'A Poet's Epitaph' by William Wordsworth

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Art thou a Statist in the van
Of public conflicts trained and bred?
--First learn to love one living man;
'Then' may'st thou think upon the dead.

A Lawyer art thou?--draw not nigh!
Go, carry to some fitter place
The keenness of that practised eye,
The hardness of that sallow face.

Art thou a Man of purple cheer?
A rosy Man, right plump to see?
Approach; yet, Doctor, not too near,
This grave no cushion is for thee.

Or art thou one of gallant pride,
A Soldier and no man of chaff?
Welcome!--but lay thy sword aside,
And lean upon a peasant's staff.

Physician art thou? one, all eyes,
Philosopher! a fingering slave,
One that would peep and botanise
Upon his mother's grave?

Wrapt closely in thy sensual fleece,
O turn aside,--and take, I pray,
That he below may rest in peace,
Thy ever-dwindling soul, away!

A Moralist perchance appears;
Led, Heaven knows how! to this poor sod:
And he has neither eyes nor ears;
Himself his world, and his own God;

One to whose smooth-rubbed soul can cling
Nor form, nor feeling, great or small;
A reasoning, self-sufficing thing,
An intellectual All-in-all!

Shut close the door; press down the latch;
Sleep in thy intellectual crust;
Nor lose ten tickings of thy watch
Near this unprofitable dust.

But who is He, with modest looks,
And clad in homely russet brown?
He murmurs near the running brooks
A music sweeter than their own.

He is retired as noontide dew,
Or fountain in a noon-day grove;
And you must love him, ere to you
He will seem worthy of your love.

The outward shows of sky and earth,
Of hill and valley, he has viewed;
And impulses of deeper birth
Have come to him in solitude.

In common things that round us lie
Some random truths he can impart,--
The harvest of a quiet eye
That broods and sleeps on his own heart.

But he is weak; both Man and Boy,
Hath been an idler in the land;
Contented if he might enjoy
The things which others understand.

--Come hither in thy hour of strength;
Come, weak as is a breaking wave!
Here stretch thy body at full length;
Or build thy house upon this grave.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Poet's Epitaph: A Masterpiece by William Wordsworth

In the world of poetry, William Wordsworth is a name that needs no introduction. His contribution to the field of poetry is immense, and his works continue to inspire generations of poets even today. One such masterpiece of his is "A Poet's Epitaph," which is a tribute to the art of poetry and the life of a poet. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the themes, structure, style, and symbolism of this magnificent poem.

The Theme of Death and Immortality

"A Poet's Epitaph" is essentially a poem about death and immortality. The poem is written from the perspective of a poet who has passed away, and his epitaph serves as a reminder of his existence and his contributions to the world of poetry. The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem by emphasizing the inevitability of death:

Art thou a Statist in the van Of public conflicts trained and bred? --First learn to love one living man; Then may'st thou think upon the dead.

The poet is asking the reader to first learn to appreciate the value of human life before thinking about the dead. The second stanza emphasizes the immortality of the poet's work:

A simple child That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death?

The child here symbolizes the innocence and purity of the poet's work. The poet's work is immortal because it transcends the limitations of time and space. The third stanza emphasizes the idea that the poet's work is his legacy:

Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Here, the poet is saying that his work is a product of the human heart, and it is the human heart that will keep it alive. The fourth and final stanza emphasizes the idea that the poet's work is a part of the natural world:

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where'er I go, That there hath passed away a glory from the earth.

The poet is saying that just like the natural world, his work is beautiful and fair. But unlike the natural world, his work is not subject to the ravages of time and decay. It is immortal and will continue to inspire generations to come.

The Structure and Style of the Poem

"A Poet's Epitaph" is a four-stanza poem, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The poem has a simple and straightforward structure, which is characteristic of Wordsworth's poetry. The style of the poem is also simple and understated, which allows the themes and ideas to come through without any distractions. The language used in the poem is also simple and accessible, which makes it easy for readers of all ages and backgrounds to understand and appreciate.

The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which means that each line has four iambs. An iamb is a metrical foot consisting of two syllables, with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed. The iambic tetrameter gives the poem a rhythmic quality, which makes it easy to read and remember. The poem also has a regular rhyme scheme, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth lines rhyming with each other. The regular rhyme scheme gives the poem a musical quality, which enhances its appeal.

