In ‘Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought,’ readers will encounter images, allusions, and a thoughtful discussion of death from William Wordsworth. The poet spends the poem uses nature as a way to talk about immortality and how unachievable it is for humanity. Lovers of Wordsworth’s poetry will not be disappointed by the lovely image of the Duddon river he includes.
Explore Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker acknowledges, “Thee,” someone who passed away and who used to be an important part of his life. As he goes on, his discussion of death becomes more obvious as he compares the constant flow of the river to the very limited life span of humanity. This isn’t something he’s complaining about though, he’s accepting it for what it is and is prepared to live a good life and then die.
In ‘Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought,’ Wordsworth engages with themes of nature and death. These two themes go together perfectly as the poet uses natural images to depict humanity’s limited existence and the immortality of rivers and other natural phenomena. As the poet follows the river from its source to the ocean, he considers death and speaks on how important it is to live well while one is still alive.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought’ by William Wordsworth is a fourteen-line sonnet that follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBACDDCDC. The first eight lines, or the first two quatrains, follow the standard pattern of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. The final six lines, or sestet, has the average number of rhymes, but the pattern is mixed, making it slightly more complicated than the normal CDCDCD or CDECDE. Readers should also take note of the fact that Wordsworth uses iambic pentameter throughout this piece, with a few exceptions. This means that most of the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.
Wordsworth makes use of several literary devices in ‘After-Thought.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, caesura, and enjambment. The last of these, enjambment, is a formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines eight and nine, as well as ten and eleven.
Alliteration is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “partner” and “past” in lines one and two, as well as “what was” and “will” in line four. There are several more examples as well, which will be noted in the analysis.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. These are either created through punctuation or a natural pause in the meter, if there is a metrical pattern. For example, line two reads: “As being past away.—Vain sympathies!” Another example is line nine, which reads: “The elements, must vanish;—be it so!”
I thought of Thee, my partner and my guide,
As being past away.—Vain sympathies!
For, backward, Duddon! as I cast my eyes,
I see what was, and is, and will abide;
In the first lines of ‘Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought,’ the speaker begins by referring to “Thee,” someone he considers his “partner and…guide.” The fact that “Thee” is capitalized is an interesting feature of this first line and one that’s repeated a few times throughout the poem. Wordsworth capitalizes some of what he considered the most important words in the poem. This draws extra attention to them while also adding an extra amount of emphasis.
The “Thee” he’s talking to is a man, someone he spent time with and who he considered his partner, but also someone who taught him a great deal. The next lines inform the reader that this person has passed away. Wordsworth knows that any “sympathies” are in “Vain.” There’s nothing he can do to change this fact, plus the person wouldn’t hear him anyway.
It’s in the third line that the speaker, who is William Wordsworth, brings the reader into his setting. He’s walking along the river Duddon from its source where Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Lancashire meet, as noted by the Toronto Library, to the sea. When he looks around him he can see what was, where the river starts, what is, where he’s walking now, and what “will abide,” where the river flows in front of him. This thoughtful phrase is a metaphor for life. At this moment, when considering death, he can think about the past, his present, what’s coming for all humans—death.
Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains, the Function never dies;
While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We Men, who in our morn of youth defied
In the next four lines, the speaker describes the stream with some interesting images. It, unlike humanity, goes on gliding “for ever.” It doesn’t face imminent death in the future. It does what its function requires of it, and its form “remains.” These are two things that he can’t say of humankind. Humans lose their function and their form as they age.
The second to last line of this stanza includes an allusion to ‘Lament for Bion’ by Moschus, a Greek bucolic poet. He takes the words straight from the poem where Moschus is contrasting human death with the yearly growth of vegetation. The last line of this quatrain is enjambed, meaning the reader has to go to line nine to find out what happens next.
The elements, must vanish;—be it so!
Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.
Wordsworth brings attention to those men who thought they could defy the elements throughout their life, and perhaps did for a time, and how they “must vanish.” It is what it is, he says.
In the final lines, as he acknowledges the inescapable nature of death, he also suggests that it’s okay to die if we’ve spent our lives doing well for others. To “life, and act, and serve the future hour” will create the feeling that “we are greater than we know.” This is perhaps an allusion to God and to divinity. With these good deeds, humanity is brought closer to God and elevated.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought,’ should also consider reading some of William Wordsworth’s better-known poems. For example,
- ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’ – a celebration of the city and the historical and cultural significance of Westminster Bridge.
- ‘It was an April Morning: Fresh and Clear’ – focuses on Emma’s Dell, an area that Wordsworth called his “second home.”
- ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ – a lively, beautiful, and famous poem in which Wordsworth describes walking through a field of dancing daffodils.