In 1798, William Wordsworth, poet to ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’, was to publish a volume of poetry known as ‘Lyrical Ballads‘ with his then-friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1802, they published this volume again, this time with a preface written by William Wordsworth himself, wherein he attempted to explain the reasoning for writing his poetry. He wrote, ‘what is a Poet? He is a man speaking to men’, a movement away from an idealized notion of the poet having some higher aim in life and some God-ordained talent to write to educate others.
Explore Lines Written in Early Spring
As the poet sits there and muses on nature, its beauty, and its seamless existence, his thoughts turn briefly to the misery of man, and to the miseries that they wrought on each other. At the time of writing, the French Revolution was raging through France, a cultural shock which was to provide the British literary society with enough fodder to last them for years – and William Wordsworth was no exception to the rule. Stunned by the cruelty and the callousness of French society, he and other Romantics wrote primarily to try and take back the world from the brink that it had been pushed to during the so-called age of enlightenment. ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ was one such poem.
Wordsworth’s themes in ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ are nature, spirituality, and peace. Throughout this poem, the poet, who is very likely the speaker, observes the natural world around him. he discusses how impactful the images of nature are on his state of mind. he was in a “sweet mood”. But, this pleasant mood leads him to deeper thoughts, those associated with the nature of humankind, and what has become of the human soul/spirit. He mourns over what man has done to man in the face of Nature which contains all of us. The speaker knows that although he doesn’t have answers to many of his questions he can take pleasure from the world around him.
‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple and mostly consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. There are a few moments in which the rhymes are closer to half-rhymes than full. For example, “notes” and “thoughts” in the first stanza.
In regards to the meter, Wordsworth uses iambic tetrameter in the first three lines of each stanza and then transitions into iambic trimeter in the final, fourth line of each stanza. The first three lines of each stanza all contain (there are a few moments where the stresses are up for interpretation or transition stresses) four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. The final stanza loses one metrical foot meaning that it only contains three sets of two beats.
Wordsworth makes use of several literary devices in ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and imagery. The latter is perhaps the most important technique at work in the poem. it can be seen from the first line to the last. The poet taps into a variety of human senses in order to accurately and vividly depict the landscape he’s seeing.
Alliteration and enjambment are important and common techniques in poetry. The first can be seen through the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “sweet” and “sad” in lines three and four of the first stanza.
Enjambment can be seen in the transition between lines one and two of the second stanza as well as lines three and four of the fourth stanza.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
Wordsworth has a renowned reputation as the poet of nature. In his body of work, Nature assumes a personality, an almost divine spirit that permeates all objects. To be close to nature, Wordsworth philosophized, was to be close to God; and while there were other poems of nature that were prevalent throughout the Romantic era, it is Wordsworth who springs most readily to mind.
In the first quatrain, the divinity of Nature occurs in the phrase ‘a thousand blended notes’, implying an almost-pervasive presence of the natural, something that is akin to the omnipotence shown by God.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
The second quatrain moves briefly away from Nature to reminisce on the misery that other humans have caused each other since time immemorial. The poet, however, takes a moment to state that Nature is linked to humanity through the very idea of a soul; that Nature’s soul is not that different from humanity, and that, although it has been forgotten by the rest of the world, it is man’s natural state to be close to Nature. This was one of Wordsworth’s principle philosophies: that it was man’s innate state to be close to nature.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
In this quatrain, the presence of nature as a living thing strikes again, this time in the movement verbs used – ‘trailed’, for the periwinkle; ‘breathes’ for the flowers. Throughout ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’, Wordsworth does his best to create the idea of a living, breathing world that is only a fraction removed from humanity.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
Once more, the presence of movement draws a stark contrast with the immobile poet – it is nature that draws the reader’s attention, so much has been said about it that it renders the speaker-poet nearly a non-entity. He has no presence in the poem; no thoughts, no personality, no ideas. His world is subsumed by the stronger one of nature.
Stanzas Five and Six
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
Wordsworth ends ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ with the same lament that was mentioned earlier: ‘have I not reason to lament /what man has made of man?’ Throughout the poem, there was the attempt by Nature to heal the injured soul of the poet-speaker; near the end, despite the best efforts of Nature herself, the poet-speaker’s spirits are still melancholy and low thus negating the healing effect that Wordsworth claimed nature possessed. It ends on a somber, sad note; the world of nature, untouched by the miseries of humanity, continues on while the human soul, bound in its rigid cage of mortality and reason, is left behind to experience the misery of the human world.
Wordsworth wrote ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ on a walk near the village of Alford. Wordsworth was an ardent walker, and often composed his poems on the move, or wrote them about the scenes of nature that he witnessed.
He supported the French Revolution and had concerns about the way that civilization was going, and the things that humans were doing to each other.
Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads
Wordsworth’s ‘Lyrical Ballads’ was received well, and the reviews mostly erred on the side of positive, but it was only in the later years that ‘Lyrical Ballads’ reached the acclaim of being the first published volume in the changing face of British literature and the herald to English Romanticism.
In the preface to the 1802 ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ Wordsworth wrote:
The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.
Wordsworth wrote many other poems that could be counted as similar in imagery and themes to this one. Nature was one of the major focuses of his poetic work as it was and still is of many other poets. Readers can also enjoy Wordsworth poems such as:
Other poems on similar topics include:
- ‘Patience Taught by Nature’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- ‘Hymn to the Spirit of Nature’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Also, make sure to check out our list of Ten of the Best Nature Poems.