'Elegiac Stanzas' by William Wordsworth

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Lulled by the sound of pastoral bells,
Rude Nature's Pilgrims did we go,
From the dread summit of the Queen
Of mountains, through a deep ravine,
Where, in her holy chapel, dwells
"Our Lady of the Snow."

The sky was blue, the air was mild;
Free were the streams and green the bowers;
As if, to rough assaults unknown,
The genial spot had 'ever' shown
A countenance that as sweetly smiled--
The face of summer-hours.

And we were gay, our hearts at ease;
With pleasure dancing through the frame
We journeyed; all we knew of care--
Our path that straggled here and there;
Of trouble--but the fluttering breeze;
Of Winter--but a name.

If foresight could have rent the veil
Of three short days--but hush--no more!
Calm is the grave, and calmer none
Than that to which thy cares are gone,
Thou Victim of the stormy gale;
Asleep on ZURICH'S shore!

O GODDARD! what art thou?--a name--
A sunbeam followed by a shade!
Nor more, for aught that time supplies,
The great, the experienced, and the wise:
Too much from this frail earth we claim,
And therefore are betrayed.

We met, while festive mirth ran wild,
Where, from a deep lake's mighty urn,
Forth slips, like an enfranchised slave,
A sea-green river, proud to lave,
With current swift and undefiled,
The towers of old LUCERNE.

We parted upon solemn ground
Far-lifted towards the unfading sky;
But all our thoughts were 'then' of Earth,
That gives to common pleasures birth;
And nothing in our hearts we found
That prompted even a sigh.

Fetch, sympathising Powers of air,
Fetch, ye that post o'er seas and lands,
Herbs, moistened by Virginian dew,
A most untimely grave to strew,
Whose turf may never know the care
Of 'kindred' human hands!

Beloved by every gentle Muse
He left his Transatlantic home:
Europe, a realised romance,
Had opened on his eager glance;
What present bliss!--what golden views!
What stores for years to come!

Though lodged within no vigorous frame,
His soul her daily tasks renewed,
Blithe as the lark on sun-gilt wings
High poised--or as the wren that sings
In shady places, to proclaim
Her modest gratitude.

Not vain is sadly-uttered praise;
The words of truth's memorial vow
Are sweet as morning fragrance shed
From flowers 'mid GOLDAU'S ruins bred;
As evening's fondly-lingering rays,
On RIGHI'S silent brow.

Lamented Youth! to thy cold clay
Fit obsequies the Stranger paid;
And piety shall guard the Stone
Which hath not left the spot unknown
Where the wild waves resigned their prey--
And 'that' which marks thy bed.

And, when thy Mother weeps for Thee,
Lost Youth! a solitary Mother;
This tribute from a casual Friend
A not unwelcome aid may lend,
To feed the tender luxury,
The rising pang to smother.

Editor 1 Interpretation


William Wordsworth is one of the most celebrated poets of the Romantic era, known for his profound connection with nature and the human experience. Among his many works is "Elegiac Stanzas," a moving poem that captures the beauty and power of nature, while also exploring the theme of loss and grief.

In this literary criticism, we will analyze and interpret "Elegiac Stanzas" in detail, exploring its themes, structure, style, and symbolism. We will also examine the historical and cultural context in which the poem was written, and its significance in the larger canon of English literature.

So, let's dive in!

Historical and Cultural Context

"Elegiac Stanzas" was written by William Wordsworth in 1805, during the Romantic era in English literature. This was a time of great social, political, and cultural change, as the Industrial Revolution transformed the country and challenged traditional ways of life.

The Romantic poets, including Wordsworth, responded to these changes by celebrating nature, imagination, and emotional expression. They rejected the rigid formalism of classical literature and instead favored a more personal and subjective approach to writing.

In "Elegiac Stanzas," Wordsworth shows his Romantic sensibilities by using natural imagery and emotive language to explore the theme of loss and grief. The poem was written in memory of his brother John, who died in 1805.


"Elegiac Stanzas" explores several themes, including:


Nature is a central theme in "Elegiac Stanzas," as Wordsworth uses natural imagery to express his emotions and explore the human experience. The poem opens with a description of the "leafless" trees and "frosty" landscape, setting the tone for the mournful mood of the poem.

Wordsworth's language is rich with natural metaphor, as he compares his grief to a "deep distress" that is "like a stone" weighing on his heart. He also uses the natural cycle of the seasons to suggest that his grief will eventually pass, as the "spring" will return and bring new life.

Loss and Grief

The poem is a lament for the loss of Wordsworth's brother, John, and explores the emotions of grief and sorrow. Wordsworth expresses his feelings of loss through vivid images, such as the "silent waters" of the river and the "mute grief" of the animals in the forest.

He also suggests that grief is a natural and universal experience, as he writes, "All that breathe / Will share thy destiny." This idea is further developed in the final stanza, where Wordsworth reflects on his own mortality and the inevitability of death.

Memory and Immortality

Wordsworth also explores the theme of memory and immortality in "Elegiac Stanzas." He suggests that memories of loved ones can live on after their death, and that this can bring comfort to those who are grieving.

He writes, "Yet, in my heart of hearts I feel your might; / I only have relinquished one delight / To live beneath your more habitual sway." Here, Wordsworth suggests that although John is gone, his memory still exerts a powerful influence on his life.

