Ode to Duty William Wordsworth By: Rehu, Hari, Theunissen & Rumold-Oldfield Stanza 1 Stern Daughter of the Voice of God! • Line 1 Personifies and addresses 'Duty' as the 'daughter of the voice of god'. O Duty! if that name thou love • Line 2 Either nobody quite knows her Who art a Light to guide, a Rod proper name or she is known by many names...'if that name you love' To check the erring; and reprove; • Lines 3 & 4 Wordsworth views 'Duty' as a Thou who art victory and law beacon of hope for those who are prone to error ('erring') someone who can steer When empty terrors overawe; them in the right direction From vain temptations dost set free; • Lines 5-8 Describes how in difficult and desperate times, 'Duty' will present From strife and from despair; a herself so as to allow the self to fall away glorious ministry. from 'vain temptation'. Summary: Basically, Wordsworth is just telling us a bit about 'Duty', personifying her and illustrating how close she is to God and the purity surrounding Heaven and the like. This being because she is apparently the daughter of God. I think that 'Duty' could just be another name for 'Nature' or 'Mother Nature' to create a personified image. Stanza 2 There are who ask not if thine eye • Lines 1-4 These lines are referring to children who do not know that ‘Duty’ has Be on them; who, in love and truth, her eye on them. ‘Ask not if thine eye be on them’ confirms that WW is referring to Where no misgiving is, rely children because children don’t stop to Upon the genial sense of youth: think about external forces that may or may not be playing a part in their lives Glad Hearts! without reproach or blot; because of their innocent and naïve Who do thy work, and know it not: minds. May joy be theirs while life shall last! • Lines 5-8 Drive home the relationship between purity, heaven, and goodness to And Thou, if they should totter, teach the ‘genial sense of youth’ or the ‘child mind’ as in the line ‘Who do thy work, and them to stand fast! know it not’. Summary: This stanza is talking simply about children. Wordsworth says that 'There are who ask not if thine eye be on them' which could be referring to how their mind is so innocent that they don't even stop to think of any higher power around them. Also, he refers to an innocent mind a second time: 'who do thy work, and know it not'. In the last 2 lines, Wordsworth says that he wants the children to have the same joy that they have now throughout their entire lives, and he hopes that 'Duty' will save them if they falter i.e. so protect their innocence and help them to resist the 'vain temptations' of the adult world. Stanza 3 Serene will be our days and bright, • Lines 1-4 WW is saying that those who follow Duty’s ways will sleep peacefully And happy will our nature be, and their personality will reflect happiness When love is an unerring light, • Lines 5-8 WW writes that those who are And joy its own security. now older still maintain a connection to And blessed are they who in the main their innocent and natural child minds whilst attaining other strengths according This faith, even now, do entertain: to their lives should be blessed. Live in the spirit of this creed; Yet find that other strength, according to their need. Summary: WW seems to be trying to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood by saying that all though the physical self is an adult, the mental self can still revert back to its childlike state. Stanza 4 I, loving freedom, and untried; • Lines 1-4 These are describing WW’s attitude in the past. He has been No sport of every random gust, relying on his feelings as a means of guidance but they have lead him Yet being to myself a guide, astray. Too blindly have reposed my trust: • Lines 5-8 WW just wants to live his life Resolved that nothing e’er should press the way he wants to, however, he previously believed that nothing could Upon my present happiness, affect his happiness so he shunned ‘Duty’ and her ways. But now he is I shoved unwelcome tasks away; willing to listen to ‘Duty’ if she will talk But thee I now would serve more to him. strictly, if I may. Summary: This stanza paints us a more distinctive picture of why WW is telling us about ‘Duty’. He seems to be requesting the help of ‘Duty’ because something in his life has thrown him off course. Stanza 5 Through no disturbance of my soul, • Lines 1-4 WW wants to control his own life and not be controlled Or strong compunction in me wrought, emotions that lead to his loss of peace. He is looking for a new start. I supplicate for thy controul; • Lines 5-8 These are a continuation and But in the quietness of thought: further confirmation of WW’s Me this unchartered freedom tires; desperation to turn his life around with the help of ‘Duty’. I feel the weight of chance desires: My hopes no more must change their name, I long for a repose which ever is the same. Summary: This stanza is WW’s further cries for help from ‘Duty’. He is begging for her help because he is desperate and because he is unsure if ‘Duty’ will provide help because of his past. Stanza 6 Yet not the less would I throughout • Lines 1-4 In the past WW would rationalize his actions by claiming that Still act according to the voice he was in fact properly asserting free will. Of my own wish; and feel past doubt • Lines 5-8 Now, WW no longer wants to That my submissiveness was choice: be prideful but rather he wishes to Not seeking in the school of pride seek ‘a second will more wise’. For ‘precepts over dignified,’ Denial and restraint I prize No farther than they breed a second Will more wise. Summary: WW tries to rationalise his actions by saying that he was only putting his free will to use. However, WW has seen the error of his ways and he wants to make it right by using ‘Duty’s’ opinion. Which should be the right one. Stanza 7 Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear • Lines 1-4 WW informs us that ‘Duty’ makes/has made the laws on how The Godhead’s most benignant grace; we should live, and although she is strict, she represents the naturally Nor know we any thing so fair beneficial grace of God. These laws As is the smile upon thy face; are only able to be read by the human heart. So only by listening to Flowers laugh before thee on their beds; one’s heart can one truly be And Fragrance in thy footing treads; following the natural laws set down by ‘Duty’, and the only way to do Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong; that is by following ‘Duty’. And the most ancient Heavens through • Lines 5-8 The flowers and stars are evident of this quality in that the Thee are fresh and strong. flowers produce fragrances and the stars don’t roam about the heavens. Summary: WW is saying that ‘Duty’ made all of the natural laws that humans should abide by. Evidence of this is the flowers and stars who remain wherever ‘Duty’ is. Stanza 8 To humbler functions, awful Power! • Line 1 In order to follow ‘Duty’, one must be humble. I call thee: I myself commend • Lines 2-4 This is WW’s plea to ‘Duty’. Unto thy guidance from this hour; He wants her to guide him so that she can bring his weaknesses to an end. Oh! let my weakness have an end! He is self-sacrificing himself. Give unto me, made lowly wise, • Lines 5-8 WW wants to live in the ‘spirit of self-sacrifice’, and he wants The spirit of self-sacrifice; the ‘confidence of reason’ and he The confidence of reason give; finally wants to live in the ‘light of truth’. Becoming a Bondman to ‘Duty’ And in the light of truth thy Bondman frees the heart and mind and allows one to follow one’s true self, the soul. let me live! Summary: WW is declaring his allegiance to ‘Duty’ so that she can let his weaknesses have an end. With ‘Duty’s’ help he will be able to find and follow his true self in his soul. Background Info • WW wrote ‘Ode to Duty’ in 1805. Some say that writing this poem was the turning point in WW’s career as it acts as the start of a new state of mind for him. Events before and after writing this poem confirm this. Thus WW is the narrator. • It was written during the peak of the French Revolution lead by Napoleon Bonaparte, so WW was exposed to the poor treatment of the French people by Bonaparte. This sparked a new conservative political view. • In February 1805, WW’s brother John drowned in a shipwreck. This hit him very hard and further influenced a change in his mindset. Form • There are 8 stanzas, with 8 lines in each • All the lines are of similar length, however the last line of each stanza seems to be the longest in the stanza. This may be because the last line in each stanza, generally helps to summarise the stanza, and leads it onto the next one. • The rhyme scheme is ABABCCDD throughout the whole poem • There are 8 syllables in each of the first 7 lines of each stanza, however the last line of each stanza has either 12 or 13 syllables. This is a rather clear pattern and fits in with the fact that the last line in each stanza is summarising the stanza, and leading it onto the next one. Themes • There are 2 prominent themes in this poem. • Freedom • Childhood/Youth • They are connected in that they relate to WW’s beliefs in God & Heaven and all that they represent. • They also connect to each other in that the youth mindset is such that they feel they are immortal and have an ultimate freedom. Freedom • There is no such thing as freedom without obedience. • Previously, WW had been an enthusiast of ‘unchartered freedom’, known as ‘the dungeon of Ignorance’, in which he simply did as he liked. Childhood/Youth • WW’s ‘unchartered freedom’ seems to be a mindset that is most prevalent in youth: unsuspecting, unbiased and naïve.
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