E457 William Wordsworth Questions
E457 WILLIAM WORDSWORTH QUESTIONS


Assigned: Week 4 = "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" (238-51), "She dwelt among the untrodden ways" (252), "Three years she grew" (252-53), "Lucy Gray" (254-56), "I wandered lonely as a cloud" (284-85), "The Solitary Reaper" (293-94), "Tintern Abbey" (235-38); "Intimations of Immortality" (286-92). Week 5 = The Prelude (303-83).

"Preface to Lyrical Ballads"

1. How does Wordsworth describe the language he claims to have selected for his poems? How does he describe the language used by "many modern writers"?

2. Why does Wordsworth choose situations from "humble and rustic life"? What is the presumed state of the "essential passions of the heart" in that condition? What is the relationship of these passions to language? To the "forms of nature"?

3. What, according to Wordsworth, is the relationship in his poems between feeling and action?

4. According to Wordsworth, "one being is elevated above another in proportion as he possesses" what capability?

5. What are some of the causes, "unknown to former times," combining to reduce men's minds "to a state of almost savage torpor"?

6. What does Wordsworth think of the distinction between the language of prose and metrical composition? Why?

7. What are some of the characteristics of the poet? What is his relationship to his "own passions and volitions"? What is the relationship between his feelings and the "goings-on of the Universe"?

8. What sort of truth does poetry give? How is this truth communicated? To what tribunal does it appeal?

9. Of what is poetry the image? Under what one restriction does a poet write? What sort of information may he expect his reader to possess?

10. What sort of song does the poet sing? What is his metaphorical relationship to human nature? What does he do for the "vast empire of human society"? Why, according to Wordsworth, can't the scientist do the same?

11. How is the poet "chiefly distinguished from other men"? What characterizes his "passions and thoughts and feelings"? With what are they connected?

12. What, according to Wordsworth, is the "great spring of the activity of our minds"?

13. Poetry is defined by Wordsworth as a spontaneous what? From what does poetry take its origin? Then what happens? In what mood is "successful composition" carried on?

14. Wordsworth's "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" may be read as a treatise that displaces the French Revolution's three main ideals (liberty, equality, fraternity) into a theory about the way in which poetry is composed and the effects it ought to have. What, then, are the "Preface's" theoretical equivalents to liberty, equality, and fraternity (i.e. brotherhood)?

"She dwelt among the untrodden ways"

15. How does the poem express a democratic sense of subject matter?

16. What do the "star" and "violet" metaphors for Lucy have in common? How do they differ? What do they imply about Lucy's qualities and the necessary way to discern them? (Note that this is not the only Wordsworth poem in which flowers and stars are paired - see, for instance, "My heart leaps up.")

"Three years she grew"

17. How does Wordsworth's view of nature in this poem (and others) differ from that of Christian theology? How does his view of nature differ from that of William Blake?

18. What will be the relationship between the child and nature? Is it a different one than is posited for the speaker? If so, how?

19. On what note does this poem end? Compare it to the great odes by Wordsworth - "Tintern Abbey" and "Intimations of Immortality."

"Lucy Gray"

20. Why is it important to Wordsworth's speaker that Lucy (along with some characters in his other poems) is solitary? What is the value of solitariness?

21. What is the meter of this poem? What effect does it have upon the subject matter?

22. This poem turns into a "ghost story" of sorts. What point may be drawn from this turn of subject concerning Lucy's value or qualities when she was alive?

"I wandered lonely as a cloud"

23. How does the sensation of something "natural" lead the speaker to imaginative vision? How does Wordsworth's "poetry of nature" in this poem transform itself into the "poetry of self-consciousness"?

24. In what sense is this poem an epiphany for the speaker? How permanent is the feeling he describes - to what extent can it be sustained or revived? What role, if any, does memory play in this poem?

25. Why is it unusual to use a word like "host" in connection with daffodils? What is the word's biblical connotation?

26. Why does the speaker connect daffodils with the stars?

"The Solitary Reaper"

27. As with "Lucy Gray," why is it important to Wordsworth's speaker that the Reaper is alone, singing by herself? What is the value of solitariness?

28. What seems to be the difference in degree of self-consciousness between the solitary singer and the poem's observer-speaker? How, also, does the poem exhibit "democratic sensibilities"?

