Strange fits of passion have I known

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known

by William Wordsworth

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known: Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” by William Wordsworth is a ballad which begins with the speaker promising to reveal the strange thoughts which once came to his mind.
  • The speaker was travelling on his horse to meet his beautiful beloved Lucy on a moonlit night.
  • As the speaker continued to look at the moon all the way, the moon was gradually sinking.
  • When he came nearer to Lucy’s cottage, the moon suddenly dropped behind the cottage and it brought in his mind the fearful thought of Lucy’s death.

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known – Explanation

Stanza 1

Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.

In the opening stanza, the speaker says that he has experienced unusual emotions. He describes this type of emotion as “strange fits of passion”. He has no courage to tell anyone except a lover about this passion. He believes only a person who has been in love will be able to understand this emotion better. To such a person he wants to say what kind of passion affected him once.

Actually, the speaker tries to point out through the opening stanza that none other than the lovers can understand this poem well.

Stanza 2

When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.

In this stanza, we are introduced to the speaker’s beloved. He reveals that at some point in the past he made a journey (bent my way) to his lover’s cottage in a moonlit evening. It was a time when his lover was still young and beautiful.

According to him, the lady was as fresh as “a rose in June”. The simile “as a rose in June” establishes the romantic nature of the poem. The rose is the most commonly known birth flower of June. They are in full bloom during this month. The speaker compares his lover to the fresh rose to show her beauty, purity and her youth.

Her cottage under the evening moon is a brilliant use of visual imagery. It creates a beautiful scene where the speaker must go to meet his love.

Stanza 3

Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.

The speaker narrates how his journey was. He was continuously looking at the moon while travelling through the wide grassland (lea). We can visualise the scene with the light of the moon falling all over the meadow.

The speaker’s horse was drawing closer to his beloved’s house with increasing speed. He was crossing his familiar paths which he says were ‘dear’ to him, for they led to his dear beloved’s house.

Stanza 4

And now we reached the orchard-plot;
And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot
Came near, and nearer still.

Soon the speaker and his horse reached an orchard (a fruit-garden) on the way. After that, there were climbing a hill. And as they went up, the moon, which was seemingly sinking behind Lucy’s cottage (‘cot’ here means cottage), came nearer to them.

Here, for the first time, we get the lover’s name. She is Lucy. The expression “near and nearer still” suggests that their journey was not short and easy. Every difficult journey has a beautiful destination. With this belief the speaker travels only to see his lover.

The moon continues to sink closer to the horizon that seems to be sinking right on Lucy’s cottage. That might also indicate that it was too late.

Stanza 5

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!
And all the while my eye I kept
On the descending moon.

The journey to his lover’s cottage was like sweet dreams to him. He describes the dream as the kindest gift of nature (Nature’s gentlest boon). It was a beautiful and amazing night to be to him. He felt nature was kind to him and that night was a blessing to him as he was going to meet his beloved.

So, he was happy and much excited. He started dreaming of the best things that would happen when he would finally meet Lucy. But his eyes were fixed on the moon, the light of which was fading or was beginning to fade.

Stanza 6

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropped.

The speaker’s horse drew closer and closer to the cottage. The horse kept on moving and never stopped. Then there came a point of time when the moon disappeared behind the roof of Lucy’s cottage. The speaker now had no moonlight to guide him.

This situation suggests the loss of something important to the speaker. Thus, the poem reaches a climax here in the sixth stanza.

Stanza 7

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover’s head!
“O mercy!” to myself I cried,
“If Lucy should be dead!”

In the final stanza, the speaker reveals the fearful thought that came to his mind. The moment he saw the moon disappearing, he experienced a kind of darkness engulfing his mind. Naturally, some foolish and distracting (wayward) thoughts would slide into a lover’s head in such circumstances.

It was a really terrible thought that came to our speaker’s mind. He felt that his beloved Lucy had died, and that was why the moon disappeared. He got afraid and cried to himself “O mercy!”. Somehow at the back of his mind he believed that the moon was directly connected to the life of Lucy. And here ends the poem.

But after reading the poem, we the readers wonder why the thought of Lucy’s death entered the speaker’s mind. What does the poet suggest? Maybe the poem signifies that even in happy times the thought of death can pop into our mind. Or perhaps it indicates that when we are genuinely in love, the thought of loss of our dear ones can haunt us. The poem is silent in answering those questions. Wordsworth leaves it to the readers to reflect on.

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known – Into details

Publication

The poem “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” is a part of William Wordsworth’s series of poems known as “Lucy poems”. This simple ballad was written during Wordsworth’s stay in Germany in 1798. The poem was first published in the second edition of “Lyrical Ballads” (1800).

Background/Context

One of the founders of English Romanticism, William Wordsworth wrote his best poems during the decade 1797 to 1807. In 1798 he and his poet friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge jointly published “Lyrical Ballads” that is generally considered to have marked the beginning of the English Romantic Movement in literature. He wrote poems under the healing influences of nature and his sister. Wordsworth penned the “Lucy poems” when he was traveling in Germany with his sister.

