‘Nutting’ by William Wordsworth is a fifty-six line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The poem is written in blank verse, meaning that there is not a pattern of rhyme or meter to structure the lines. ‘Nutting’ was written in 1798 while Wordsworth was in Germany with his sister. It was originally intended to be included as part of his longer autobiographical piece, The Prelude, but as later cut.
For readers familiar with the work of Wordsworth it will be easy to spot the revery common to Wordsworth’s descriptions of the Lake District in England. It was here that Wordsworth spent the majority of his life and a location that features prominently throughout his work.
Also notable within the text are the “fairy-tale” elements which involve a quest, disguises, and treasure. These elements are all part of the larger parable, or lesson, set out within the narrative. One is meant to learn something by the time they come to the conclusion of this piece, but also have enjoyed themselves along the way.
Summary of Nutting
The poem starts with the speaker describing the beginning of his adventure. He is dressed for the outing and carries his “nutting-crook” in his hand. It is his goal to harvest hazelnuts somewhere along the way. After exploring unmarked sections of the forest he comes upon a pristine clearing filled with nuts.
The boy relishes in the beauty of the scene and feasts on the nuts until suddenly his childish mind has had enough. He rebels against the peace and tears down the branches that covered him. After his rage, he feels both powerful and regretful. As he leaves the forest his gentle touch returns and he departs without further incident.
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Analysis of Nutting
—It seems a day
(I speak of one from many singled out)
One of those heavenly days that cannot die;
When, in the eagerness of boyish hope,
I left our cottage-threshold, sallying forth
With a huge wallet o’er my shoulders slung,
A nutting-crook in hand; and turned my steps
Tow’rd some far-distant wood, a Figure quaint,
Tricked out in proud disguise of cast-off weeds
Which for that service had been husbanded,
A reader will immediately notice that the first line of ‘Nutting’ is indented in. This gives the verse the feeling of emerging out of nothing. The words sneak up on the reader and suddenly one is involved with the story.
The speaker’s syntax at the beginning of this piece is also interesting. The words are written as if the narrator is truly speaking aloud to some, unknown at this point, listener. He makes sure to note that the “day” he is thinking of is only one of many that stick out to him. It was a day of a particular breed in that it was “heavenly.” He remembers it so fondly that it “cannot die.”
Throughout the following lines, he describes his own actions as a child. This is a fact which should not be forgotten as one becomes more immersed in the story. The speaker expresses from the start that he was filled with “boyish hope” during this period. He was young, and naive as he set out from his family’s “cottage-threshold.” His movements are described as being “sallying.” He moved forward unafraid of what he was going to face.
On his person, he is carrying a “huge wallet” or bag and a “nutting-crook” this is an implement used to harvest hazelnuts. The reminiscing speaker recalls how he chose to wander far from home to a “distant wood.” As he walks along he imagines his own appearance as being “quaint” and interesting. His boy is covered in what he considers to be a “disguise of cast-off weeds.” These were plants that he took for that particular “service.”
By exhortation of my frugal Dame—
Motley accoutrement, of power to smile
At thorns, and brakes, and brambles,—and, in truth,
More ragged than need was! O’er pathless rocks,
Through beds of matted fern, and tangled thickets,
Forcing my way, I came to one dear nook
Unvisited, where not a broken bough
Drooped with its withered leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation; but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung,
A virgin scene!—A little while I stood,
The weeds he has drooped over and around his body came from his “frugal Dame,” or mother. It is at this point in the story the fairy-tale elements come into play. He refers to his mother as a “Dame” to reference fantastical tales of knights. These items are a “Motley” or random and not necessarily pretty, bunch. They make up the random accumulation of items, or “accoutrement” of his assembled costume. These elements please the speaker greatly.
He has added “thorns” and “brambles” to his clothes, making them even more ragged than they needed to be. It is clear he took pleasure from the construction of these items. They only become more ragged as he moves over “pathless rocks” and through beds of “matted fern.” He is climbing and crawling his way through the unmarked woods.
Finally, he comes upon “one dear nook” or clearing in the forest which has never, at least by him, been visited before. This place is almost pristine. There are no broken branches or “withered leaves.” It has known no “devastation.” To add to the joy of the moment there are “hazelnuts” to be found in the area. It is a “virgin scene, “ untouched, until now, by humans. He stands for a moment in appreciation.