29. How is this poem both mimetic (i.e. an imitation of something) and expressive at the same time? Consider the phrase "the vale profound." Why is it significant that the vale is "overflowing with the sound" of the woman's voice?

30. Why does the speaker offer us imaginative, exotic interpretations in his attempt to describe the solitary reaper's singing? Does it matter that he cannot understand her words? What does he understand?

"Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey"

31. The three stages of what M.H. Abrams has called "The Greater Romantic Lyric" are a) description of the scene; b) analysis of the scene's significance with regard to the problem that troubles the poet; and c) affective resolution of the problem that has been articulated. How would you apply this three-stage pattern to "Tintern Abbey"?

32. In what sense does "Tintern Abbey" offer readers a "religion of nature"? What are some of the specific ways in which nature works as a substitute for traditional religion?

33. What is the role of "affective memory" in "Tintern Abbey"? How, in other words, does this kind of memory help Wordsworth's lyric speaker first to recognize his problem and then to resolve it?

34. What is the importance of "surmises" to Wordsworth? Why, that is, does he offer conjectures about "hermits" dwelling in the wilds, and so forth?

35. See line 40 - why has the world become "unintelligible" to the speaker? What has happened to him over time?

36. Compare lines 45-49 to Blake's idea of "looking through the eye" rather than with it. What does Wordsworth appear to mean by "an eye made quiet" and by referring to our ability to "see into the life of things"?

37. How is this poem pantheistic?

38. What is the difference between the pleasure the speaker took in nature as a child and the pleasure he draws from it now? What does the poet gain from his reflections on the past?

39. What role does the speaker's "dear friend" (his sister Dorothy) play in the poem? Why is it important that she is present as an addressee? What does her presence imply about the model of the self that Wordsworth offers in "Tintern Abbey"?

"Intimations of Immortality"

40. Divide "Intimations of Immortality" into the three stages of the Greater Romantic Lyric. Give line numbers for each stage. a) What is the scene described in this poem? b) What does the speaker realize he has lost, and how does he analyze the implications of that loss? c) At what resolution does he arrive?

41. Describe Wordsworth's "myth of pre-existence" in "Intimations of Immortality."

42. When the speaker of "Intimations of Immortality" says, "trailing clouds of glory do we come," what does the word "glory" mean with reference to traditional Christian iconography? What is the source of the "light" that this word alludes to?

43. In "Intimations of Immortality," how is the speaker's description of the boy's play-acting a narrative about the self-alienation involved in growing up? In what sense is the boy already beginning to lose his freedom, as Wordsworth would define that term? How do the phrases "light of common day" and "shades of the prison-house" help Wordsworth describe this loss?

44. What two kinds of self-consciousness are described in "Intimations of Immortality"? Which type is more desirable? Why?

45. What differences, if any, do you find in this ode's "affective resolution" compared to the one in "Tintern Abbey"?

From "The Prelude''

The Prelude

Book 1

46. From lines 1-79, how does the speaker describe his spiritual state before beginning his poetic task? What questions does he raise? How does he describe the coming on of inspiration and its immediate effects upon him?

47. From lines 80-269, what possible subjects does the speaker set forth, and why does he feel discouraged?

48. From lines 269-356, what experiences from his early childhood does the speaker explore, and what relationship to the natural world do these experiences suggest for the five-year-old boy? Consider lines 340-350 — what do these lines suggest about the passage's significance for the determination of the poet's subject matter?

49. From lines 357-414, the speaker explains how his early adventure in a small boat turned into something more exciting than he had expected. How is this adventure an early adventure of the sublime? How does his perception of the natural surroundings change, and what physical effects does the change produce in him?

50. From lines 415-543, what other experiences with nature does the speaker reflect upon? How does he describe the "ministry" of nature involved in such experiences?

51. From lines 544-612, how does the speaker distinguish the operation of nature by "extrinsic passion" (544) from other experiences with nature – "joys / Of subtler origin" (548-49) – as he calls them? What complexity do these new experiences introduce or extend with regard to the speaker's early relationship to nature?

52. From lines 613-47, how does the speaker characterize his accomplishment to this point in his narrative? What have the recountings of his boyhood experiences and feelings done for his so far? Why is he confident that his addressee – his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, that is – will judge his efforts kindly?

