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Analysis of the Poem 'A Farewell' by William Wordsworth

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth and a Summary of 'A Farewell'

'A Farewell' is a rhyming poem Wordsworth wrote when he and his close sister, Dorothy, had to leave their home, Dove Cottage in the English Lake District, in the spring of 1802.

The main theme is the beauty and inspiration of nature, as the poet experienced it in the cottage garden; of how it nurtures the soul and brings peace and contentment.

Wordsworth would have needed calming a little- he left the cottage to pick up his future wife, Mary Hutchinson, a lifelong family friend. They married in the autumn of the same year and lived at Dove Cottage for six years before moving on to a larger home to accommodate a growing family.

'A Farewell' reflects Wordsworth's own definition of what poetry is:

'the spontaneous overflow of feelings; it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility.'

As one of the leading English romantics of his time, this poem perfectly captures the mood- Wordsworth marries descriptions of the garden with the benevolent qualities of his future wife - the speaker's tone sincere, the message heartfelt. His fiancée being:

--A gentle Maid, whose heart is lowly bred,
Whose pleasures are in wild fields gathered,
With joyousness, and with a thoughtful cheer,
Will come to you; to you herself will wed;
And love the blessed life that we lead here.

So Wordsworth's poem sets the scene for a future ideal: here is the perfect garden, here is the loveliest spot, surrounded by wild and awesome nature, offering protection and love. It's a kind of Eden without pitfalls, a paradise hand-made, awaiting completion with a bride.

'A Farewell'

FAREWELL, thou little Nook of mountain-ground,

Thou rocky corner in the lowest stair
Of that magnificent temple which doth bound
One side of our whole vale with grandeur rare;
Sweet garden-orchard, eminently fair,
The loveliest spot that man hath ever found,
Farewell!--we leave thee to Heaven's peaceful care,
Thee, and the Cottage which thou dost surround.

Our boat is safely anchored by the shore,
And there will safely ride when we are gone;
The flowering shrubs that deck our humble door
Will prosper, though untended and alone:
Fields, goods, and far-off chattels we have none:
These narrow bounds contain our private store
Of things earth makes, and sun doth shine upon;
Here are they in our sight--we have no more.

Sunshine and shower be with you, bud and bell!
For two months now in vain we shall be sought:
We leave you here in solitude to dwell
With these our latest gifts of tender thought;
Thou, like the morning, in thy saffron coat,
Bright gowan, and marsh-marigold, farewell!
Whom from the borders of the Lake we brought,
And placed together near our rocky Well.

We go for One to whom ye will be dear;
And she will prize this Bower, this Indian shed,
Our own contrivance, Building without peer!
--A gentle Maid, whose heart is lowly bred,
Whose pleasures are in wild fields gathered,
With joyousness, and with a thoughtful cheer,
Will come to you; to you herself will wed;
And love the blessed life that we lead here.

Dear Spot! which we have watched with tender heed,
Bringing thee chosen plants and blossoms blown
Among the distant mountains, flower and weed,
Which thou hast taken to thee as thy own,
Making all kindness registered and known;
Thou for our sakes, though Nature's child indeed,
Fair in thyself and beautiful alone,
Hast taken gifts which thou dost little need.

And O most constant, yet most fickle Place,
Thou hast thy wayward moods, as thou dost show
To them who look not daily on thy face;
Who, being loved, in love no bounds dost know,
And say'st, when we forsake thee, 'Let them go!'
Thou easy-hearted Thing, with thy wild race
Of weeds and flowers, till we return be slow,
And travel with the year at a soft pace.

Help us to tell Her tales of years gone by,
And this sweet spring, the best beloved and best;
Joy will be flown in its mortality;
Something must stay to tell us of the rest.
Here, thronged with primroses, the steep rock's breast
Glittered at evening like a starry sky;
And in this bush our sparrow built her nest,
Of which I sang one song that will not die.

O happy Garden! whose seclusion deep
Hath been so friendly to industrious hours;
And to soft slumbers, that did gently steep
Our spirits, carrying with them dreams of flowers,
And wild notes warbled among leafy bowers;
Two burning months let summer overleap,
And, coming back with Her who will be ours,
Into thy bosom we again shall creep.

Stanza By Stanza Analysis

A Farewell is a rhyming poem of 64 lines made up of eight stanzas, eight octets. The rhyme scheme is:


Most of the rhymes are full, for example: ground/bound and shore/door but a few are slant or near rhymes: gone/alone in the second stanza, gathered/wed in the fourth and by/mortality in the seventh.

Full rhyme was the normal convention at the time in a poem such as this so Wordsworth was simply following tradition. Full rhyme binds each line and the double rhyme in each stanza in lines four and five especially reinforces the idea of togetherness.

Stanza 1

That opening word says it all, a repeat of the title. The speaker is saying goodbye to a little nook (a secluded corner or quite enclosed space) that is part of a mountain. Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived, is in the Lake District, a hilly and mountainous part of northwest England.

The archaic word thou was commonly used in the early 19th century - it means you. So the speaker is addressing the garden site directly as if it was a friend. This approach personalises the whole narrative.

The next three lines continue the description of the rocky corner below on one side of their vale (small valley) a mountain, which Wordsworth calls that magnificent temple, giving it a religious feel.

Note the enjambment of lines 2 and 3 which carry the momentum through to the semi-colon.

More idealistic compliments are paid to the is fair, sweet, the loveliest spot....but now the speaker has to leave the garden and cottage, and trusts it to Heaven, again embellishing the sentiments with religion.

Stanza 2

All the things the speaker has - boat, shrubs, cottage - will be left to the elements. he is confident enough that they will be alright when they have gone. They have no other worldly goods, no more property, no more land. All they have is stored in the garden.

Stanza 3

The speaker is going away for two months and wishes the garden well. He dresses it in a coat, personifying it, and especially emphasises the marsh-marigold which they themselves took from the wild to plant in their garden.

Stanza 4

Here is the first mention of why the speaker is leaving. Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy did go to visit Mary Hutchinson, the poet's long-time friend and confidante. They were married in the autumn of 1802 and returned to Dove Cottage to live.

The bower (Indian shed) was actually built by Wordsworth and his sister - they were very proud of it according to the letters and journal entries - and he spent many a long hour writing in it. This very poem could have been composed in the bower.

Everything is addressed to the far we've had the now-archaic thou and thee and in this stanza and others ye and you are used. The speaker is saying that the garden and she (his future wife) will wed - that is, the poet and the garden can be seen as one whole - a new binding relationship formed.

Stanza 5

This stanza concentrates on the positive bond between the speaker and his garden, between nature and humankind. They have planted flowers and weeds and other things brought in from the mountain and the garden has accepted them.

Again, a nurturing aspect is in evidence, as if this nook is a part of Mother Nature (despite being described as Nature's child in the poem).

Stanza 6

The garden has moods - we take it in partnership with the weather - but must be looked at daily for anyone to truly know this.

There is love involved, a relationship that is almost philosophical in character. The garden is on a journey with time and season.

Note the several caesurae in this stanza: pauses in the lines that test the reader and alter pace.

Stanza 7

The speaker mentions the would-be wife again and wants the garden to help them explain the history and the many stories; of the latest spring and how it's been the best.

There is a curious pair of lines in this stanza:

Joy will be flown in its mortality;

Something must stay to tell us of the rest.

Joy, that is, happiness, will fly, take to the wing, when spring is over, when spring dies. So there has to be something that remains to tell her of that joy and other things besides.

Imagery follows, an evening sky with stars made of primrose flowers. And a mention of our sparrow which built a nest and of which the speaker (the poet) wrote a poem or actually sang a song? Spring may die, but his creation will not.

So the reader can really feel the ownership and personal involvement with the garden and all within.

Stanza 8

Wordsworth loved to sit and write in the garden, in the bower. He also probably nodded off occasionally after a stint of hard manual work digging and planting. That phrase steep / Our spirits means to soak and soften.

The birds sang - that alliterative phrase wild notes warbled - and the speaker again mentions that in two months they'll be back but with Her, Wordsworth's chosen wife, and together they'll be taken back in and looked after - in a warm familial embrace.

What Is The Metre?

A Farewell has a basic iambic pentameter metre BUT there are many variations on this basic stress pattern.

Let's take a closer look at the first stanza:

FAREWELL, / thou litt / le Nook / of moun / tain-ground,
Thou rock / y corn / er in / the low / est stair
Of that / magni /ficent tem / ple which /doth bound
One side / of our / whole vale / with grand / eur rare;
Sweet gard / en-or / chard, e / minent / ly fair,
The love / liest spot / that man / hath ev / er found,
Farewell!- / we leave / thee to Heav / en's peace / ful care,
Thee, and /the Cott / age which / thou dost / surround.

So, no pure iambic pentameter lines can be found in the first stanza, which means that the rhythms and stresses are varied, that the iambic steady plod is broken up, countered, bringing texture and altered pace and emphasis for the reader.

This is one sentence split into several clauses, typical Wordsworth, mixing the syntax up with his choice of caesurae (pauses in the lines using commas and dashes and so on) and enjambment (lines that run on into the next with no punctuation).

Line 1: starts with a trochee...stress on the first syllable, unstressed second, followed by four iambic feet.

Line 2: a pyrrhic foot (both syllables unstressed) midway between iambs.

Line 3: an anapaest (three syllables with the second syllable stressed, giving a rhythmic bump to the line) in a line of 11 syllables.

Line 4: a pyrrhic and a spondee pair up to produce quiet followed by loudness (the spondee being two stressed syllables together).

Line 5: a near reversal of the previous line, a spondee starting the line, a pyrrhic (in that four-syllable eminently) following.

Line 6: an anapaest in the second foot (loveliest) brings an extra beat into what could have been a pure iambic line. Listen for that familiar extra beat daDUM dadaDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.

Line 7: a trochee and an anapaest pair up in this eleven-syllable line.

Line 8: a trochee starts this unusual line, split 1/9 for effect.


The Hand of the Poet, Rizzoli, 1997

© 2019 Andrew Spacey