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nimarka1's avatar

What is the main point of the poem "A Character" by William Wordsworth?

Asked by nimarka1 (929 points ) December 5th, 2011

“I marvel how Nature could ever find space
For so many strange contrasts in one human face:
There’s thought and no thought, and there’s paleness and bloom
And bustle and sluggishness, pleasure and gloom.

There’s weakness, and strength both redundant and vain;
Such strength as, if ever affliction and pain
Could pierce through a temper that’s soft to disease,
Would be rational peace—a philosopher’s ease.

There’s indifference, alike when he fails or succeeds,
And attention full ten times as much as there needs;
Pride where there’s no envy, there’s so much of joy;
And mildness, and spirit both forward and coy.

There’s freedom, and sometimes a diffident stare
Of shame scarcely seeming to know that she’s there,
There’s virtue, the title it surely may claim,
Yet wants heaven knows what to be worthy the name.

This picture from nature may seem to depart,
Yet the Man would at once run away with your heart;
And I for five centuries right gladly would be
Such an odd such a kind happy creature as he.”

I’m having trouble understanding this poem. I know Wordsworth is known for writing a lot of nature and the connection we have to it, but I’m not sure if that’s what he is doing in this poem. It is in iambic tetrameter. And follows a rhyming pattern of AABBCCDDEEFF and so on. But is he trying to say that humans are part of nature and so are the many facial expressions we have? Is he trying to say humans are fascinating; we can feel so many things and express them all, all contrasting? Why is the word nature capitalized in the first stanza? Why is man capitalized in the last? I’m not sure what the last stanza is about either. What is the point of it? Any input or analysis of this poem would be great. Thanks

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8 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I won’t analyze the poem for you, but do check the meter. The lines use amphibrachs except at the end, where there is the iamb .Note the sing-song quality of the lines.

Short long long, short long long, short long long, short long, short long. You are right about the tetrameter.

That is three amphibrachs and an end iamb. The meter detracts from the serious tone of the words, making it not a very good poem as far as I am concerned. It is hard not to read it aloud without sounding flippant. I hope that this isn’t homework.

(The next-to-last line deviates slightly from the da DA DA beat, making it slightly..but only slightly…more interesting than the other lines. Poets use form and meter as part of their technique. Wordsworth must have had some reason for this odd choice. )

nebule's avatar

As I understand it, it is a commentary on the many expressions in a face that nature can create, throughout life and he’s marvelling at the wonder of it all…

Zyx's avatar

“I marvel how Nature could ever find space
For so many strange contrasts in one human face:
....

This picture from nature may seem to depart,
Yet the Man would at once run away with your heart;
And I for five centuries right gladly would be
Such an odd such a kind happy creature as he.”

I think most of what this poem is about is in these lines. He starts of by noting that there are a great many contradiction in nature and I suspect the human face is just a relatable example. The capital letter in Nature is probably courtesy since the poem is about nature and how grand it is. In the last stanza he posits that we might seem far removed from the harsh nature of our world but our existance still revolves around a brutisch system of give and take. He finishes on the note that despite the nature of the world and his own nature he wouldn’t mind living life some more. Irony? I’m never quite sure.

Only138's avatar

Its talking about a guy who likes to drink alot and lift weights and work out. :)
Mostly, he likes to drink though.

stardust's avatar

Try to engage with the work – you’ll get more from it in the long run

gailcalled's avatar

@Only138: Are you talking about Wm Wordsworth?

gailcalled's avatar

@Only138: Don’t quit your day job. You have no future in literary exegesis.

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