Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
- The flashback is over. The speaker is back to talking about his impressions in his present visit to the river Wye. This is marked in the poem by the "And now" that opens the stanza.
- The poet's memories of his first visit are being "revive[d]" by seeing everything again.
- In the process, though, he's experiencing "somewhat of a sad perplexity." In other words, he's very "perplex[ed]," or confused, about how his present impressions match up with his "dim and faint" recollections.
- Even though it's frustratingly "perplex[ing]," he finally manages to "revive," or reconstruct, the "picture of the mind," and remember his earlier impressions.
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
- The speaker looks out and takes in the view.
- He's pleased for two reasons at the same time. First, because that view is pretty spectacular in the here and now. Second, because he's already thinking about how, sometime in the future, he's going to look back on the memory of his present experience with enjoyment.
And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills;
- The speaker "hope[s]" that he'll live to look back on this moment with pleasure.
- Then he starts reflecting on how much he's changed since his first visit (five years before).
when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led:
- It's another flashback: the speaker is describing himself from five years ago.
- (To avoid confusion, we refer to the speaker's past self as "William," and his present, speaking self as "the speaker").
- Back then, William leaped and "bounded" (68) all over the place like a "roe" (67), or deer – just going "wherever nature led" (70).
more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved.
- The speaker says that William, with all the "bound[ing]" around, seemed to be running away from something, rather than chasing something "he loved" (72).
- The thing "he loved" is probably nature, but it's not clear who or what the speaker thinks William was running from.
For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.
- Here's another of those sentences divided up by a long parenthetical comment. The speaker says nature meant everything to William.
- The parenthetical comment that breaks it up is somewhat ambiguous. The speaker says that the "coarser" (73), less refined or sophisticated "pleasures" that William enjoyed as a boy, and his "glad animal movements" (i.e., the innocent and unreflecting "bound[ing]" through the mountains) are all over. But it's unclear whether the speaker is saying this about William, or about his present self. It could be a combination of both.
– I cannot paint
What then I was.
- The speaker interrupts himself with a dash to claim that he can't describe his past self in words. This is kind of ironic, given that that's exactly what he's doing, and what he's going to continue to do.
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.
- The speaker has just said that nature was everything to William, and he does mean everything. The "sounding cataract" (76), or waterfall, took the place of his "passion," and the "colours and […] forms" (79) of the "mountain" and the "wood" were his appetite.
- Nature supplied his "feeling" and "love," too – and without the need for intellectual "thought," since nature had enough "charm" and "interest" on its own.
- So nature, it seems, took the place of all of William's physical and emotional desires. Interesting.
– That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
- The speaker can no longer experience the same "aching joys" (84) and "dizzy raptures" (85) that William could; he can just remember them.
- The speaker isn't going to sweat it, though. He might not experience the "aching joys," but he has "other gifts" (86) now that "recompence" (88), or make up for it.
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
- But all that is now past.
- The speaker has matured beyond William's unreflecting, un-intellectual, "thoughtless" appreciation of nature.
- Now, when he looks at nature, he's able to hear "the still, sad music of humanity," which seems to mean that he can sense some universal, timeless connection between nature and all of humanity.
- Wait. The speaker is looking at nature, but looking allows him to hear? Weird. The speaker's senses are getting all mixed up.
- This "still, sad music," we're told, isn't "harsh" or "grating." It must be kind of pleasant, actually.
- The music is "power[ful]," though. It can "chasten and subdue" the speaker, or, in other words, it can make him feel both humbled and calm.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
- When he hears the "still, sad music of humanity," the speaker says that he feels some kind of "presence" – of what, we're not sure. Nature with a capital "N"? God? Some indefinable force of good? See the "Themes" section for more on this.
- The "presence" (whatever it is) "disturbs" the speaker, but in a good way. The "presence" makes the speaker lift his "thoughts" to higher things.
- The "presence" also gives the speaker a sense that there's "something" like a divine presence that exists "deeply interfused," or blended in with everything around it.
- This "something" lives in "the light of setting suns" (97), in "the round ocean and the living air" (98), in "the blue sky" (99), and even "in the mind of man" (99).
- This "something" sounds an awful lot like the "Force" in Star Wars. It exists in everything in nature, surrounding us, filling us, and binding the universe together. Only we're not sure that Wordsworth's "something" has a dark side.