The Lucy Poems - Strange fits of passion have I known

Strange fits of passion have I known,
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover's ear alone,
What once to me befel.
When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening moon.
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.
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.
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature's gentlest boon!
And, all the while, my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.
My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof
At once, the bright moon dropped.
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover's head!
“O mercy!” to myself I cried,
“If Lucy should be dead!”

Footnotes

  1. The character of Lucy is often interpreted as a personification of the speaker’s poetic muse. The mention of “fond and wayward thoughts” further indicates the dreamy, metaphorical nature of the subject matter. In the final couplet, the speaker fears the muse figure has died. The death of the muse becomes self-reflexive: these are the final lines of Wordsworth’s poem.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Wordsworth alters the meter in this line. After “My horse moved on,” the usual series of iambs—an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable—is broken. The phrase “hoof after hoof” begins with a trochee, a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. On one level, this sudden metrical jolt conveys the horse’s sudden movement away from the cottage. On a deeper level, this marks the narrative’s transition: the speaker will not see Lucy.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Wordsworth clues the reader into the possibility that the poem’s events and characters exist in a dream. The appearance of the moon earlier in the poem and its association with the idealized love object suggest a dreamy, imaginary atmosphere. This stanza confirms that the speaker’s journey is more figurative than literal. This tension between fantasy and reality is a key theme in the Lucy poems.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Wordsworth uses sound to bolster the moon’s role as a guide leading the speaker to Lucy. The line is rich with assonance and consonance. Notice the repetition of s, n, t, and hard c sounds. The long u at the heart of “moon” and “Lucy” creates a sonic tie between the two.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The “orchard-plot” is an intentional setting for the character of Lucy. The orchard, with its connotations of blooming life and fruitfulness, reflects the speaker’s sensual feelings for Lucy.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The horse is a classic literary symbol for the animalistic side of human nature. The rider on horseback then becomes a metaphor for the conscious mind observing the body’s deeper impulses and longings. The speaker’s unrequited longing for Lucy is one of the central themes of the series.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The appearance of the moon gives the poem a nocturnal setting. More importantly, it adds a dreamlike atmosphere, inviting the reader to call into question the reality of the narrative.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The word “bent” functions on a couple of levels here. It suggests the love object’s gravitational pull, drawing the speaker from his usual path. On a deeper level, the language here describes how love “bends” a person from life’s usual ways and routines.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This line nods to the tradition of courtly love poetry. In this style, poets often perform what is called the “blazon,” a method of applying enthusiastic metaphors to the love object. As the poem progresses, it becomes clear how out of place the “rose in June” is.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The speaker identifies the addressee: “the lover’s ear alone.” The “lover” here is an archetype that represents all who have loved. This narrowing of the audience lends the poem a tone of privacy.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Wordsworth structures “Strange fits of passion have I known” as a ballad, a song-like poetic form with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The meter alternates between tetrameter and trimeter, so each four-beat line is followed by a three-beat line. This gives the poem a propulsive, musical feeling. The opening couplet establishes a confessional tone. The speaker dare to relate a personal story. This rhetorical move raises the narrative stakes at the outset.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff