William Wordsworth mentions the character “Lucy” many times throughout his poems, such as in Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known. Sometimes, she is symbolic of a lover, and other times of the pure and innocent love of a father for his child. Often, Wordsworth’s poems suggest the loss of Lucy. It is a fear that overwhelms him and is perhaps representative of some of the losses that Wordsworth experienced during his lifetime.
This particular poem, Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known, is written in the form of a simple ballad, with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The rhythm and rhyme scheme of Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known causes it to read almost like a nursery rhyme. It is lulling, and almost comforting. The flawless flow of the ballad makes the final lines more shocking than they might otherwise be. The fears of the speaker overtake him suddenly, presenting a horrible and shocking thought, all the while continuing in the lull of the simple ballad.
Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known William WordsworthStrange fits of passion have I known:And I will dare to tell,But in the lover’s ear alone,What once to me befell.When she I loved looked every dayFresh as a rose in June,I to her cottage bent my way,Beneath an evening-moon.Upon the moon I fixed my eye,All over the wide lea;With quickening pace my horse drew nighThose paths so dear to me.And now we reached the orchard-plot;And, as we climbed the hill,The sinking moon to Lucy’s cotCame near, and nearer still.In one of those sweet dreams I slept,Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!And all the while my eye I keptOn the descending moon.My horse moved on; hoof after hoofHe raised, and never stopped:When down behind the cottage roof,At once, the bright moon dropped.What fond and wayward thoughts will slideInto a Lover’s head!“O mercy!” to myself I cried,“If Lucy should be dead!”
Explore Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known
Wordsworth makes use of some of the most common themes known to poetry writers and readers. They include love, the natural world, and of course, death. The first, love, can be seen throughout the text. The “strange fits of passion” the speaker is dealing with are caused by the love he feels and will only tell in “the Lover’s ear alone”. Intertwined with the speaker’s love is another theme, that of fear. He is very aware and accepting of the fact that loving someone will result in one experiencing anxiety over this love.
The natural world is seen through the imagery that Wordsworth’s speaker describes as he rides his horse. There are orchards and the moon that continues to sink closer to the horizon. Lastly, there is death. This theme, one of the most popular with writers throughout time, is prevalent in the last lines. It is connected to the love he feels, and the generalized anxiety he experiences around that love. He worries as he approaches Lucy’s house that she’s dead. Obviously, death and the fear of death are things he’s going to have to contend with throughout this relationship and for the rest of his life.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.
In the opening stanza to Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known, the speaker reveals that he has experienced “strange fits of passion”. He admits that he would only dare to describe those fits of passion to his lover alone. This implies that the nature of these fits is perhaps sexual. They are most certainly passionate, and he longs for the one he loves. He longs to whisper into her ear and tell her of his deepest feelings and of these strange fits of passion that he experiences.
When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.
At this point, the speaker tells of going to see his lover every day. He describes her beauty as “fresh as a rose in June” and he tells of how he went to her cottage in the evening beneath the moon. The comparison of Lucy to a rose in June suggests that she is young, and this is perhaps a young love, though it is clearly a passionate love. With this stanza, the speaker begins to allow the readers to understand his relationship with the woman whom he loves. He thinks of her beauty as he journeys to see her. He longs to tell her of all that he feels.
Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea; 10
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.
Here, the speaker continues to build up the anticipation of seeing his lover. As he nears the path to her house, he quickens the pace of the horse, anxious to see her.
And now we reached the orchard-plot;
And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot
Came near, and nearer still.
Continuing to build the anticipation, the speaker describes the scenery. He reaches her orchard, and he and his horse climbed the hill as the moon began to sink. They came “near, and nearer still”. The build-up and anticipation of approaching the cottage of his lover allows the reader to enter into his feelings. The reader can relate to that feeling of anxious anticipation and longing to be with one’s lover.
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.
At this point in Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known, the speaker gives the readers the idea that his ride to his lover’s cottage is dream-like. “All the while” he kept his eyes on the descending moon. He felt very much like he was in a dream. The light of the moon, the ride, and the feeling of love is all coming together to make the speaker feel that he is living in a dream. Being in love, after all, can feel like a dream.
My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropped.
As his horse plodded on, he pondered over the dream, perhaps trying to remember the details. He did not slow down, but as they approached the cottage, the moon dropped.
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover’s head!
“O mercy!” to myself I cried,
“If Lucy should be dead!”
The speaker acknowledges that lovers thoughts are often wayward. He wonders, often what Lucy thinks. For this reason, he says that his “thoughts will slide into a Lover’s head”. Just as the moon disappears, the speaker has a horrible thought. He cries out within his head, “O mercy!” and he thinks about the terrible possibility that “Lucy should be dead”. This is when the dream turns into a nightmare. His fear suddenly seizes him. Anyone who has ever truly loved someone can identify with this fear. It is not uncommon for people to feel an overwhelming fear of losing the person most dear to them. This is the fear that the speaker experiences.
Throughout his journey to Lucy’s cottage, he has been thinking about his love for her, his passionate fits of love she has evoked, and his eager anticipation to see her. But as he rides up to her house, a terrible fear overcomes him. He wonders how he would ever live if Lucy should die. This gives another meaning to the title, as well. Perhaps his “strange fits of passion” refers to the moment when fear of death suddenly seizes him and he is overwhelmed by his fear of losing his lover.
William Wordsworth Background
William Wordsworth lost his mother when he was seven, and his father when he was thirteen. Later in his life, three of his children preceded him in death. This background gives this particular poem greater meaning. After having experienced such great loss, it is no surprise that the speaker in one of his poems would have a sudden and inexplicable fear of losing the one that he loved.
- “William Wordsworth.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 06 June 2016.