GCSE English coursework Assignment
Pre 20th Century Poetry
Discuss the way in which Wordsworth and Heaney present nature and rural life in their poetry.
Born 1770, in Cockermouth, William Wordsworth spent his early life and many of his formative years attending a boys’ school in Hawkshead, a village in the Lake District. As can be seen in his poetry, the years he spent living in these rural surroundings provided many of the valuable experiences Wordsworth had as he grew up.
At the age of 17, Wordsworth moved south to study at Saint John’s College, University of Cambridge. Later, in 1790, two years after the French Revolution had begun; he took a walking tour through France and Switzerland on vacation. France obviously captivated Wordsworth’s attention, because a year later he made a return visit. This time he met a French woman, named Annette Vallon, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter.
As rivalry and conflict between England and France continued to grow, Wordsworth made the decision to settle in Dorset with his sister, Dorothy. There he met fellow poet and future colleague, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Three years on, Wordsworth and Dorothy moved again, this time to Somerset, which was closer to Coleridge. This resulted in the publication of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ in 1798, which was a joint collection by Coleridge and Wordsworth.
A year later, William and Dorothy returned to their roots and moved to Dove Cottage, Grasmere, where they could both share and revel in their love of nature. Years later, after moving twice more, and getting married, Wordsworth moved to Rydal Mount, where he spent the remainder of his life, until 1850 when he died, aged 80.
Almost all of Wordsworth’s poems share a common factor, which is nature. However, in his work, Wordsworth does not simply just describe nature or the natural environment; instead, he relates it to himself and explores his emotions towards it. Within his poetry, Wordsworth contemplates the relationship between nature and human life. He considers his pantheistic beliefs, while realising that nature has many different facets and possesses the power to have spiritual and emotional impacts on the human form.
Wordsworth achieves this in his poetry by presenting nature in many different ways. This is shown clearly in the poem, “Daffodils” where we can see Wordsworth exploring nature as a source of wonderment; he responds and relates himself to the two underlying themes of memory and imagination, on a spiritual level. Throughout the poem, it is clear that his focus was not to merely describe, in the form of a detailed account, how he saw the daffodils and their surroundings, but to consider the ways in which they affected how he felt that day and looking back when he reflects on that experience. It has a wistful and nostalgic tone, with a strong feeling of sentiment.
The poem begins with a personal feeling of solitariness and despondency with the opening line, “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills.” Wordsworth uses this simile to compare himself to a cloud, which has many implications concerning how Wordsworth was feeling that day. The word, “lonely” suggests that he felt isolated or simply free and detached from, or devoid of, the burdens of the world, while by using “wandered” as a way to describe his progressive movements, it gives the impression that his mood was light and his walking wasn’t purposeful. It implies he wasn’t trying to reach a particular destination or conclusion in his thoughts. Use of the word, “floats” to describe the cloud’s movement also indicates that he was in high spirits and an unencumbered state of mind.
However, as Wordsworth comes across the daffodils, which he describes as,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”
The mood of the poem is almost instantly uplifted, and the verse seems to be full of a sense of excitement and wonder at the beauty Wordsworth has just encountered. This is a very obvious contrast to the despondent mood at the beginning of the poem.
In this initial account of the daffodils, Wordsworth personifies them with words such as “fluttering” and, “dancing” to describe their movements and characteristics. These verbs also convey the impression of a light breeze, which helps the reader to create images of the daffodils, movement in the wind. Wordsworth uses personification a second time to create imagery in the second verse, where he describes the daffodils as, “Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” This use of pathetic fallacy to produce imagery and use of the words, “crowd,” and, “host” to indicate the number of daffodils, gives the impression that Wordsworth saw the daffodils as much more than just flowers. He was very aware of the impact they had on him and the vitality they possessed. Also by choosing to depict the daffodils as being, “golden” and not just merely, “yellow”, Wordsworth is associating them with wealth; He feels his life is richer for experiencing their effect on him and the lasting wealth which his memories bring.
The poem continues with Wordsworth’s further description and portrayal of the daffodils. In the second verse, Wordsworth writes about the daffodils, “Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the milky way,” This image suggests that Wordsworth sees the daffodils as embodying the entire universe. In this comparison to stars, he is giving the impression of illumination, brightness and splendour, but also of infinite distance. In the following line, “They stretched in never-ending line among the margin of a bay.” The word, “never-ending” reinforces this idea of infinite distance. By comparing the daffodils to something off the face of the earth, Wordsworth is implying that they are untouchable and to him, seem to be as special as stars, which many people regard to be a great source of allurement and beauty.
In the third verse, Wordsworth continues to compare the daffodils to other forms of natural beauty and expresses that he finds the daffodils to be more splendid in making these comparisons. He writes, “The waves beside them danced: but they out-did the sparkling waves in glee.” Here Wordsworth personifies both the water in the form of waves and the daffodils to compare them. He uses the word, “danced” to describe the waves’ movements and again uses pathetic fallacy to give the daffodils the feeling of, “glee” as they outshine even the “sparkling” waves.
In the following line, Wordsworth makes clear to his reader that his mood has been uplifted by the daffodils, contrasting with the beginning of the poem, by writing, “A poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company.” He has made the transition from being in a despondent, lonely state of mind to feeling cheerful and light hearted. In Line 18, “but little thought what wealth the show to me had brought.” Wordsworth is reiterating his point to the reader that in a spiritual and emotional way the daffodils have somehow enriched his life, and made him feel wealthier. Looking back, he realises that his experience with the daffodils that day has been more beneficial than he believed it to be at the time.