Poetry Review: “Written in March” by William Wordsworth

wordsworthApril is officially National Poetry Month in the United States. Yet March has always seemed to me to be the most poetic of months… at least here in the North Country. Like October, it is a month of transition. While October is a transition from life to death, March is one from death to life. New life is by definition the truest subject for poetry.

During the month of March, MontanaWriter will be featuring poems about the month of March and about seasonal transitions, beginning with this familiar poem by Wordsworth.

A lyric response to nature is one of the hallmarks of the Romantic poetic movement. “Written in March” is pure Romantic poetry in its reaction against the ideals of Enlightenment poetry and classical detachment.

To contemporary ears, the radical nature of what Wordsworth (and Keats, and Shelley, and Byron) is trying to do in this poem can be easily lost. Centuries of bad lyric poetry has made us a more than a bit tone-deaf.  We read these lines as people whose ears have been corrupted by greeting cards and magazine drivel.

Reading a poem like this aloud helps. Especially if you step outside on a sunny day and feel the sun on your face when you are reading it. Then you can feel what Wordsworth is doing… and truly appreciate it.



Written in March
The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The plowboy is whooping—anon-anon:
There’s joy in the mountains;
There’s life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!


Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

There’s joy in the mountains;
There’s life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

The word cock (in the very first line of the poem) is not used much these days. The University of South Carolina sports teams are still called the Gamecocks, “cocks” for short. When I first tried a Google search for the first line of this poem the internet filter at the school where I work blocked the search. Funny how language can change over time.

Poetry and poetic conventions have changed as well. These final lines though remain strong. I remember a June morning standing in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness 30 years ago and speaking these last lines over a mountain lake that reflected snow capped-peaks and knowing I was saying something close to perfection. That is the true power of Wordsworth and the Romantic movement


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