Book 2

53. From lines 203-66, the speaker takes us all the way back to the period of infancy. What difficulties does he identify with his project: why is it hard to do what he has set as his task? How, nonetheless, does he deal with an infant's first perceptions and experiences – how do they form a child's future interactions with the natural world?

54. From lines 175-203, as he continues to discuss his grammar-school years, the speaker addresses the growing complexity of his regard for nature. In what manner, as a boy, did the speaker love the sun – how did this kind of love differ from the way an adult loves the sun?

55. From lines 277-369, the speaker gives us further reflections on what at lines 202-03 he had called the stage in which nature "was sought / For her own sake." What does he apparently mean by this phrase – in what sense did he begin to love nature for its own sake, and with a kind of "religious love" (358)? Left unexamined, the speaker's wording might suggest that he simply idolized nature – but how would that be an oversimplification of this subtle stage in his relationship with nature?

56. From lines 420-72, the speaker ends this selection with thoughts similar to what we found in Book 1 – a statement of confidence about his progress in the epic, and a nod to Coleridge as a brother in his enterprise. Again, what accounts for the confidence, and why is Coleridge particularly capable of appreciating what the speaker has accomplished so far?

Book 3

57. In the third book, the speaker recounts his first impressions of Cambridge University, where he attended classes from 1787-91. From lines 1-169, how does he explain his uneasiness about attending Cambridge, and what distinguishes him from other students there? In what sense is there an implicit contrast here between two different ways of seeking knowledge?

58. In the brief selections from the third book, the speaker twice puts an abrupt end to his musings – "But peace!" (124) and "No more:" (197). Why is it appropriate for him to treat his own reflections this way – what imperative in his poetic task compels him to do it, even though he tells us that his "heroic argument" (184) is what has "passed within" (175) his own mind and heart?

Book 4

59. The speaker describes how, when he was around 18, trivial social pursuits began to get in the way of his communion with "books and nature" (299). How do the two main events he examines – his walk home from a dance and his meeting with a vagrant soldier – partly make up for the time he has wasted? What does he learn about his mission in life (308-37), and what value does he find in his accidental connection to the soldier (370-472)?

Book 5

60. From lines 45-141, the speaker recounts a dream occasioned by his reading of Don Quixote. An Arab appears to him bearing a stone and a shell – what does each represent, and why is the shell "something of more worth" (90)? How do you account for the sense of anxiety or even dread that pervades this dream – why, that is, does the speaker apparently find it disturbing?

61. From lines 366-427, the speaker tells the story of "the Boy of Winander" – what was special about the boy, and to what observations does this long-lost boy give rise in the speaker? For example, how does the personified "Thronèd Lady" of the Village Church regard the departed Boy? What would the perfect childhood be like?

62. Why might "books and nature" (425) both be equally valuable to a growing child? In responding, consider what the speaker says from lines 428-615 about "the mystery of words."

Book 6

63. In his description of crossing the Alps' Simplon Pass (lines 525-641), the speaker at first admits his disappointment at the actual appearance of Mont Blanc. The magnificent Vale (Valley) of Chamouny below helps him recover, but what further surprise confronts him in the form of a Peasant traveler's announcement? (560-92) And from 593-641, how does the poet-speaker overcome this second shock to his expectations?

64. At lines 625-630, the speaker offers a justly famous natural description: "The immeasurable height / Of Woods decaying, never to be decayed, / The stationary blasts of waterfalls, / And in the narrow rent at every turn / Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn, / The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky…." Consider this language for a moment as a species of rhetoric – i.e. language that is trying to convince us of something about nature's power and about the temporal and spatial dimensions of the world in which we live. How would you characterize the "argument" or the claim the poet is making here?

Book 7

65. From lines 619-674, the speaker contrasts the effect of human crowds and solitary individuals – in this case a blind beggar standing against a wall. What state of mind is the speaker in when he comes across this beggar? What is "really there" before his eyes? What emotional and imaginative effects does the speaker inspire in him? To what observations does the experience give rise?

66. From lines 675-772, the speaker offers another example in which clarity may be drawn from apparent confusion: his experience of London's annual St. Bartholomew's Day Fair. What contrast between poetic or contemplative perception and ordinary perception emerges from this episode? What does "Nature" (738) have to do with the contrast?

