William Wordsworth’s ‘The Tables Turned‘ compares the wisdom of nature to the knowledge of books in an ironic turn of events.
In ‘The Tables Turned,’ Wordsworth reflects on the value of nature and the importance of being in touch with the natural world. He encourages the reader to step away from the distractions of modern life and to take time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Wordsworth asserts that immersing oneself in nature can have a therapeutic effect and that it is essential for our well-being and personal growth.
The poem is written in the form of a conversation between two people, with the speaker urging the other person to come out into the countryside and to experience the beauty of nature for themselves. Through vivid imagery and descriptive language, Wordsworth conveys the sense of peacefulness and refreshment that can be found in nature.
The Tables Turned William WordsworthUp! up! my Friend, and quit your books;Or surely you'll grow double:Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;Why all this toil and trouble?The sun above the mountain's head,A freshening lustre mellowThrough all the long green fields has spread,His first sweet evening yellow.Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:Come, hear the woodland linnet,How sweet his music! on my life,There's more of wisdom in it.And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!He, too, is no mean preacher:Come forth into the light of things,Let Nature be your teacher.She has a world of ready wealth,Our minds and hearts to bless—Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,Truth breathed by cheerfulness.One impulse from a vernal woodMay teach you more of man,Of moral evil and of good,Than all the sages can.Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;Our meddling intellectMis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—We murder to dissect.Enough of Science and of Art;Close up those barren leaves;Come forth, and bring with you a heartThat watches and receives.
Explore The Tables Turned
‘The Tables Turned‘ is a poem comparing the knowledge equated from books with that which comes from the natural world.
The poem continues to discuss how nature is a far better teacher and more interesting. The whole poem is slightly ironic, though, as obviously, the poem is to be read in a book.
Structure and Form
This poem was published with many others in a collection of lyrical ballads in 1789. The poem has eight stanzas written in ballad form. Each stanza is abab, slightly atypical as many ballads are ABCB, yet Willam Wordsworth tended to like the fuller rhyme scheme.
Wordsworth uses a few different literary devices in this poem, they include:
- Alliteration: Used throughout this poem, alliteration is used to create a more seamless read, as well as connecting words together through sound. This happens in sentences such as “Why all this toil and trouble?” which uses the repetition of the sound “t” to emphasize the negative definition both words incur.
- Personification: Nature is a “she” in this poem, as it is within many literary ideals. The ‘she’ is in reference to mother nature. Giving nature the pronoun “she” allows for a more literal meaning when Wordsworth assigns the role of teacher to nature herself.
- Metaphor: Accompanying personification, there are many instances of metaphor within this poem. Lines such as “One impulse from a vernal wood” and “The sun above the mountain’s head” both indicate metaphors used to bring nature more to life. This furthers Wordsworth’s cause of attempting to persuade the reader that books or boring.
- Parallelism: A commonly used literary device in poems focusing on comparison or persuasion such as this one. The parallelism in this poem takes the concept of book knowledge and writes it as less than ideal but then writes similarly about nature, only using positive wording to portray a different message.
Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
In this stanza, the speaker tells the reader to get up from their seats where they are assumingly reading this very poem. The speaker says if they remain seated, the weight of the world will grown on them and tells them to clear their face of the bad emotions, asking why they have such worries.
This is a strong introduction to ‘The Tables Turned,’ a hook to gather the reader’s curiosity. The very lines say to stop reading and get up and away from the books, yet such inclinations are meant to do the opposite and influence the reader to continue to read the poem’s next stanzas.
The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
This stanza tells the reader about what they are currently missing. There is a sun setting over the mountain, which in turn lights up the green fields below it with stunning fading sunlight.
After the previous stanza, where the speaker asks why the reader had any turmoil, this stanza shows the reader that the turmoil should be replaced with the beauty surrounding them. It inclines the reader to think, how can I have troubles if I am surrounded by such beauty.
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
The stanza exclaims books are not worth reading and only add to any displeasure you endure. Then an alternative activity is suggested as the speaker tells the reader that the bird’s song is far sweeter and full of more wisdom than the books they read.
This is the first stanza in which the message from Stanza one, bashing the knowledge of books, and stanza two, exclaiming the beauty of nature, form together in a suggestion that nature could be better than books.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
This stanza points out another bird, mentioning that both birds are excellent preachers of their words. The speaker then says to come out into the light, meaning the sun instead of a lamp or flame, and claim nature as your teacher instead of books.
Stanza four solidifies what stanza three hinted at: the speaker believes nature is a better teacher than any book could be. The stanza also mentions the birds as preachers, implying that their songs have deeper meanings if they could be compared to the human equivalent. Yet, the reader does not yet understand what the birds could be saying, causing an intrigue to listen to the speaker and learn how to dissect the language of nature.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
This stanza explains to the reader what nature has to offer. According to the speaker, nature is superior because it can teach us wisdom through moments of spontaneity that can only come from engaging with the outside world, as books will never provide such activities. The speaker also mentions that truth in nature is infused with happiness, as it is part of nature’s very breath.
This stanza is a building stanza, adding more detail to the concept that has already been introduced to the reader. The concept in this poem is that nature has a lot of wisdom to offer.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
This stanza says that a forest around springtime will teach you more about humanity and society, as well as morals of evil and good than any other instructor could.
This stanza explains that springtime in nature can show more than any book simply by watching. This calls upon instances that are known to springtime from the reader’s already learned knowledge. These implications consist of life and death between species, animals searching for mates, new animals being born, animals that did not survive winter being uncovered by melting snow, etc. All these natural world lessons are implied to be more valuable and insightful to human nature than any other book or person could be.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
This stanza says that nature’s natural growth is one of its main treasures, as humans often break down concepts and dissect ideas to the point of not being able to truly understand the original creation, leaving it disfigured.
This stanza is important as it brings the focus of the poem back from what nature can offer to what are more negative side effects of knowledge from only books. It’s important that the speaker brings back the main topic of the poem before finalizing his persuasive ideals.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
Ending ‘The Tables Turned,’ the speaker says not to study art and science from the books anymore. “Close up those barren leaves” is referencing the books that were once trees, which have, in the speaker’s opinion, no knowledge of them. Then he extends an offer to watch and listen to nature to learn what is needed.
The poem’s ending summarizes the main topic and ends with one last persuasive line to try to capture the reader to leave books behind. The poem tries to put forth an urge in the reader to finish this poem’s last sentence and discard the book altogether as they start to engage in nature.
The poem is called ‘The Tables Turned’ because of the ironic idea that the speaker is trying to convince the reader to achieve. The Speaker is attempting to persuade the reader to leave books behind and venture into the lessons provided by nature. This is ironic as the speaker’s message has to be read from the very books the speaker is discouraging.
Common themes in ‘The Tables Turned‘ are nature, the natural world, but also how wisdom can come more from nature than books if one was to actively engage in it.
A common misconception about ‘The Tables Turned‘ is that the poem is trying to say that books are bad for you. In the contents of the poem, never once does is discourage reading in general, but instead mentions that learning from nature is preferable as an activity.
Wordsworth’s ABAB structure is a unique choice for ballads and far less common among writers. But, as the poem consists mostly of comparison and persuasion, it can be assumed that one of the reasons this structure was chosen was to match the back-and-forth concepts of the poem’s content.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Tables Turned’ should also consider the following:
- “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sarah Teasdale – a nature poem depicting nature’s indifference to war and the extinction of humanity.
- “When Spring Comes” by Alberto Caeiro – a poem contrasting the permanence of nature versus the fleeting moment that is human life in comparison.
- ‘Winter Rain‘ by Christina Rossetti – explains the power rain has over the natural world.