William Wordsworth's "Prefatory Sonnet", originally published in his book, Poems, In Two Volumes, deals with the concept of liberty as a personal goal and its relevance on the larger political spectrum. The poet likens Nuns and Hermits, who find solace in their confining spaces, to himself and the writing of sonnets. Building upon this framework, Wordsworth makes an important observation about personal liberty and its place in political freedom. Carefully crafted literary elements combine efforts to manipulate tension in the poem, a powerful poetic tool used with precision and perfection to tell the story of liberty: how it is yearned for, its glory, and its consequences.
The poem begins with the sonnet tradition of listing. People of various professions are listed as being content within the confines of their appropriate workspace or abode (later compared to the poet working on sonnets, happily confined within the sonnet's binding structure). Note the building of tension in the first three lines, an effect maneuvered with diminishing sentence structure and internal rhyming:
Nuns fret not at their Convent's narrow room;
And Hermits are contented with their Cells;
And Students with their pensive Citadels;
While the first line is a fully independent clause, the second, while also an independent clause, begins with "And," seemingly a continuation of a sentence started in the first line. The verb is dropped in the third line, creating a dependent clause, and a more hurried feeling than the first and second lines. Finally, the fourth line seems cramped (like the confines holding the Nun, Student, Maids, and Weaver), with two dependent clauses separate...
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... but must be created in politics through the acting liberty of the people. This is what finally brought Napoleon's tyranny to an end in Europe, and this is what brings this poem to its close.
Nuns fret not at their Convents' narrow room;
And Hermits are contented with their Cells;
And Students with their pensive Citadels;
Maids at the Wheel, the Weaver at his Loom,
Sit blithe and happy; Bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness Fells,
Will murmur by the hour in Foxglove bells;
In truth, the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves no prison is: and hence to me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground:
Pleas'd if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find short solace there, as I have found.
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