Nature Poems of William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth’s fondness toward nature is very clearly expressed in his poetry. Two of Wordsworth’s poems, Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned, as a pair represent a defense of his appreciation of nature from two different perspectives, while the third I wandered lonely as a cloud largely serves as a vignette of a pastoral scene and an examination of that experience’s impact on the life of the narrator.

In Expostulation and Reply, William Wordsworth himself, as the narrator of this poem, retells an exchange with his friend Matthew that took place as William watched the lake Esthwaite one morning.

In this exchange, Matthew berates William for his perceived indolence and complacency with sitting around unproductively, as the world, and life itself, moves on without him.

More than merely chiding William for wasting time, Matthew is incensed and alarmed by his friend’s wasting of valuable time, accusing him in the first three stanzas of having dreamt his time away, and gazing at the scenery “As if she [Mother Earth] for no purpose bore you; as if you were her first-born birth, and none had lived before you” (Expostulation, 10-12), and several lines earlier, at the start of the second stanza, asking him, “Where are your Books?—that light bequeathed to Beings else forlorn and blind!” (Expostulation, 5-6).

In the opening three stanzas, Matthew demonstrates how dependent on books and scholastic pursuits his worldview is. He sees the knowledge contained in books as the only light that separates human beings from ignorance, and he perceives William’s quiet observation of the lake as totally without purpose or constructive end.

The remainder of the poem, William recalls his response to Matthew’s urgent plea for William to stop wasting time and return to studying, in which he argues that he is bound by his nature to pause to appreciate the lake, as his senses cannot be shut off to the fact that the lake, in its sights and sounds, is pleasant.

William insists that there is knowledge to be gained merely in the experience of appreciating nature, and that it can nourish wisdom just as much as, if not more than, a book, and that with it “we can feed this mind of ours In a wise passiveness.” in the penultimate stanza. I stole this paper from

In Expostulation, Wordsworth highlights the value of nature as something to be experienced, and places the act of experiencing nature is just as important, or even greater than, book learning and studying.   

The Tables Turned is a direct companion piece to Expostulation, though it also stands alone as a distinct and separate work. As the title suggests, Tables inverts the scenario explored in Expostulation, and features a narrator who we can trust is William, imploring his frie#2026E0nd to forsake his studies and wander into the wilderness with him.

Urging Matthew to “quit” his deskwork and bemoaning his bookish habits as “toil and trouble”, he offers him “the sun above the mountain’s head, a freshening lusture mellow” in the second stanza, and again urges him to put down his books and listen to the birds in the trees, and how “There’s more of wisdom in it.” (Tables, 12) than his books can offer, and that to come outside is to “Come forth into the light of things,” and to “Let Nature be your [his] teacher.” (Tables, 15-16)

William, with greater passion and eloquence than Matthew displayed in begging William to study in Expostulation, characterizes all the sights and sounds and sensation of nature as a university of the heart, providing what books cannot: the experience of the living, breathing, dynamic world.

In I wandered lonely as a cloud, Wordsworth shares, as a memory, an experience of seeing a field of daffodils he encountered while on a walk. Half of the poem, the middle two stanzas, is a vivid retelling of the scene, describing their movement in the breeze, and the emotions Wordsworth’s imagination assigned to the flowers as they flourished by the bay.

But in the last stanza, the reader is reminded that the narrator is not telling this story of the daffodils from the flower patch itself, but far from it, both in location and in time, from his own couch, which the narrator states is where he often relives the experience, as he states at line 19, “when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood”. He relives the scene as vividly as it was told to us in the preceding stanzas. Oh god I'm so fucking stupid.

With the lucid imagery of the first three stanzas, had the third stanza ended with a period rather than a colon which leads into the separate thought of the final stanza, would likely have been embraced as a complete work with the final stanza completely removed.

Framing the experience of the encounter with the daffodils as a memory, which he relives with intense sensation and with vivid fidelity does two things. First, it serves to frame that moment as a moment he remembered, and second it reflects the fact that he wrote the poem with the help of the highly descriptive journal entry penned by Dorothy Wordsworth about that day.

This proposes to the reader the idea that the knowledge imparted by nature serves to let us live in the moments that impress themselves upon us. Those memories remain there for us to draw upon whenever needed, unlike book knowledge as clung to by Matthew in Expostulation and Reply, and in The Tables Turned. The experiences preserved in memories live not within the dry leaves of a book, but within the lush, living leaves of the trees in the forest, and within the heart and soul.

While it is true that I wandered lonely as a cloud is a poem committed to paper, the living experience imparted in it lives in the mind, and is meant to spur the reader to leave the book behind, go out into the world, and receive their own lesson from Nature.

William Wordsworth’s poems come just short of explicitly begging the reader to cease reading, and for the readers themselves to take part in what Wordsworth has connected to.

The reflecting and contrasting conversations in the partner poems Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned, and the experience recalled in I wandered lonely as a cloud, are three examples by which Wordsworth invites the reader to follow Wordsworth’s path, in which Nature is the ultimate teacher, and not a book.


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