The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Tables Turned” is subtitled “An Evening Scene on the Same Subject,” indicating that it forms a pair with the poem published immediately ahead of it in Lyrical Ballads, “Expostulation and Reply.” A reader should understand one to understand the other.

In “Expostulation and Reply,” William Wordsworth’s friend Matthew, finding the poet sitting on a stone, urges him to quit dreaming and to read those books through which the wisdom of the past sheds essential light on the problems of the present. William replies that while he sits quietly, he feels the force of “Powers” which give his mind a “wise passiveness.” By implication, this passiveness is more precious than the knowledge that can be gained by reading.

“The Tables Turned” is a short lyric poem of thirty-two lines arranged in eight stanzas. It takes the form of an address by a speaker (who most readers will agree is Wordsworth himself) to a friend, the Matthew of “Expostulation and Reply.” The scene is presumably that of the other poem (“by Esthwaite lake”) in England’s Lake District; by its subtitle, “An Evening Scene on the Same Subject,” one may assume that the events of the poem take place later in the same day.

Wordsworth metaphorically turns the tables on his friend, for this time it is Wordsworth who makes the confrontation. The poet’s general argument has not changed: The mind is much better off when it responds...

(The entire section is 553 words.)