Elegiac Stanzas Analysis and Summary by William Wordsworth

About William Wordsworth: William Wordsworth was born in the year 1770 in Cockermouth in England. He experienced tragedy early in his life in the form of death of his mother and this experience shaped his future works. Wordsworth published his first verse in the year 1793. He gained major fame with Lyrical Ballads, published in the year 1798, written together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These two are now known to be the launchers of the Romantic Age. The most notable works of Wordsworth include Lyrical Ballads, The Excursion and The Prelude. He was Britain’s Poet Laureate, a poet who composes poems for special events and occasions, from the year 1843. He died in the year 1850 due to pleurisy. Here, are we going to analyze one of his popular poem named “Elegiac Stanzas”.

A elegy by nature, this poem outshines both in substance and craft ! It is set on the death of John Wordsworth, brother of William Wordsworth. However, it speaks of how this incident emerged as a catalyst in widening the horizons of Wordsworth in terms of the reality of life and his power of visualization. The poem speaks of the disillusionment of Wordsworth that he had developed in regard to life, that was too optimistic to fit in real life.

Elegiac Stanzas Analysis and Summary by William Wordsworth

Through Elegiac  Stanzas, Wordsworth breathes life into the sea, turning the water into a living creature in this poem. In this poem, the sea expresses anger yet a wave of tranquillity so as to create an ambiance of romantic image that has appeared similarly in all other pieces by  Wordsworth. The atmosphere of elegiac stanzas is that of nature-related subjects such that of the sun, the wind, and the sea.


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These subjects tend to evoke similar ideas in each poem they appear in,  demonstrating that Wordsworth has definite personal feelings about those images and what they mean to him. This poem depicts a picture in which he projects sun to be a source of happiness, the wind as a source of fear, and the sea to be a mystifying creature that seems to have a life of its own.

William Wordsworth’s late poem “Elegiac Stanzas” revolves around a number of ideas like– the nature of perception, the theme of substitution, and his preoccupation with joy and pleasure. Wordsworth begins the poem by noting how different his own memory of the castle was from that of Beaumont’s. In contrast to the tumult of Beaumont’s painting, Wordsworth remembers Peele Castle in a state of unshakeable peace. He describes how, had he been a painter, the painting he would have produced would have been very different: 

The extract from the poem- “The light that never was, on sea or land,” itself highlights the theme of the poem depicting a picture that– it is not necessary that how an object is in appearance, is also similar in reality. Instead, Wordsworth speaks of how our inner thoughts, emotions play a dominant role in perceiving things by weaving our visualization and imagination with it.

Peele Castle as depicted in Wordsworth’s hypothetical painting is therefore not a representation of it in a particular moment in time, but of Wordsworth’s own creativity. Throughout the poem, Wordsworth refers to his own impressions of Peele Castle, as if he was observing it as though they were already in form of “images”: 

The poem suggests that our perceptions of objects are always ready in form of “images”, that our senses do not give us immediate access to things, but rather represent them in a way that is different from how they are in themselves. Also, our perceptions show us things as they never were. The idea that our senses alter the objects they perceive is not new to Wordsworth’s poetry. 


The fact that Wordsworth recognizes aspects of an earlier, now inaccessible phase of his life in the present creates a sense of continuity in his life that protects him against the feelings of fragmentation and loss. The feeling of relief Wordsworth experiences is also a moment of truth, reinforcing the link between these two things that recurs throughout the poem as he says, for example, that

with an eye made quiet by the power,

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things”.

The way in which Wordsworth is preoccupied with images rather than things in themselves is symbolic of a tendency in his poetry towards a kind of substitution. The central event in the “Elegiac Stanzas” is the death of his brother, which also becomes the cause of the change in the worldview of Wordsworth which the poem actually describes. 

“My heart is at your festival,

My head hath its coronal,

The fullness of your bliss, I feel “

These lines speak of the fact that now Wordsworth has taken a step back and now he does not take part in the joy that the animals around him are experiencing. He “sees” them laugh without laughing himself, and he does not feel any kind of bliss as “his,” but has distanced it from himself by referring to it as “your bliss.”

In the “Elegiac Stanzas,” however, the relationship between the death of Wordsworth’s brother and the thing being substituted for it, the death of Wordsworth’s old way of seeing the world, is actually ambiguous.

In this poem, Wordsworth begins to see value in “suffering” and “mourning,” a “fortitude” against sights like those depicted in Beaumont’s painting. This poem gives a thought that what is available to him now is not a tranquil suspension of tension, but a kind of serene yet sad acceptance of tension.

The poem is situated at a transitional point. It laments the passing of what Wordsworth used to think, and the way he used to write, while at the same time welcoming a new way of seeing the world, it grieves an inaccessible past while welcoming a future that is half-understood. I hope the analysis of Elegiac Stanzas was helpful. Do follow Beamingnotes for more poem summaries and analysis. 

The poem is rich in simplicity and expression of thought and is highly picturesque!

Abhishek is a marketing research and social media consultant who developed a keen interest in blogging. He can be contacted at dey.abhishek99@gmail.com

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