Breathing with such suppression of the heart
As joy delights in; and, with wise restraint
Voluptuous, fearless of a rival, eyed
The banquet;—or beneath the trees I sate
Among the flowers, and with the flowers I played;
A temper known to those, who, after long
And weary expectation, have been blest
With sudden happiness beyond all hope.
The young boy is “delight[ed]” to have found such a place and has to “suppress” his heart to keep the joy in. It is now time for him to set about harvesting his nuts and sating his hunger.
After indulging in the great number of nuts growing around the clearing he spends time playing in “Among the flowers.” This is truly a joyous moment as he celebrates the purity of exiting within nature and without the presence of any other. He is alone, and thrilled to be so close to the natural elements he loves.
Due to the effort, it took him to stumble upon this place he feels as if his weariness has been rewarded. He is “happ[y] beyond all hope.”
Perhaps it was a bower beneath whose leaves
The violets of five seasons re-appear
And fade, unseen by any human eye;
Where fairy water-breaks do murmur on
For ever; and I saw the sparkling foam,
And—with my cheek on one of those green stones
That, fleeced with moss, under the shady trees,
Lay round me, scattered like a flock of sheep—
At the approximate halfway point of the poem, the narrative takes a somewhat more fantastical turn. In an attempt to remember exactly what happened at this point the speaker poses a number of possibilities. It is as if he is trying to remember the events of the day as he is telling them.
The boy relaxes onto the ground, exhausted by his exertions, and places his head upon a “green stone.” He has found his way into a hiding place “beneath” the leaves of the “bower” or among the “violets.” Through this action he is immersing himself deeper into the landscape, almost becoming a part of it. The flowers situated near his head are so secreted that they aren’t seen by a human eye prior to their fading away. This has a beauty inherent to it the speaker cannot resist.
The stone he is resting on is covered with “moss” and many others like it are “scattered” around. They appear peaceful and harmless, like “a flock of sheep.”
I heard the murmur, and the murmuring sound,
In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to pay
Tribute to ease; and, of its joy secure,
The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,
Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,
And on the vacant air. Then up I rose,
And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being: and, unless I now
Confound my present feelings with the past;
He luxuriates for a while longer within the woods and listens to the movements of the forest. Eventually, a change comes over the speaker. He is suddenly not content to live within this pristine landscape. He is forced into action by an unseen hand. The ease he had previously felt fades away.
The boy rises from his prone position and begins tearing down everything around him. He drags the branches to the earth and commits a “merciless ravage” upon the place. Through his actions, the “bower” becomes misshapen and out-of-order. It no longer appears as it did previously— it has been touched, now violently, by a human hand. The actions come one after another, building until complete destruction if brought down upon the scene.
A reader should take note of the repetition of sound in this section. There are a number of instances, such as between “branch and bough” and “stocks and stone” that add emphasis to the actions. The lines come quickly, just as the boy’s rage did.
The elements of the scene have given up their “quiet being” and acted as play things in the violent outburst of a child. It is his nature, as a young boy, to turn rapidly to discontent. He plays this emotion out on everything he was just relishing.
Ere from the mutilated bower I turned
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings,
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees, and saw the intruding sky.—
Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.
The boy has indulged in the power of his own hands and turns from the “mutilated bower” he so recently loved. He feels full of his own strength, but also pained at what he has done. The boy has, in quick succession, felt joy beyond measure and uncontrollable anger. His emotions and his ability to act on them, give him “wealth.”
In the final lines, he feels an amount of regret for what he has done and the fact that he must leave this place. He looks out at the “silent trees” and the now “intruding sky.” It “intrudes” due to the fact that he pulled down so many of the branches. Previously, it was kept at bay by the “bower.”
The speaker finally addresses his listener in the fifty-fourth line. She is a “Maiden,” as might be expected in this narrative. He describes his own actions to her, while asking that she act in a similar way under the same circumstances.
The speaker moved peacefully for the rest of his walk. He touched everything around him “with gentle hand” and did his best to appreciate the power that is inherent in the forest. He tells her, in the last line of ‘Nutting’ that there is a “spirit in the woods.” This can be a reference to his own presence, and the generalized power of nature that drove him to peace and rage.