Friday, April 02, 2010

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free by William Wordsworth

Yesterday's poem, Among School Children by William Butler Yeats, immediately brought to mind two famous poems about swans - "Leda and the Swan" and "The Wild Swans at Coole", both of which are by William Butler Yeats (I am nothing if not a Yeats fan). Rather than selecting two poems in a row by Yeats, I opted to go another way, and one of the images that spoke to me is the opening reference to a "kind old nun in a white hood." It brought to mind the phrase "quiet as a Nun", a line from a poem by one of my favorite poets (Spoiler: I have many favorites), William Wordsworth. Turns out I've posted about this poem before (back in 2007) - since it's been so long, I figured I'd go ahead and repost it.

It Is a Beauteous Evening
by William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder -- everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

This poem is a form of sonnet: it has fourteen lines, and the end rhyme and iambic pentameter give it away. But it's not a traditional sonnet; it starts out looking like an Italian/Petrarchan sonnet, which is generally rhymed ABBAABBA/CDECDE or CDCDCD or CDEEDC. But in the second half of the first octave (first eight lines), he skews the traditional rhyme scheme. Instead of ABBAABBA, he goes with ABBAACCA. In the closing sestet, he departs from any of the traditional rhyme schemes for the ending (DEFDEF, DFDFEE, DFDFDF,DFEEFD) and goes DEFDFE. Still within the sonnet tradition, but a bit of a nonce form sonnet (a nonce form poem is one created by a poet for a particular poem).

It makes the rhyme scheme less obvious, of course, when you move it around semi-unpredictably like that. Now, maybe Wordsworth moved the rhyme around because he couldn't say what he wanted otherwise, or maybe he made a conscious choice to half-bury the rhyme.

For those of you interested in back story, this is a good poem. The poem was written shortly after Wordsworth decided to visit his former mistress, a French woman, with whom he had a 10-year old daughter. Wordsworth had been separated from his French Republican mistress by the war between Republican France and England. Wordsworth had returned to England in 1793, and was unable to travel to France for nearly a decade. In 1802, during the temporary peace between the two countries, he travelled to France, where he again saw Annette. It is believed that this poem was about time spent walking with his daughter, Caroline, at sunset along the beach.

Wordsworth is praising the child's closeness to God, which he views as innate - she is not lost in "solemn thought" as he is, but he believed that children came to earth "trailing clouds of glory" (see his Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood, and were in a nearer state of grace than adults. This comports with his view that a closeness to nature was akin to religion in some respects as well.

Whither tomorrow? Who can say? In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a beauteous evening tonight.

Later today, a review of a new children's poetry collection.

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