The Tables Turned

William Wordsworth

In ‘The Tables Turned,’ Wordsworth invites us to break free from the constraints of modern society and rediscover the natural world’s beauty and wisdom.


William Wordsworth

Nationality: English

William Wordsworth is one of the most renowned and influential Romantic poets.

He was England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: The wisdom of nature is better than the knowledge of books

Speaker: Unknown, or could be read as Wordsworth.

Emotions Evoked: Enjoyment, Frustration, Passion

Poetic Form: Ballad

Time Period: 18th Century

This is a intriguing poem with ironic content, that successfully influences readers to engage in nature.

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 Wordsworth

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?

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.


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.

Literary Devices

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.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

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.

Stanza Two

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.

Stanza Three

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.

Stanza Four

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.

Stanza Five

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.

Stanza Six

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.

Stanza Seven

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.

Stanza Eight

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.


Why is the poem called ‘The Tables Turned?’

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.

What are common themes in ‘The Tables Turned?’

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.

What are some misconceptions about ‘The Tables Turned?’

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.

Why did Wordsworth stray from the common ABCB structure of ballads in ‘The Tables Turned?’

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.

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Poetry+ Review Corner

The Tables Turned

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

William Wordsworth

'The Tables Turned' is a well-constructed poem with a unique meaning compared to all of William Wordsworth's other Nature poems. As a poet who wrote a lot about nature, this uses that same theme but advances it to a contrasting ironic piece of literature instead of a one focused. The back and forth in Wordsworth's persuasive tone, as he attempts to explain why nature is the true teacher, is a definite highlight in ironic poetry as the poem written on paper is the very concept the speaker wants the reader to discontinue.
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18th Century

While this is a powerful poem, with great uses of metaphor, personification, parallelism, etc., the poem itself is not unique or representative enough of the century. While well written, its structure is simple, and while its theme is ironic, that uniqueness does not win it a higher score. Overall the poem is well crafted, but other poems incur further achievement and praise.
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As far as great English poems go, this one has good structure, form, syntax, and use of literary devices. Yet, it's not a poem that is above others; nothing special makes it better than other English poems. It falls a bit short in content and unique interest, both of which have been done by others over the years.
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Nature and beauty as themes often go hand in hand when it comes to poetry, as when a poet writes about nature, they usually refer to it as "her" and define and capture "her" beauty throughout the piece. Wordsworth creates beautiful images of the natural world in this poem. He expresses the happiness in a sunset, the knowledge in a spring forest, and the depression one might achieve if one misses out on these beautiful moments.
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Wordsworth critiques what many scholars live for in terms of analyzing knowledge in books. He is disappointed in the over-analyzed terminology and the complicated concepts that distract from the more considerable informational achievements one might be able to accomplish if not so stuck in the details. He mentions that books are too narrow and often do not show the truth about humanity, but that nature shows the reality of the human spirit. The reader feels Wordsworth's disappointment that they are reading the poem instead of watching a bird on a tree branch.
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Though this poem is about nature, it is a bit peculiar. In this poem, Wordsworth suggests that books are useless while nature is the greatest instructor of all things, whether you're writing poetry, making art, or studying science. While mentioning the infinite beauty of nature is a common trope in nature poems, the between mother earth and books makes this verse unique.
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'The Tables Turned' puts down books and anything believed to be learned from them, which includes happiness and enjoyment. At the poem's beginning, the speaker asks the reader to wipe that sad look off their face, referring to the look the books made them have. The speaker also mentions that when you read, the weight of your struggles double, inferring that nothing good can come from the books. Yet, simultaneously, the speaker shows the happiness in nature. The poem shows examples of nature's fantastic events and the beauty it brings, even saying it breathes happiness.
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This poem is persuasive, convincing you to change your mindset regarding knowledge and education. However, this implies the speaker's mindset is entirely different from the reader the speaker is trying to convince. Therefore in this comparison poem, you can feel the frustration as the speaker tells you the benefits he finds obvious. Yet, the open-ended response at the end of the poem, allowing the reader to choose their path, implies the speaker felt their argument was sufficient enough to change the reader's mind.
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This poem has a lot of passion behind its words, as do most poems that try to persuade to convince the reader to a certain degree. This poem has its passionate moments, the tension building from the first lines and peaking just before the end, where the speaker relinquishes control of the narrative to allow the reader to decide their own fate after reading the poem.
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'The Tables Turned' discusses the change in one's mindset when thinking about knowledge and education. The speaker wants to convince the reader that their way of thinking, which is also the way of most scholars, is incorrect and that the way the speaker is describing will teach them more in the long run. This is a profound and fundamental change to the reader, whether or not they decide the speaker is correct by the poem's end.
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'The Tables Turned' discusses multiple concepts of humanity. First, humanity is ruining education by detailing it so finely that the original idea is unseen. Second, that nature, specifically a forest during springtime, can show someone more about humanity than any professor could teach. Both concepts interconnect with the persuasion to change from books to nature as the reader's true teacher.
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'The Tables Turned' is heavily about knowledge as well as education. The poem's primary focus is telling the reader the correct and most efficient way to obtain knowledge. The poem brings attention to the negative aspects they believe knowledge from books provides and the positive aspects the knowledge from nature can give. Overall, the poem focuses mainly on knowledge.
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The poem discusses the concept of teachers in terms of who is the best, books or nature. The poem quickly argues for nature, mentioning the vital components mother nature offers in her lessons that only she can provide. Teachers are the entire point of this poem, as not only does the speaker want you to convert to nature as your teacher, but the speaker hopes to teach you something from reading the poem in general.
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While a classic Ballad follows the ABCB structure, this one follows ABAB, often considered most challenging as more rhymes must be made, and therefore more difficult to keep pacing and tone in check. This poem does both well, and is unique for using a different structure than the normal.
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This poem has strong rhyming throughout the poem, with excellent uses of punctuation and word length to keep the pace flowing evenly. In addition, the poem uses excellent wording to convey different emotions in different places in the poem. Both vital writing aspects are what make this poem an amazing lyric poem.
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Lauren Bruce Poetry Expert
Lauren is a seasoned poetry expert, having achieved an MA in Publishing and an MFA in Creative Writing, as well as a BA in Literature and Creative Writing and a minor in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric.

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