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The Tables Turned -- William Wordsworth

(Poem #411) The Tables Turned
  Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
  Or surely you'll grow double:
  Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
  Why all this toil and trouble?

  The sun above the mountain's head,
  A freshening lustre mellow
  Through all the long green fields has spread,
  His first sweet evening yellow.

  Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
  Come, hear the woodland linnet,
  How sweet his music! on my life,
  There's more of wisdom in it.

  And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
  He, too, is no mean preacher:
  Come forth into the light of things,
  Let Nature be your teacher.

  She has a world of ready wealth,
  Our minds and hearts to bless--
  Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
  Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

  One impulse from a vernal wood
  May teach you more of man,
  Of moral evil and of good,
  Than all the sages can.

  Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
  Our meddling intellect
  Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
  We murder to dissect.

  Enough of Science and of Art;
  Close up those barren leaves;
  Come forth, and bring with you a heart
  That watches and receives.
-- William Wordsworth
Yes, another one of these. There is a discernible attitude, among some poets,
that book learning (and science in particular) is somehow 'unnatural' and
'unpoetic', and that by its pursuit the human race is abandoning its
collective spirituality, so to speak, and moving away from nature.

This has spawned a whole brood of fallacies and misrepresentations, from
Rousseau's unfoundedly praised 'noble savage' to Whitman's unjustly reviled
'learned astronomer'.[1]

But enough of the rant - what about the poem? Well, even considered apart
from its viewpoint, it's not that great a poem. The tone is sententious, the
form correct but dull. And if he was trying to present nature as infinitely
more attractive than books - well, let's just say I've seen it done better.
In fact, the only reason I'm running this at all is that my irritation at
the attitude displayed occasionally calls for an outlet, and the poem made a
good excuse :)

(Though in Wordsworth's defence the friend he addressed the poem to
apparently had an equally one-sided attachment to books - see Notes.)

[1] imho, the only place this *has* been done well is in Oscar Wilde's "The
Nightingale and the Rose"


  In the "Advertisement" to the volume, Wordsworth wrote: "The lines
  entitled Expostulation and Reply and those which follow [The Tables
  Turned], arose out of conversation with a friend who was somewhat
  unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philosophy." The friend was
  probably William Hazlitt who visited Coleridge and Wordsworth in Somerset
  in the spring of 1798. See Hazlitt's essay "My First Acquaintance with
    -- from


For Whitman's poem, and a fine rant by Thomas on the same topic, see poem #54
For a biography of Wordsworth (and a far nicer poem of his), see poem #63

- martin

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

HLAD4U said...

i hate reading poems like this, how dull!

Pigtail72 said...

This is my favorite poem. Indeed it is lovely and true.

Donnelly Paul said...

I've always liked this poem, much in the same you like a Bacharach/David
song: it's a perfect little confection, regardless of the callowness of the
sentiment. But what about the third line in the famous, penultimate stanza
-- Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-- is it me or does it not quite
scan properly?

Paul Donnelly
Senior Developmental Editor, Higher Education
Pearson Education Canada
26 Prince Andrew Place
Don Mills, ON M3C 2T8

Irvin Peckham said...

It's interesting to read the posturing as readers try to one-up Wordsworth.

Irvin Peckham
Director of Firstyear Writing
Louisiana State University
[broken link]

Mooney Mike said...

This is a great poem with which to introduce Romanticism to a class of
British Lit juniors. It is a powerful rebuke of the Industrial/
Rationalist ideology that preceded/ parallels it.

Anonymous said...

I take pride in being the first to grace this page with a comment for two years.

The poem has a lovely form, and flows well when read aloud as poetry should be - but I feel that Wordsworth does not get points for this anymore. Form and structure is easy - it is content that is the true key to making a poem last, and in this regard 'The Tables Turned' becomes another generic 'Ooh Nature' poem, of which there are too many.

Would recommend 'The Convict' by him though - far more powerful and imaginative.

-Captain Anonymous

Anonymous said...

"ooh nature" is as good an "impulse" as any , i'd say .
eh capt?

Anonymous said...

It's my opinion that Wordsworth, the mystic he was, tried to convey the lessons nature reveal to the heart when our rational minds subside their cerebral chatter. All this poetic deconstruction is fine and dandy, and it may not be his best poem, but it certainly resonates with me, and lends itself easy to the sound of music.

Anonymous said...

I think that his last name should be Wordsword. It would be much cooler that way because it has the word sword in it.

Larry D. Coleman said...

Thank your for this gift of love

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