A close analysis of ‘Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening’

In Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth is keen to establish a general sense of connectivity between the poems contained within the compilation. Indeed, by its very nature, the various pieces collected together conjure up greater levels of meaning when taken as a whole, compared and contrasted with each-other. Similarities can be picked out, as well as differences, common themes throwing up links between two distinct works. By performing a close analysis of the poems, picking up on linguistic techniques and the effect these achieve we can gain a better understanding of Wordsworth’s intentions.

Looking at Wordsworth’s poem Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening at its most fundamental level, it is defined by a highly precise structure. Each line is comprised of 8 syllables and the rhyme scheme follows a strict A, B, A, B pattern. This conveys a sense of order and regularity that fits in with Wordsworth’s descriptions of the river as something rich and beautiful. This presents an interesting contrast with Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbery – here there is no rhyme scheme and the poem is far longer than …near Richmond, giving the sense of something far more rough and untamed. Indeed, Wordworth’s descriptions are full of evocative language that backs this up; a ‘wild secluded scene’ and ‘unripe fruit’. Here, there is that touch of the unpredictable and the chaotic.

This plays into a broader theme that under the initial, tranquil appearance of nature, there is a darker side. …near Richmond is full of this undercurrent, Wordsworth filling the poem with description of the ‘silent’, ‘dark’ and ‘gloom’. There is a sense of foreboding that also finds itself permeating into …Tintern Abbey too, with talk of ‘seclusion’. The image of nature given here is of something that you could at any moment find yourself lost within, completely consumed. The depiction of ‘wreathes of smoke’ progresses the dark imagery even further, touching on the theme of death. Here, we think of wreathes of flowers laid at a funeral, nature taking on its most dark overtones. The idea of smoke is significant too, it is something that masks and blinds, just as the dark side is hidden behind a more benevolent facade. Thus, the river, described in both poems as being ‘fair’, is also a thing that holds the potential for darkness, that it possesses a sinister side too. It is this juxtaposition that lies at the heart of both pieces.

The idea of nature being multi-faceted ties into numerous descriptive devices in both poems that personify nature. In …near Richmond, the narrator exclaims ‘O Thames! …come to me.’ By talking directly to the river, the narrator sets up a bond that goes beyond a person simply admiring a thing of beauty, it becomes something alive, capable of heeding the narrator’s call. In …Tintern Abbey the narrator personifies the river, describing it as ‘the nurse, the guide’, even going so far as to call it ‘My dear, dear Friend’. The fact ‘Friend’ is capitalised shows the extent to which Wordsworth places importance on it as something beyond being merely a river. Instead it becomes something living, something that shares an intense bond with him. The fact this theme transcends over both poems outlines how Wordsworth’s beliefs in nature find themselves invested in so much of his work. The scale of the theme, like Wordworth’s emotional connection with the river, is considerable.

This theme of a bond can be explored further by looking at the way the river and nature exist alongside humanity. In …near Richmond, the narrator claims ‘in thy waters may be seen / The image of a poet’s heart’. Here, the river is presented as a mirror for the poet himself – this plays into the idea of nature having both a bright and dark side too – human nature has the tendency to display both a good and bad side as well. The symbiosis displayed here outline how in Wordsworth’s eyes, nature and man co-exist as one. This theme is expanded in …Tintern Abbey where so much of the description depicts a world where the two live together in harmony. Farms are ‘green to the very door’, smoke is sent up ‘in silence’ and vagrants live in ‘houseless woods’. All portray a place where the presence of man is utterly unobtrusive to nature.

Wordsworth explores this harmony through the use of the senses. It is, after all, through the senses that nature, in all its wonder, is experienced. He speaks of ‘eye and ear’ and ‘the beatings of my heart’, thus encompassing the means by which he partakes of nature, through vision and hearing, and how these senses prompt such excitement in him, invigorating his very heart and lifeblood. In particular, the sense of hearing is picked out in lines such as ‘the only sound the dripping of the oar’. This can be explored further in …near Richmond where the narrator’s feelings for nature are so profound, he uses an exclamation mark thirteen times over the course of the poem, showing the extent to which his emotions are aroused by what he experiences.

The way the human senses and body are explored this way links in to the common idea of ‘Mother Nature’, again, an image of nature personified – just as in the description of nature in the two poems. The narrator’s description of the river as ‘fair’ again presents the image of a woman, her beauty prompting these feelings in him. Through all this, the bond between writer and subject is strengthened and thus made all the more tangible for the reader. The narrator even describes himself as ‘A worshipper of Nature’. It is this level of appraisal for something that if taken in the most base sense is just soil, foliage and water, that highlights the intentions of Wordsworth’s poetry. The fact ‘Nature’ is capitalised again presents it as an individual being, something named, rather than just a faceless entity.

In the river itself, we also find another piece of symbolism. In …near Richmond, words like ‘glide’ and ‘flow’ conjure up a constant sense of movement, change and progression. As the river flows ever onwards, so does time. This theme is continued in …Tintern Abbey where Wordsworth states ‘That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no more’ – we see a remembrance of days long past, of distant emotions that while now gone, still hold a place within the poet’s mind. This shows not only another aspect of the bond between man and river, but also how it can conjure up memories of the past; acting as a gateway to another time.

The importance of this theme is stressed by the fact it forms the focus of the first two lines of …Tintern Abbey. ‘Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters!’  states the narrator and with the repetition of ‘five’, we feel just how long those years have been for the narrator. Its effect is profound and expands the scale of the poem far beyond its initial means. This is more than just a description of a single situation; it carries with it all the associations that are dredged up from the narrator’s memories. But the concept of time is not just associated with the past, in …near Richmond Wordworth also talks of the future, and what it holds. The line ‘their colours shall endure / ‘Till peace go with him to the tomb’ alludes to the eternal power of nature – while human life comes and goes, nature carries forever on. The line looks forward to how in time, death comes to us, harking back to the ‘wreathes of smoke’ line in …Tintern Abbey. By covering death in his poems, Wordsworth encompasses all angles of life, from the most, joyous, to the bleakest.

On the face of things, …near Richmond is a very simple poem, a clean cut description of a river and the emotions it prompts in the writer. But looking deeper into it, as the writer looks deeper into the nature of the river itself, we see it is in truth, so much more. Through this close analysis and through comparison with the way a different river is described in …Tintern Abbey we can then gain a greater understanding of the writer’s intentions. The two poems share so much in common, from the themes of time, life, death, and all the senses that affirm us as who we are. Through this all the aspects of the river and nature as a whole are explored, the two poems juxtaposing their capacity for both dark and light and how this juxtaposition can also manifest itself in the human psyche itself. …near Richmond encapsulates a specific time and way of thinking, and in its reading, and by association, other poems from Lyrical Ballads, that way of thinking is shared with us, the reader, too.

 

Bibliography

Davies, Hunter, William Wordsworth, Frances Lincoln: 2009

Keegan, Bridget, James McKusick, Literature and Nature: Four Centuries of Nature Writing, Longman: 2001

Wordsworth, William, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, Routledge: 2005

Wu, Duncan, A Companion to Romanticism, WileyBlackwell: 1999

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