It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free By William Wordsworth [1770-1850]
William Wordsworth grew up in England’s Lake District and spent much of his life there.
- His parents died while he was young. This caused him to turn to nature early.
- Wordsworth is a nature poet. Wordsworth’s poetry describes scenes of natural beauty. He loved the sunset and considered it a sacred time.
- His poetry reveals his deeply spiritual and emotional response to nature.
- In this poem, Wordsworth shows his love for his ten-year-old daughter Caroline whom he visited in France. She resulted from a love affair in 1792 when he first visited France.
- Wordsworth makes two references to the bible. The reference to ‘Abraham’s bosom’ stands for the trust and innocence of Caroline.
- The reference to the ‘Temple’ stands for Caroline’s closeness to nature. She is in the ‘inner shrine’ of the temple, unlike her father. Only special people, the high priests, could enter the inner shrine of a Jewish temple.
- Wordsworth argues she has a more intimate connection to nature than her philosophical father, the poet.
- This poem is a sonnet and has the following structure: an eight-line octave followed by a six-line sestet.
In the octave, Wordsworth focuses on the atmosphere of the evening. The opening line expresses the gentle and calm beauty of evening on the French Coast. Sunset is a sacred or holy time in many of Wordsworth’s poems. Wordsworth compares the time of day to a holy nun adoring God. He is praising the beauty of the evening. In the fifth line, the poet shows the beauty of the evening by suggesting that heaven has nested [broods] on the sea. He may mean that heaven is hovering over the sea at this time, thinking. Then Wordsworth senses the energy of the sea, maybe thinking that the calm sea has awoken for the night. He thinks that the motion of the tides makes a sound like thunder on the shore. The sea represents nature. The force of nature at work in the sea reminds Wordsworth of God.
In the sestet, Wordsworth focuses on his daughter. He addresses her, even though she may never read the poem. He argues that even though she may not think deeply about nature, she is part of nature because she is a child. He may have ‘solemn thoughts’ about the sacredness of nature, but she is intimately connected to nature. Therefore she is closer to nature than her father. She is sacred, like the sunset. She has a childlike faith in nature and doesn’t need to think about nature as her father does. Because she is natural, she is connected to God. Wordsworth’s connection to God is through his awareness and thinking about nature. God is close to her in a way that Wordsworth and others cannot know.
Explanation And Analysis
“It is a beauteous evening, calm and free” is a very delicate and interesting sonnet by William Wordsworth the great Romantic poet of the Lake District. It features at its heart, the contrast between nature and religion and includes some stunning lines of poetry, expertly drawn together.
The poem opens calmly as Wordsworth sets the scene:
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Tis sinking down in its tranquillity;
What seems out of place here is the use of the simile “quiet as a Nun”. The sound of the word”nun” alone seems to produce a deadening effect in contrast to the other words in the lines end “free” “sun” and “tranquillity”. The closing effect of this word not only draws attention to the word itself but also allows for the imagery of the word and its religious connotation to strike the reader.
There is also a strong contrast between the word “free” and “nun” as a nun is someone is hardly free to do as they please. The onset of darkness here is though nevertheless soft and gentle, the night is approaching in its tranquillity.
This calmness doesn’t last in the next four lines in what are some breathtaking lines of poetry and certainly the strongest in the whole sonnet.
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.
The interesting paradox here is that this power which is both that of nature and God is delivered with a soft feel and tone. The rhythm used in “eternal motion make” and the softness of “everlastingly” after the pause of the dash, belie the power of the words. It is a “sound like thunder” that is heard, not thunder, but a sound “like” thunder, which prompts the question what exactly was heard? The poem is certainly becoming interesting and far from a natural sketch. The last section of the poem features the interjection of the narrator and the inclusion of a child:
Whichever way this poem is read this piece offers the reader much to think on. It is also a good example of the fact that Wordsworth is much more than just a “poet of nature” as he is sometimes limited to. It is not only a thought-provoking piece as many of William Wordsworth’s poems are if the reader is prepared to dig a little deeper, but one which is beautifully and cleverly put together. “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free” shows Wordsworth’s power as a sonnet writer, and ultimately as an outstanding and naturally gifted poet.
Wordsworth praises the calmness of evening. He also likes the fact that it is free, a time of leisure. He compares sunset to worship. The image of the nun shows how sacred evening is. It is like a Temple, as he suggests later in the poem. It is a time when heaven touches the earth.
A father-daughter Relationship
The poem shows Wordsworth’s love for his daughter, Caroline. He repeats the word ‘dear’ and praises her natural quality: ‘Thy nature is not, therefore, less divine’. He suggests that in her innocent and natural state she is close to God.
The Beauty of Nature Reveals God
Wordsworth believes the sunset is so beautiful because heaven is present in the sky at this time. The force behind the sea is a ‘mighty Being’, or God. Gazing at a sunset is the same as being present in the Temple to adore God.
Children are connected to Nature
The poet states his child is no less divine than the sunset. She is part of nature and is in the ‘inner shrine’, maybe without knowing it.
Poetic Devices/ Style
Form: Here Wordsworth uses the fourteen-line sonnet form with an eight-line octave followed by a six-line
Rhyme: It follows the rhyme-scheme abbaabba in the octave. In the sestet, the rhyme scheme is cdeced. The rhyme scheme shows organisation and harmony. Wordsworth regarded nature as ordered and in harmony. The child is in harmony with nature.
Comparison: Wordsworth compares nature to Christian images: a ‘nun’, ‘heaven’.
Contrast: Wordsworth contrasts himself as a thinker with ‘solemn thoughts’ to the child who is intimately linked to nature, in ‘the inner shrine’.
Diction: When Wordsworth wrote this poem, he used language that was like everyday language. Now, two hundred years later, the words and especially the word order seem old fashioned: ‘Thou’, ‘beauteous’, ‘o’er’, ‘walkest’, ‘liest’. These words are from the bible too. This emphasises the religious aspect of nature.
Simile: ‘The holy time is quiet as a Nun’, ‘a sound like thunder’.
Metaphor: ‘Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom’.
Tone: There is a serious and respectful tone throughout: ‘The holy time etc.’, ‘solemn thought’, ‘God being with thee’. The tone is also affectionate: ‘Dear’. The tone is gentle throughout the poem.
Atmosphere: Mysterious and sacred: ‘Listen the mighty Being is awake’.
Assonance [vowel only repetition]: Note the ‘i’ sound repeated in ‘Is sinking down in its tranquillity’. Assonance is used in this poem to create a musical backdrop to the description.
Consonance: Note the repeated ‘b’ sound that links the word ‘beauteous’ with many other words used in the poem.
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