Discuss the theme of memory as it runs through poems such as “Tintern Abbey,” “Intimations of Immortality,” and “The Solitary Reaper.” How does Wordsworth believe memory works on the human character? How is memory important in sustaining the connection between the individual and nature?
Memory is crucial to Wordsworth throughout these poems, because it is memory that enables the individual to regain access to the pure communion with nature enjoyed during childhood. As Wordsworth explains in “Tintern Abbey,” memory works upon the individual psyche even when the individual is unaware of it, and pleasant, beautiful memories of nature work to preserve and restore the connection between the individual and the purity of the natural world. Wordsworth puts this idea most concisely in “The Solitary Reaper” when he writes of the girl’s song, “The music in my heart I bore, / Long after it was heard no more.”
In “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” how does Wordsworth achieve the seemingly effortless effect of implying the unity of his consciousness with nature? Does this technique appear in any other Wordsworth lyrics?
Wordsworth employs a kind of identity-switching technique, whereby nature is personified and humanity is, so to speak, nature-ized. Wordsworth describes himself as wandering “like a cloud,” and describes the field of daffodils as a dancing crowd of people. This kind of interchangeable terminology implies a unity—metaphors from either realm can be applied to the other, because the mind and the natural world are one. A more subtle version of this technique appears in “Intimations of Immortality,” in which the poet describes the natural world in the final stanza with a sequence of ascribed actions and characteristics previously performed and possessed in the poem by human beings.
Think about the series of angry moral sonnets written in 1802, represented here by “The world is too much with us” and “London, 1802.” How does Wordsworth express anger? What moral ideal does he uphold? How has England violated that ideal?
Wordsworth expresses anger with a sweeping, dramatic rhetorical skill, often taking risks with language that create spectacular imagery in the reader’s mind, as when the wind and the raging sea are swept up like a bouquet of flowers in “The world is too much with us.” The principle moral ideal Wordsworth upholds in the poem is simply the quality of happiness gleaned from the unity of the inner self with the natural world. In both sonnets, Wordsworth declares that humanity is out of touch with these realms— “out of tune” with them in the first, having “forfeited” them in the second. England has violated that ideal by becoming materialistic, and by failing its traditional institutions such as church, home, and literature.
4. Compare and contrast “Tintern Abbey” and “Intimations of Immortality.” How are they alike? How are they different? Base your analysis on theme, style, and subject.
5. One of Wordsworth’s most famous lines is “the child is father of the man,” a line that reappears in the epigram of “Intimations of Immortality.” How is childhood central to Wordsworth’s conception of the self? How is that self affected by the aging process?
6. Discuss the connection between nature and religion in these poems. With a particular eye toward “Tintern Abbey” and “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,” how does Wordsworth imply the connections between God, nature, and the human mind?
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