William Wordsworth's "It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free"
Introduction and Text of Poem
William Wordsworth's "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free" is an Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet. Its rime scheme is ABBAABBA in the octave and CDECED in the sestet. The poem exemplifies the classic Romantic theme of infusing earthly loveliness and innocence with the Divine. Wordsworth asserted that poetry is produced from the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." And he added, "it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."
This sonnet remains a brilliant example of Wordsworth's as well as Romanticism's statement on poetics. The sonnet features a speaker with a companion out strolling leisurely on a peaceful evening. The "dear Girl" specified in the sestet is thought to be Wordsworth's daughter, Caroline. His daughter was around ten years of age at the time he composed this sonnet.
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.
Reading of Poem
Wordsworth's fine Petrarchan sonnet is filled with the intuitions, feelings, and thoughts that serve as the foundation for all of Wordsworth's poems, engendering tranquility and beauty.
Octave: Peaceful Atmosphere
The speaker dramatizes the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the characters in the sonnet by comparing the evening to "the holy time" that is "quiet as a Nun." This special "Nun" is "breathless with adoration," that is, deep in a meditative state worshipping the Divine Beloved. The countryside through which the speaker and his companion stroll is exuding a calm feeling that spreads its sway to become to the very heart and soul of peace; thus the speaker describes it as, "calm and free."
As the sun was settling below the horizon, the poet is able to recall and then mold into a poem the designation, "sinking down in its tranquility." It is the poet who is tranquil as well as his surroundings as he remembers them. The speaker then remembers the "gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea." This special recollection calls him to aver, "the mighty Being is awake / And doth with his eternal motion make / A sound like thunder everlastingly."
These exact details compare well with the descriptions detailed by yogis—practitioners of yoga—and other spiritual seekers of the Divine Beloved, who spontaneously offer up the majesty of the evening to the presence of that Divine Beloved. The thundering sounds roll as does the great AUM (Om)sound of the Bhagavad Gita. Although Wordsworth was likely not well acquainted with those Eastern religious concepts, his intuition and power of tranquility guided his mind to a similar awareness.
Sestet: A Spiritually Inspiring Evening
The poem then switches from mere description of the spiritually inspiring evening to the direct address by the speaker to his companion, "Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here." The little girl is a young, uncomplicated child who would not be concerning herself with the presence of the tranquility as her father does. However, the father avers that in spite of her lack of awareness to the "solemn thought" that infuses his mind, she is still a vital part of the divine plan as anyone or anything else is. The child's "nature is not therefore less divine."
The little girl, like all children, is a descendent of "Abraham," founding father of the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition. She, thus, "lie[s] in Abraham's bosom all the year." She also "worship[s] at the Temple's inner shrine," even though she is likely not aware of her own inborn devotion. The speaker/father adds with love for her and for all humanity: "God being with thee when we know it not."
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes