Analysis and Context of the Poem "Minstrels" by William Wordsworth

Updated on May 20, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis studied for a B. A. (Hons) in English literature after taking early retirement. She was awarded her degree at the age of 67.

Carolers at Christmas Their clothing suggests that the image was created in the early 20th century
Carolers at Christmas Their clothing suggests that the image was created in the early 20th century

'Minstrels' by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The minstrels played their Christmas tune
To-night beneath my cottage-eaves;
While, smitten by a lofty moon,
The encircling laurels, thick with leaves,
Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen,
That overpowered their natural green.


Through hill and valley every breeze
Had sunk to rest with folded wings:
Keen was the air, but could not freeze,
Nor check, the music of the strings;
So stout and hardy were the band
That scraped the chords with strenuous hand.


And who but listened?—till was paid
Respect to every inmate's claim,
The greeting given, the music played
In honour of each household name,
Duly pronounced with lusty call,
And "Merry Christmas" wished to all.

Wordsworth and his followers, particularly Keats, found the prevailing poetic diction of the late 18th century stale and stilted, or “gaudy and inane,” and totally unsuited to the expression of their perceptions. It could not be, for them, the language of feeling, and Wordsworth accordingly sought to bring the language of poetry back to that of common speech.

— https://www.britannica.com/art/English-literature/The-Romantic-period

Summary of 'Minstrels' by William Wordsworth and Where to Find Primary Evidence of the Custom Wordsworth Describes

This short and simple narrative poem describes a brief moment in the Christmas period when strolling players are performing at the door of the 'voice' in the poem.

It's reasonable to assume that the poem was inspired by an actual event, since it was a widespread Christmas custom of village musicians, usually members of the parish church choir, to stroll from door to door in rural parishes during the Christmas period, providing musical entertainment and offering good wishes to householders. They were sometimes given Christmas gratuities for their efforts by the local gentry.

Note: Thomas Hardy writes extensively about a village quire with which he was intimately acquainted in the Preface to his most-loved story, Under the Greenwood Tree. Hardy’s own family were involved in a group similar to the one which Wordsworth wrote about in his poem; he evokes the ‘quire’ memorably in this story, which is a delight to read, or re-visit ,over the Christmas period.

Wordsworth's reputation as the Great Nature Poet is exemplified in the description in the poem on the environment in which the minstrels are performing. It is a very cold and still night, in which the lustre of the evergreen laurel bushes around the cottage is intensified by moonlight.

The evocative imagery of the poem conjures mental pictures of a cloudless frosty night and the deep silence of countryside broken only by the screeching of fiddles and resonating voices ringing out Christmas wishes In the cold clear air.

Analysis of 'Minstrels' by William Wordsworth

  • This is a simple type of narrative poem recording a Christmas visit by carolers
  • The tone of the poem is informal.
  • The form of the poem is three stanzas with six lines to each stanza
  • The end rhyme pattern of the lines is -
  1. ABABCC
  2. DEDEFF
  3. GHGHII
  • The voice of the poem, which is written in the first person (beneath my cottage eaves), is simple and direct.
  • Location - the 'voice' establishes, in line 2, that he lives in a rural environment
  • There are eight iambs making four iambic feet in most lines, with the exception of lines 4, 6, and 12.


First Stanza

  • The first verse establishes what is happening, when and where it is happening, and in what environmental circumstances. It is Christmas time and strolling minstrels are performing outside a cottage on a clear moonlit night
  • At the beginning of line 4, a trochee (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable - 'The/en/circ' ) breaks the established pattern rhythm.
  • Note, however, that if the poem is spoken in a colloquial voice it is possible for line 4 to revert to the rhythm pattern of the three preceding lines.Similarly, the ten iambs in line 6 can be spoken in a colloquial voice that maintains the pattern of eight iambs.
  • The trochee emphasises the three-syllable word encircling, pointing the reader to the subtle reference to a laurel wreath.
  • There are several possible explanations for the inclusion of laurels in the poem
  1. The leaves may have been worn in wreaths worn on the heads of the minstrels
  2. The poet may have been referring to laurel bushes in the garden
  3. Laurel leaves might have been crafted in wreaths used to decorate the doors of the house