The Symbolism of the Poem

The poem makes use of several symbols to convey its themes and ideas. One of the most prominent symbols in the poem is the "simple child" in the second stanza. The child here represents the purity and innocence of the poet's work, which is devoid of any worldly concerns or ambitions. The child also represents the idea that the poet's work is timeless and eternal, like the innocence of a child.

Another prominent symbol in the poem is the "meanest flower" in the third stanza. The flower here represents the beauty and transcendence of the poet's work, which can be found even in the simplest and most humble of things. The flower also represents the idea that the poet's work is a part of the natural world, and is therefore connected to the larger universe.

The rainbow, the rose, the moon, and the stars in the fourth stanza also serve as symbols of the beauty and majesty of the natural world. They represent the idea that the poet's work is a reflection of the larger universe, and that it is a part of the larger web of life.


In conclusion, "A Poet's Epitaph" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of death and immortality, the symbolism of the natural world, and the purity and innocence of the poet's work. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry and the enduring legacy of the poet's work. It is a poem that will continue to inspire generations to come, and it is a fitting tribute to the life and work of William Wordsworth.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium of expression for human emotions, thoughts, and experiences. It is a form of art that has the power to transcend time and space, and connect people across generations. William Wordsworth, one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era, understood the significance of poetry and its impact on human life. In his poem, "A Poet's Epitaph," Wordsworth reflects on the life of a poet and the legacy they leave behind.

The poem begins with the line, "Art thou a Statist in the van/ Of public conflicts trained and bred?" Here, Wordsworth is questioning the reader if they are a politician or a soldier who has been trained to fight in public conflicts. He then goes on to say, "First learn to love one living man/ Then may'st thou think upon the dead." Wordsworth is emphasizing the importance of love and compassion for one's fellow human beings. He believes that before one can think about the dead, they must first learn to love and care for the living.

The next stanza reads, "A Lawyer art thou? draw not nigh!/ Go, carry to some fitter place/ The keenness of that practised eye,/ The hardness of that sallow face." Here, Wordsworth is addressing lawyers and warning them not to come near the poet's grave. He believes that lawyers, with their sharp eyes and hard faces, are not fit to be near the resting place of a poet. Wordsworth is suggesting that lawyers are too focused on the material world and do not have the sensitivity and empathy required to appreciate the beauty of poetry.

In the third stanza, Wordsworth addresses the rich and powerful, saying, "Art thou a man of purple cheer?/ A rosy man, right plump to see?/ Approach; yet, Doctor, not too near,/ This grave...for thee." Wordsworth is acknowledging that the rich and powerful have a certain charm and charisma, but he warns doctors not to come too close to the poet's grave. He believes that doctors, with their scientific and rational minds, may not be able to appreciate the emotional and spiritual depth of poetry.

In the fourth stanza, Wordsworth addresses the common people, saying, "Art thou a mourner? Rouse thee now,/ Away with thy sullen bow!/ Press forward, in the spirit of love,/ And snatch from his hand the palm and the dove." Here, Wordsworth is encouraging mourners to come forward and pay their respects to the poet. He believes that the common people, with their simple and honest hearts, are the ones who can truly appreciate the beauty of poetry. Wordsworth is suggesting that poetry is not just for the elite and educated, but for everyone who has a heart and a soul.

In the final stanza, Wordsworth reflects on the legacy of the poet, saying, "If ye grieve for him, ye know/ Where to look, and what to trust;/ Honour claims the poet's dust." Wordsworth is suggesting that the legacy of a poet is not in their material possessions or their social status, but in the impact they have on people's hearts and minds. He believes that the poet's dust, their physical remains, should be honored and respected because it represents the legacy of their poetry.

Overall, "A Poet's Epitaph" is a powerful reflection on the life of a poet and the legacy they leave behind. Wordsworth is suggesting that poetry is not just a form of entertainment or intellectual pursuit, but a way of connecting with the human experience. He believes that poetry has the power to inspire love, compassion, and empathy in people's hearts, and that it is the legacy of the poet that truly matters. Wordsworth's poem is a reminder that poetry is not just a form of art, but a way of life.

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