Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more;
- Everything in nature is as transient as a morning frost that burns off as the sun rises. Nothing lasts. Yada yada yada – I think we’ve got the point here, Wordsworth.
- The mention of morning returns us to the first two lines, with their faint image of the sun "climbing" and "sinking" in the sky. Comparing the sun’s motion throughout the day to the process of aging is another well-known poetic device, called a trope.
- One other thing to think about here: the melting of a heavy frost can completely alter the appearance of a landscape. So, Wordsworth shows how even a simple change can have drastic effects and make the world look totally different to our eyes.
drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds,
- Wordsworth uses another memorable image to demonstrate the sudden effects of change: an old tower that one day just tumbles to the ground.
- British Romantics had a real crush on old collapsing buildings. A lot of Romantic paintings, for example, depict the ruins of some ancient church or castle. Wordsworth himself wrote a very famous poem about the crumbled remains of "Tintern Abbey."
- The "tower" of these lines was once a great and powerful thing. Wordsworth even calls it "sublime." It symbolizes human achievement. But even the grandest achievements cannot survive forever, and the tower has been long out of use.
- The tower was still standing only "yesterday," although it has long been overgrown with "weeds" that it wore like a "crown."
- The image of a "crown of weeds" could refer to a very famous image from Shakespeare’s play King Lear, in which the aging and retired king goes a bit crazy in the woods and makes himself a crown of weeds to replace the real crown he has given up. This poem and King Lear share more than a little in common.
but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.
- The tower was so fragile that its fall could have been caused the reverberating sound waves of a person’s shout or by a gentle touch. Wordsworth uses these images to form a contrast with the tower’s once powerful state.
- Back in the day, you would have needed a lot of soldiers to bring down a tower like that. But after time got through with it, even the "shout" of a voice could knock the tower down.
- He’s kind of making fun of the tower, because it’s this huge man-made object that "could not" handle something so minor as sound waves that break the silence.
- As for the last line, imagine a guy coming up to the tower and placing one finger against it, and the whole thing topples over. That guy would be like the force of time. Except you can’t imagine time – it’s an abstract concept.
- Wordsworth uses this really interesting phrase – "the unimaginable touch of Time" – to try to describe the indescribable. There’s a bit of irony in what he says, though, because he has just written an entire sonnet that tries to "imagine" the effects of time!