Comparing Wordsworth's Ode to Duty and Elegiac Stanzas

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Comparing Wordsworth's Ode to Duty and Elegiac Stanzas

A past attitude is reverted to and revised in Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty" and "Elegiac Stanzas." Employing geographic metaphors, both celestial and earth-bound, the poems climb over rocky Wordsworthian terrain that details his reconciliation between past and present and implications of the future. Though vastly different stylistically‹"Ode to Duty" utilizes an antiquated verse form and language, while "Elegiac Stanzas" is written in Wordsworth's beloved "language of men"‹and in the internal willfulness on the poet's part to change versus reaction to external stimuli, the poems parallel in their desires for resolution of a disarrayed soul via the calming sublime power of either an abstract concept or a naturalistic piece of art.

Wordsworth deviates from his course of democratic poetry in "Ode to Duty" by exercising a classical form, the ode, and manipulating the elevated language it affords the poet. Even the opening quote is from a Greek source, Seneca, which foreshadows the poem's anachronistic call to duty. The poem is divided into seven tetrameter octets, of which the final line is Alexandrine. The French origins of the Alexandrine line further confuse the poem's miscegenational heritage, and conspire with the "missing" eighth stanza (were the poem to have an orderly arrangement of eight syllables per line, eight lines per stanza, eight stanzas total) to cast an ambiguous shadow over Wordsworth's conception of duty. As suggested by the allusion to Seneca and the ode form, it is one of poetic duty without ever calling attention to the act of writing poetry.

Similarly, "Elegiac Stanzas" confronts the death of Wordsworth's brother by only slightly focusing on the a...

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...ed to mine catharsis and rebirth out of tragedy.

There was no apparent tragedy in "Ode to Duty," but perhaps Wordsworth felt mankind was on the verge of one. His feelings toward the French Revolution had soured, and he may have found the new liberation and fraternity being portioned out in unequal measures in poetry. Change is a good thing, both "Ode to Duty" and "Elegiac Stanzas" suggest, but only when adopted "in the quietness of thought"; otherwise, rash decisions only mirror the frenzied environments out of which they grew. Whether or not "Ode to Duty" or "Elegiac Stanzas" have veiled political agendas is unclear; what is ingenious is Wordsworth's ability to deliver so many comparable messages in such contrary envelopes.

Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. Poetical Works. 5 vols. E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, eds. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958.

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