Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | Study Guide

William Wordsworth

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in the Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected).

Poems of William Wordsworth (Selected) | Symbols



In the pastoral ballad "Michael" the poet uses objects relating to light to symbolize the determination and faithful nature of the couple as they cling to their land. Isabel hangs an old rustic lamp from the chimney to provide light in the cottage. It becomes known all over the region to those who see it, and they call the home "The Evening Star." Just as that star in the sky provides direction and possibly hope to viewers, the simple structure of their cottage is there as a beacon. All know and revere it, as it never alters.

The son, Luke, at first also guided by the light of faith and determination, undercuts the power of the family when he fails to save the home by earning money to discharge a debt. He never returns to his faithful parents, and they eventually die. All is obliterated of their presence except for the stone left by father Michael to give Luke a reason for coming back and the huge oak beneath which the father and son sat to shear the sheep. The light of The Evening Star is extinguished, like so much else in the life of the country people, becoming a symbol of change and loss.

The Rainbow

In the brief lyric "My Heart Leaps Up," Wordsworth gives the reader another of his many symbols from nature. The rainbow is a central symbol of the power of faith to call forth an emotional reaction. The sign to the Biblical Noah of the divine covenant promising the return of life is also symbolic to the poet as both child and man. The young boy, who is "father of the Man," and the adult looking ahead to his old age, see the rainbow as a symbol of continuity and faith. It is a sign given by nature to all men who raise their eyes to see what is there to inform them. The round nature of the rainbow's arc symbolizes in the poem the binding of all of life's days in a "natural piety." Each part of life holds its place to encompass the arc of heaven, including those days still to come. Those days are hidden from sight, as the rainbow can only be seen in its half shape across the horizon, for human eyes can never see all of the divine at once.

The Solitary Figure

Wordsworth often describes his own solitary adventures, as he does in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." Solitary figures also appear frequently in his poems, like the "Solitary Reaper." He describes the importance of solitude for his emotional and intellectual development from childhood in The Prelude, Book 2. Solitude is for the poet both a means of experiencing nature without distraction and for processing his poetic visions. For example, in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," his initial loneliness is transformed by nature's gift to him of the field of dancing daffodils. When he later recalls the flowers, he describes the "inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude."

Wordsworth often wrote of solitary individuals as part of his rejection of a traditional, monetary-based society and the supposed wisdom of accepted ideas. Like the solitary reaper, these figures seem more focused and pure in their isolation, closer to the childish and natural states he idolized.

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