Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 16. There was a Boy

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

V. William Wordsworth

§ 16. There was a Boy

There was a Boy is one of the most striking instances of this. The “gentle shock of mild surprise” felt by the lad who did not catch in due time the answer of the owls to his own hootings, the sudden revelation to him of the fair landscape while he hung listening, his thrill of delight at seeing “the uncertain heavens received into the bosom of the steady lake”—these were additions to man’s knowledge and enjoyment of his common sensations. The absolute truth of the analysis impresses one simultaneously with its beauty. The emotion is, surely, subtle, but, at the same time universal, and we have it here expressed once and for ever. No psychologist can expect to go further than this, no poet to hit on words more apposite and more harmoniously combined so as to make this little mystery of the soul palpable. When Coleridge read the poem in a letter from his friend, he said that, if he had met with these lines in a desert of Africa, he would have cried out “Wordsworth” at once. Here, we have, without doubt, one of the essentials of Wordsworth’s poetry.

The same character is to be found in Nutting, where we are told of “the intruding sky,” that struck with remorse the boyish nut-gatherer after he had torn the boughs of a virgin bower; or, again, in Skating-scene, where the poet describes the strange appearance of the surrounding hills, which, to the skater who has just stopped short after gliding at full speed, still seem to wheel by “as if the earth had rolled with visible motion her diurnal round.” Here we have a mere illusion of the senses, but one of the existence of which, as of its weirdness and beauty, no doubt can be entertained.