Oxymoronic and Ironic Opposition in WordWorth’s Poetry


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In Wordsworth’s collection of poems, he has made a strong use of opposing concepts in order to better describe the complexity of life, while creating a balance between two opposing ideas that enhances both feelings. He does this while further describing the un-describable, shedding light on the stubbornness of the human mind, its complexity, its resistance to change, and its ability to maintain its own beliefs while ignoring factual occurrences.

            In order to juxtapose the conditions of life and death and to show the complex relationship of the two ideas, Wordsworth writes in his poem “We Are Seven,”

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,/My sister and my brother;/And, in the church-yard cottage,/ I Dwell near them with my mother,” (21-25). Wordsworth shows in these lines that life goes on without the dead, although the dead are still a part of the living. The living maintain an awareness of the dead, while the dead are completely unaware of the presence of the living. Wordsworth shows this in the sister, who steadily repeats that there are seven children in her family, although two have died, because in order for her to describe her family, she must include all seven because they existed although they have passed away.

The death of her siblings does not make them any less family to her. Although her siblings have changed from the state of living, to the state of being dead, in order to complete her image of the family unit, she must continue to include her lost siblings as part of the unit. While the man questioning her, does not see the dead as a part of the living world, and therefore seeks to exclude these deceased siblings from the unit of the family.

            Wordsworth strives to describe the resilience of the human mind, and the complex relationship between feelings. In “Lines Written in Early Spring” Wordsworth writes, “that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts/Bring sad thoughts to the mind,” (3-4). The concept that Wordsworth is describing is called bittersweet, itself, an oxymoron. Wordsworth is pointing out that feelings are not linear, but circular. One is not simply sad, and then happy, joyful, then depressed, but can recall a happy moment that causes sadness, or a happiness that enhances depression. Wordsworth believes that feelings are complex and flowing, one feeling can cause or increase another, opposing feeling. Humans are indeed capable of entertaining opposing feelings in a single moment.

            Conversely, in “Anecdote for Fathers” Wordsworth writes, “…Some fond regrets to entertain;/With so much happiness to spare,/I could not feel a pain,” (14-16) to lend support to his belief that in some instances where a variety of feelings could occur, one particular feeling has so much strength that it cancels out the opposing feelings. In his use of “fond regrets”, Wordsworth further shows the complexity of the human mind, able to feel both pleasant and unpleasant emotions from a single memory.

            Wordsworth underlines the theory of old age’s ability to overwrite, and cover-up youth, but in order for there to be old age, it has to have been born in youth in the beginning. Wordsworth writes, “…it looks so old,/In truth, you’d find it hard to say/How it could ever have been young,” in his poem, “The Thorn”  (1-3). These lines show a linear quality of life as the speaker sees it, and how life goes from youth to old age and continually stretches into older age, without ever revisiting the youth that old age buds from. In the poem though, Wordsworth uses “two-year’s child” to describe the height of the thorn and point out that the thorn has no leaves. Although the poem is making a circular comparison of the thorn, what it may have looked like in its youth, it then describes the thorn in its old age in the same fashion.


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