death is foreseen at the end of the poem.

It would be unwise to make too much of this single lyric, however; taken in the context of the series of Lucy poems, it serves to give readers a glimpse into the kind of simple but sincere passions that characterize the life of rustics, a group of people Wordsworth greatly admired. By extension, these passions are ones that Wordsworth attributes to all people of genuine sensibility. These passions are, in his opinion, what define individuals as truly human and what make life worth living.

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