Example of the rhythm of the lines -

The MIN/strelsPLAYED/ theirCHRIST/masTUNE

ToNIGHT/beNEATH/myCOTT/ageEAVES

While, SMITT/enBY/aLOFT/yMOON

The enCIRC/lingLAU/relsTHICK/withLEAVES

GaveBACK/aRICH/and DAZZ/lingSHEEN

The final line of the stanza is indicative of Wordsworth's love of nature and a view of its all-embracing power, in this instance the change effected by the moonlight on the colour of the laurel leaves.

Second Stanza

The second verse expands upon the circumstances in which the minstrels are performing. It is a still, freezing cold night but the musicians were made of stern stuff and played on strenously, despite the weather.

Note

  • the allusion to birds at rest as the breeze rests with folded wings.
  • The assonance in line 9 of the ee consonants the first and last words
  • The alliteration of the letter S in lines 10-12

Third Stanza

In the third verse the voice tells how everyone felt compelled to listen throughout the performance, during which every resident of the cottage was greeted by name and a tune played in his or her honour. And the performance concludes with a Merry Christmas wished to everyone.

William Wordsworth's Home and Inspiration - The English Lake District in Cumbria

In 1770 Wordsworth was born into a middle-class family at Cockermouth in Cumbria. As a young man he attended Cambridge University and after a walking tour of Switzerland and France lived for a few years in the South-West of England. He returned to his native lake land in 1799, settling first at Dove Cottage in Grassmere with his sister, Dorothy. Wordsworth had a deep affinity with nature and stayed in the Lake District for the rest of his days.

In 1802 he married a childhood friend and it 1808, when his family had expanded, he moved to Allen Bank in Grasmere. In 1813, when his financial situation had become more secure the entire family moved to Rydal Mount in Ambleside, where he continued to live until his death in 1850.


Grasmere, England's Lake District, home to William Wordsworth, in Winter
Grasmere, England's Lake District, home to William Wordsworth, in Winter | Source
William Wordsworth's Home at Rydal Mount in Englands Lake District
William Wordsworth's Home at Rydal Mount in Englands Lake District | Source

Read More About Strolling Village 'Quires' in Under The Greenwood Tree'

Old William Dewy, with the violoncello, played the bass; his grandson Dick the treble violin; and Reuben and Michael Mail the tenor and second violins respectively. The singers consisted of four men and seven boys, upon whom devolved the task of carrying and attending to the lanterns, and holding the books open for the players

Thomas Hardy, Under The Greenwood Tree (1872)

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 GlenR

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      9 months ago from UK

      Gypsy Rose,Robin and Dora - thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s good to hear that you enjoyed this seasonal poem, written when life and it’s pleasures were more simple. wish you all a very happy Christmas.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      9 months ago from The Caribbean

      I love Wordsworth. I love the poem you selected and your critique is very helpful. Thanks for a very pleasant share.

    • RobinReenters profile image

      Robin Carretti 

      9 months ago from Hightstown

      Wow just so spiritual your words so welcoming I didn't want to leave I could have stayed with your brilliant words forever with a snow fairy wand my eyes were so deep in command. Thanks so much I enjoyed

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      9 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      A wonderful Christmas poem. Thank for the great review on the poem and the information about the poet.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      9 months ago from UK

      Thanks for your comments Linda.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your article is both educational and enjoyable. Thanks for sharing it, Glenis. It's a lovely hub for the Christmas season.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      9 months ago from UK

      Yes. I also like the window into social history that it presents.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      9 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That's a lovely Christmas poem. I do love William Wordsworth's poems.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)