Book 8

67. Coleridge says in his prose that the power of imagination lies partly in its ability to acknowledge the particularities of a person or thing and yet to see its universal dimensions. How does the speaker show this power in his description of a shepherd walking through the mist (lines 257-93)?

68. The Prelude – especially in its final 1850 version — often seems to invoke the Christian idea of Providence (God's plan) to surround the development of the speaker's special gifts and the pattern of his life. How is our selection in this book (lines 257-356) a good example of that tendency?

Book 9

69. In this selection (lines 1-124), the speaker reflects on the beginning of his second visit to France during the exciting, tumultuous Revolutionary period of 1791-92. What phenomena does he notice? What does read? How does he analyze his state of mind at the time? Why does he join up with the People and become a "Patriot" for their cause?

Book 10

70. From lines 48-93, the speaker deals with his impression of France when it began to descend into a prolonged bout of violence in which radical extremists set their hearts on eliminating moderate resistance to their desires for total transformation of French politics and society. How does a quotation from Macbeth — "Sleep no more" come to his aid in rendering this impression? (Look up the reference in Shakespeare's play at 2.2.33-34, as the Norton note indicates – what is the context of Macbeth's utterance, and why is it appropriate in Wordsworth's text?)

71. From lines 263-299, how does the speaker explain his dismay at the annunciation of war between England and Revolutionary France early in 1793? By this time he has returned home to England – what alienates him from the mass of his countrymen? What is the cause of his self-reproach?

72. From lines 356-415, the speaker describes France's further slide into the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre, leader of the Jacobin extremists. What do his nightmares reveal to him about the nature and source of such violence, and about the power (or lack thereof) of one individual to make any difference in such terrible events?

Book 11

73. From lines 104-235, and then 279-363, the speaker explains how he reacted to events in France and England in 1794-95 – into what errors did he fall as an analyst of the Revolution, and at what personal cost? What protected him from permanent spiritual damage during this difficult time? In your response, consider the balance Wordsworth seems intent on maintaining between "reason" and "passion."

Book 12

74. From lines 88-151, the speaker explains that thanks to "overpressure from the times" (51), he turned for a while to the fashionable doctrine of "the picturesque." What is the "opportunity cost" of such an emphasis – namely, what are devotees of the picturesque doing that they shouldn't be doing, and what are they not doing that they should be doing, with respect to the proper appreciation of nature?

75. From lines 208-87, the speaker defines and illustrates what he calls "spots of time" (208). What is a spot of time? What important truth about ourselves does it reveal to us? What nuances does the "Girl with a pitcher" example add to the basic definition?

76. From lines 288-335, the speaker offers another instance of what he means by a "spot of time." What value does this particular spot – a brief experience not long before the death of his father – have for him? How, for instance, does it sum up his difficulties and prospects at the time he experienced it?

Book 13

77. This book chronicles a return to valuation of the human form as worthy of poetic concentration. From lines 1-63, and at 282-92, how does the speaker explain this decision – why has he found it possible to come back to such an emphasis on human beings, rather than just dealing with nature alone?

78. From lines 300-59, the speaker suggests that each poet receives the gift of "his own peculiar faculty" or kind of insight (302). How does his recounting of his vision at "Sarum's Plain" (Salisbury Plain) reveal the quality of his peculiar faculty? What has he accomplished by means of this vision?

Book 14

79. From lines 66-90, the speaker describes his ascent of Mount Snowdon, and tries to convey the mountain's powerful effect upon his imagination and feelings. What does the Mount suggest exists beyond the physical by the grandeur of its physical properties? From lines 91-129, to what insights about the faculty of imagination does his vision of the Mount lead the speaker?

80. From lines 150-205, the speaker proclaims that he has never fallen prey to merely selfish thoughts or motives, and he ascribes his success in this regard to "fear and love" (162). What do these two terms apparently mean in the context of Book 14, and what is the relative value of each?

81. From lines 371-456, the speaker offers his concluding thoughts about what he has gained the confidence to "teach" – what, then, will be the lesson that his future poetry will impart? Is it the same one that the current epic offers us, or would you describe the "lesson" of The Prelude in a different way? Either way, explain you're the basis for your response.

Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2A. 7th ed. ISBN 2A = 0393975681.