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A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal(1800)

William Wordsworth

A slumber did my spirit seal;
MeterA slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
MeterI had no human fears:

Note on line 2: Most readers scan this line without trouble. What’s odd is that they scan it different ways. 4B4V prefers to sit up and take notice at this early point in the poem, with a pyrrhic-spondee punch in the first two feet that registers the force of what the speaker knows now but didn’t know back then. The poem also reads very well — but differently — if you stick with the straight iambic meter here, in prolonged imitation of the blissful ignorance the speaker says here he used to enjoy. Neither is The Correct Scansion: each emphasizes a different emotional state, that’s all — and that’s a lot.

She seemed a thing that could not feel
MeterShe seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
MeterThe touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
MeterNo motion has she now, no force;

Note on line 5: This is the most metrically irregular line in the poem, and with good reason. The spondaic substitution in the first foot registers a change in rhythm which stands for a change in perspective on the speaker’s part. (Not to mention the change in state for her who has died!) And the difficulty of registering this perspectival change gets reinforced in foot 4, as if the speaker is forcing himself to believe in a truth part of him still wants to deny. Readers may also feel an ironic contrast with the only previous departure from meter, again spondaic, in the second foot of line 2 — ironic, because at that point what was being stressed was the false security of that former state of denial.

She neither hears nor sees;
MeterShe neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
MeterRolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks and stones and trees.
MeterWith rocks and stones and trees.

Note on line 8: The thing to notice here is the weirdly serene regularity of the last line, corresponding to the organic, even inorganic pulse of the earth in which the deceased “She” is now buried. It’s an effect set in motion by the heavily alliterated “Rolled round” in line 7 (this iambic lyric’s last, sojourning spondee), which heaves into motion a process whose laws enfold life as the grave enfolds the dead.

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