Wordsworth Poetry- Childhood

William Wordsworth and other Romantic poets expressed reverence for childhood in the far from child-centred eighteenth century. In “William Wordsworth: Poems collected by Seamus Heaney” (2007) the idea of childhood is explored and depicted as a powerful and beneficial force. In this post I will provide thematic ideas, advice on how to analyse a poem and a sample paragraph on the theme of childhood.

Wordsworth’s key poems concerning childhood include:

  • “The Two-Part Prelude” (1799)
  • “Nutting” (1798)
  • “My heart leaps up when I behold” (1802)

N.B many other of his poems can be used to explore the theme of childhood for example “Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” (1798) or “To the Cuckoo” (1815) or “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (1804).

His poetry discusses 3 central ideas about childhood;

1. Wordsworth portrays children as having an inherent connection with nature and able to experience joy and awe upon immersion.

  • The notion proposed by father of Romanticism Jean-Jacques Rousseau that ‘childhood had its own way of seeing, thinking and feeling’ and should not be ‘substituted’ is encapsulated in the work of Wordsworth. 
  • The lyric poem “To the Cuckoo” (1815) details the experience of awe and wonder felt by a young boy upon hearing a bird in the woods. 
  • Employing alternating lines of tetrameter and trimeter a melodic effect is created, contributing to an exclamatory and exultant tone echoing the boy’s encounter with nature. 
  • The use of auditory imagery in the statement ‘that Cry/Which made me look a thousand ways’ emphasises that wonder and happiness evoked by nature can be long-lasting and intense alluding to the strong connection between children and the landscape. 
  • Additionally, capitalisation throughout the poem such as ‘wandering Voice’ and ‘blessed Bird’ bestows an ethereal quality to the cuckoo’s song similar to Wordsworth’s conception of childhood, further epitomising the boy’s fascination and excitement.

2. Further his poetry demonstrates that through childhood experiences in the natural world, lessons of virtue and knowledge acquired from reflection can be attained. 

  • The Romantics expressed great admiration for the natural world- the extent of which is shown through their pantheistic view of nature as a god-like figure evoking goodness and insight in individuals.
  • In the long-verse poem “Nutting” (1798) the ability of nature to teach children virtue is shown through the story of a young boy on a quest to gather nuts. 
  • The lack of stanza breaks, the longer line length without the relief of euphonic rhyming contributes to an increasingly brooding and airless atmosphere supported by the journey of the young boy into the interior and hidden space of the virginal, untouched bower. 
  • As a result of the boy’s ‘merciless ravage’ leading to the ‘mutilated bower’ he is alerted to the errors of his ways by nature through the synaesthetic imagery of the boy experiencing a ‘sense of pain’ because of the ‘silent trees’ and ‘intruding sky’. 
  • This indicates the extent of nature’s power and its all-encompassing essence as the boy learns to ‘move along these shades/In gentleness of heart’.

Although I have only mentioned 1 poem per idea it is often helpful to use 2 poems per paragraph and distinguish between them using a point of difference!

3. Yet, on a deeper level childhood is portrayed as a foundational time whereby one’s identity and actualisation of self is formed, and hence facilitating the growth of the mind of the poet.

Formula for writing analytical paragraphs:

  1. Topic sentence on main argument for the body paragraph.
  2. Context sentence in order to fulfil the criteria about the views and values of the text.
  3. Introduce the poem using the date and providing a quick one line summary about the content of the poem- e.g in the long-verse poem “Nutting” (1798) the ability of nature to teach children virtue is shown through the story of a young boy on a quest to gather nuts. 
  4. To ensure a thorough analysis of the poem it is helpful to comment on the effect of the rhyme scheme or the form.
  5. Analyse the effect of poetic techniques such as metaphors and similes and personification. 

↓ See below;

Sample paragraph:

Yet, Wordsworth outlines childhood experiences as significant and contributing to one’s mental development in regards to identity. Wordsworth expresses wonderment for children as he believed that moments in childhood were ‘not only the foundation of his sensibility but the due to his fulfilled identity’ as stated by editor Heaney. The epic, autobiographical poem “The Two-Part Prelude” (1799) discusses the impact of ‘spots of time’ in childhood as greatly impacting one’s selfhood. Wordsworth’s use of the epic poem form typically used to discuss heroic feats reflects the power and significance of childhood as it is shown to be the hero- a beneficial and guiding force for Wordsworth. The poem opens with repeated questions ‘Was it for this …?’ which establishes the purpose of the poem to explain the forces and experiences which shaped the poet. Using specificity of time and place Wordsworth celebrates and attributes the nature surrounding the Lake District including ‘Beloved Derwent, fairest of all streams’ with providing him with ‘a knowledge, a dim earnest of the calm. Additionally, the recurring image of the river as a vital source of meaning for the frolicking ‘naked boy… A naked savage’ establishes the inextricable link between the poet’s mind and the Natural world, further emphasising the criticality and benefits of youthful adventures. On the contrary the epigraph “My heart leaps up when I behold” (1802) demonstrates the importance of universal acts of nature rather than a personalised location.The rhyme and rhythms of the poem are somewhat irregular with full rhyme of line 1 and 5 ‘behold/old’ ’ which gives a simple authenticity to the expression of feeling and sentiments. It’s title, reiterated in the first line, encapsulates Wordsworth’s notion of the spontaneous and physical response to witnessing the beauty of the rainbow through the joyful, elevated exclamation ‘My heart leaps up when I behold’. Furthermore, the poem explains that experiences and characteristics of an individual in childhood will largely contribute to one’s adult self as shown through the paradoxical proclamation that ‘the child is the Father of the Man’ which rejects the preconceived notions that age is an indicator of wisdom. Hence, Wordsworth conveys that whether it be a comprehensive or localised experience childhood events within nature will be vital in determining an individual’s actualisation of self.

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