The poem is written in the form of a sonnet, the same form praised by the poet in the last six lines. He hopes that some people who read his poetry find the same kind of solace in the form that he does as he writes them. That is enough for him, he suggests. The confines he experiences do not bother him and do not feel like a prison. In this same way, he suggests, the confines of a nun’s life or a student’s do not feel like a prison.
Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room William Wordsworth Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room; And hermits are contented with their cells; And students with their pensive citadels; Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom, Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom, High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells, Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells: In truth the prison, into which we doom Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me, In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground; Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be) Who have felt the weight of too much liberty, Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
Explore Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room
‘Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room’ by William Wordsworth is about the happiness and peace people find in different ways of life.
The first part of the poem lists out a few different people, from a nun to hermit and student. Each lives in a different place and experiences different confides. This life, even if it seems confining to someone else, isn’t. It’s not really a prison, the poet says. The poem concludes with the poet discussing his own “prison,” the sonnet form. It’s something that he finds peace in and he takes pleasure from the fact that a few others may as well.
Structure and Form
‘Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room’ by William Wordsworth is a fourteen-line stanza that is contained within a single block of text. It is written in the traditional form of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. This means that the lines follow an initial rhyme scheme of ABBABBA. Then, in the last six lines, they follow one of several variations. In this case, CDDCCD. This is a somewhat unusual version of the final sestet.
The poem is also written in iambic pentameter. This means that the lines contain five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “convent’s” and “contented” in the first two lines and “wheel” and “weaver” in line four.
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And” which starts lines two and three.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of text. This can be seen through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, “Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom.”
Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
The poet starts this sonnet with the same line that came to be used as the title. The speaker by listing out a few examples of people in their chosen realms. He speaks about nuns and hermits, students, and maids. Each of these people have selected a certain way of life. The nuns, he notes, are not unhappy in their “narrow” rooms because they chose to be there. The same goes for the “cells” hermits live in and the “pensive citadels” students spend their time in.
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
In the second quatrain, the speaker moves on to give a beautiful example of a bee, happy as it soars “for bloom.” It is not unhappy in the hours it spends murmuring “in foxglove bells.” The poet is attempting to emphasize that just because one way of life seems usually to one person, it doesn’t mean the person experiencing it (or creature) is unhappy. He’s using these lines to set up a message about himself and his writing.
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
The speaker notes that the “prison, unto which we doom / Ourselves, no prison is.” It’s not a prison, as it was selected by us in order to have something to dedicate ourselves to.
The poet notes that the same applies to him. He has bound himself to “the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.” The sonnet’s “ground” is small and offers little, sometimes, but its enough for him. He’ll be happy, he says, if “some Souls” who have felt the weight of options and “too much liberty” find “solace” in the form of the sonnet.
It makes a great deal of sense that Wordsworth chose to structure his poem as he did. It follows the Petrarchan or Italian style perfectly.
The purpose is to emphasize the importance of having a place, or prison, in which one confines themselves. These aren’t, in fact, prisons, even though they are all-consuming. To the poet, the sonnet is his professed place of confinement and he finds peace in it.
The main theme at work in this poem is the purpose of life. For each person, their life is going to look different. How they want to lead it isn’t going to appeal to everyone else. The poet likes the confines of the sonnet (and presumably other poetic forms) while the nun, weaver, and hermit look for other ways of existing that make them happy.
The speaker appears to be William Wordsworth himself. He spends the first half of the sonnet, before the turn, discussing the way other people, and creatures, live and then spends the second half talking about his own experiences.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading other William Wordsworth poems. For example:
- ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ —a landscape poem concerned with nature that describes a man lounging underneath a tree and contemplating the changes society has undergone.
- ‘To a Child’ — a short poem in which the poet describes the importance of “service.”
- ‘After-Thought’—speaks on nature, death, and humanity’s impact on the earth through the image of the River Duddon.