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
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
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
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,
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
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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