The “Lucy poems” are a series of five poems – “Strange Fits of passion Have I Known”, “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways”, “I Travelled among Unknown Men”, “Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower” and “A Slumber did My Spirit Seal”. In these poems we find a beautiful maid Lucy who had died young. Throughout the series the poet expresses his love and mourning for her. Whether Lucy was poet’s imagination or was a real woman has long been a matter of debate among scholars.

Setting

We guess that the poem is set in the English countryside. The speaker travels in a hilly region through a vast meadow in a moonlit night. There is an orchard on the way. His lover, Lucy lives in a cottage where the speaker would meet her.

Again, we may think that the ‘strange fits of passion’ that is the main concern of the poem are all happening in the speaker’s mind. He is in a dreamy journey while suddenly the disappearance of the moon brings to his mind the dark thought of Lucy’s death. From this angle, the ballad can be said to be set in the speaker’s mind itself.

Title

The first line of the poem has been chosen as the title of the poem. The title “Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known” plays an important role in giving the first impression of the poem. It suggests the speaker’s unknown, unusual emotion – some strange fits of passion. This sounds somehow mysterious and arouses curiosity in the readers’ minds.

The speaker, however, shares the strange feeling he had experienced mainly in the last stanza of the poem. When he was travelling to Lucy’s cottage one moonlit night to meet her, the speaker was in a kind of dream. But when he neared the cottage and the moon disappeared behind it, the thought of Lucy’s death haunted the speaker. He cannot explain why this thought came to his mind. It was a strange feeling indeed. So, the title of the poem seems true to its subject and thus apt.

Form and Language

“Strange Fits of passion Have I Known” is written in the form of a simple ballad. It is a 28-line poem with seven stanzas of four lines each. The stanzas are typical ballad stanzas.

To talk about the language of the poem, it is really simple English, very easy to understand. The flow sounds fluent and spontaneous. The rhyming lines and word-play creates a rhythmic poetic effect.

Meter and rhyme scheme

Wordsworth uses a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB in each stanza of the poem “Strange Fits of passion Have I Known”. It is almost like a nursery rhyme.

The poem, being a ballad, employs the regular ballad stanza with iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter in alternate lines. An iamb is a di-syllabic foot where the first syllable is unstressed and the second one is stressed (da-DUM). Iambic tetrameter is a line consisting of four iambic feet while a trimeter line has three.

Strange fits | of pass– | ion have | I known:
And I | will dare | to tell,
But in | the lo– | ver’s ear | alone,
What once | to me |befell.

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known – Themes

Love

Love is a major theme of the poem because throughout the poem the speaker speaks about a strange passion of love. He admits that he would only dare to describe this passion to a lover. He thinks only a lover can understand another lover’s emotion. This poem is about the simple joys of love and the deepest passion that one person can have for another.

Though the journey of the speaker was difficult, he travelled long only to see his love, Lucy. He can do anything for his love. This difficult journey was a sweet dream or nature’s blessing for him. His love is reflected throughout the poem.

Loss and death

Another major theme of the poem is fear of loss and death. To lose the loved one is one lover’s worst fear. As a lover the speaker also has this fear. In the last stanza we can see this.

The thought of Lucy’s death which came to the speaker’s mind is what he calls “strange fits of passion”. The same theme of death and loss is expressed in Wordsworth’s another Lucy poem, “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” where the speaker mourns Lucy’s death.

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known – Symbols

The moon

In the poem “Strange Fits of Passion Have I known” the moon is used as a symbol. The moon guided the speaker of the poem when he was going to his lover’s cottage. The moonlight also created a romantic scene in the poem. The moon that he sees is itself a form of light, but it is light that is almost light of lovers. This light also evokes romantic sense then. When the moon sinks from view the mood of poem suddenly changes. Disappeared moon makes a fear of Lucy’s unexpected death in the speaker’s mind. Thus, the moon becomes a symbol of Lucy’s life.

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known – Literary Devices

End-stopped lines

End-stopped line in poetry is a line of verse where a sentence or phrase ends at the end of the line, generally with a punctuation mark like a comma, colon, full stop etc.

In the present poem, most of the lines are end-stopped. For example:

Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.

Caesura

A caesura is a pause in the middle of a metrical line. This device is used in the following lines:

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. Here are examples from the poem:

Strange fits of passion have I known:

(the /a/ sound in ‘passion’ and ‘have’)

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof

(the /uː/ sound in ‘moved’ and ‘hoof’)

Consonance

It is the opposite of assonance, the repetition of consonant sound in neighbouring words.

Strange fits of passion have I known: (‘n’ sound)
And I will dare to tell, (‘l’ sound)

Alliteration

Alliteration is a kind of consonance where consonant sounds are repeated at the beginning or in stressed syllables of nearby words. Some instances are –

When she I loved looked every day

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof

Simile

A simile is a direct comparison between two different things using ‘as’ or ‘like’.

Fresh as a rose in June,

In the above line, the speaker compares his lady to a rose in June. This is an example of simile.

Imagery

Imagery is a literary device that refers to the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience or create a picture with words for a reader.

Mainly visual imagery is created throughout the poem. The orchard, the cottage, the moon over the house slowly descending are the examples.

Moreover, in the line ‘My horse moved on; hoof after hoof’ we almost hear the sound of the hoof of the speaker’s horse. This can be called an auditory imagery. There imageries make the poem outstanding.

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