He also suggests that the natural world can provide a form of immortality, as the "everlasting universe of things" will continue to exist long after he is gone.

Structure and Style

"Elegiac Stanzas" is a poem in six stanzas, each consisting of eleven lines. The poem has a consistent ABABCDCDEFE rhyme scheme, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming with each other, and the final line of each stanza rhyming with the fifth line of the following stanza.

The poem is written in iambic pentameter, with each line consisting of five iambs, or ten syllables. This gives the poem a regular, musical quality that is typical of Wordsworth's lyric poetry.

Wordsworth's language is simple and natural, with a focus on clear and vivid imagery. He uses metaphor and simile to create powerful and emotive images, such as the "deep distress" that is "like a stone," and the "silent waters" of the river.

The poem is also characterized by a use of repetition and parallelism, as Wordsworth repeats certain phrases and structures throughout the poem. For example, the phrase "Silent, bare" is repeated in the first two lines of the poem, and the phrase "Yet, in my heart of hearts" is repeated in the final stanza.


"Elegiac Stanzas" is rich with symbolism, as Wordsworth uses natural imagery to suggest deeper meanings and emotions.

The river, for example, is a powerful symbol of the passage of time and the inevitability of change. Wordsworth describes the river as "silent" and "deep," suggesting its vastness and power. He also suggests that the river is a symbol of continuity, as it "rolls on in joyless courses" even after John's death.

The trees and landscape are also symbolic, representing the natural cycle of life and death. Wordsworth describes the "leafless trees" and "frosty lawn" as a symbol of the barrenness and emptiness of grief, but also suggests that new life will eventually emerge from this barrenness, as the "spring returns."


Overall, "Elegiac Stanzas" is a powerful poem that captures the complex emotions of grief and loss, while also celebrating the beauty and power of nature. Wordsworth's use of natural imagery and emotive language creates a vivid and moving portrait of the human experience, and his exploration of themes such as memory and immortality gives the poem a timeless quality.

At its core, "Elegiac Stanzas" is a poem about the enduring power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. It suggests that even in the face of loss and grief, we can find comfort in the natural world and in the memories of those we have loved and lost.

As we reflect on the significance of this poem in the larger canon of English literature, it is clear that Wordsworth's Romantic sensibilities and his focus on the personal and subjective have had a lasting impact on poetry and literature as a whole. "Elegiac Stanzas" stands as a testament to his legacy as one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era, and continues to inspire and move readers to this day.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

William Wordsworth is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and his works have been studied and analyzed by scholars and enthusiasts alike for centuries. Among his many masterpieces, the Elegiac Stanzas stand out as a particularly poignant and moving piece of poetry. In this analysis, we will take a closer look at this classic work, exploring its themes, structure, and language to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and significance.

The Elegiac Stanzas were written by Wordsworth in memory of his friend and fellow poet, Charles Gough. The poem is structured as a series of stanzas, each consisting of four lines of iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, with the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyming. This simple and elegant structure gives the poem a sense of order and symmetry, which is fitting for a work that is meant to commemorate a life that has passed.

The poem begins with a description of the natural world, which is a common theme in Wordsworth's poetry. He writes of the "soft green moss" and the "gentle rivulet" that flow through the landscape, creating a peaceful and idyllic scene. This emphasis on nature is significant because it reflects Wordsworth's belief that the natural world is a source of comfort and solace in times of grief and loss.

As the poem progresses, Wordsworth turns his attention to his friend, Charles Gough. He describes Gough as a man of "gentle heart" and "noble mind," who was beloved by all who knew him. Wordsworth's admiration for his friend is evident in his words, and he clearly feels a deep sense of loss at Gough's passing.

One of the most striking aspects of the Elegiac Stanzas is the way in which Wordsworth uses language to convey his emotions. He employs a range of poetic devices, such as alliteration, metaphor, and personification, to create a vivid and evocative picture of his feelings. For example, he writes of the "tearful showers" that fall from the sky, personifying the rain as a symbol of his grief. He also uses metaphor to describe the "silent tomb" where Gough now rests, comparing it to a "sacred fane" or temple.

Throughout the poem, Wordsworth grapples with the idea of mortality and the inevitability of death. He writes of the "dark abyss" that separates the living from the dead, and of the "dreadful hour" when all must face their own mortality. However, he also suggests that death is not the end, but rather a transition to a new state of being. He writes of the "bright regions" beyond the grave, where the soul may find peace and rest.

In many ways, the Elegiac Stanzas can be seen as a meditation on the nature of friendship and the bonds that connect us to one another. Wordsworth writes of the "sacred ties" that bind us to those we love, and of the deep sense of loss that comes when those ties are broken. However, he also suggests that these ties are not easily broken, and that even in death, our loved ones remain with us in spirit.

In conclusion, the Elegiac Stanzas are a beautiful and moving tribute to a dear friend, and a powerful meditation on the nature of grief, loss, and mortality. Through his use of language and imagery, Wordsworth creates a vivid and evocative picture of his emotions, and invites us to share in his sorrow and his hope. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of friendship, and a reminder that even in the face of death, love and connection can endure.

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