There was a time when, though my path was rough, This joy within me dallied with distress, And all misfortunes were but as the stuff Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness: For hope grew round me, like the twining vine, And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.
In this new stanza, our speaker's looking back at his life.
Once upon a time, he had some of that same joy that he raves about in stanza 5.
Even when life got a bit rough, he was able to rely on that joy to fight off ("dallied") his bad feelings ("distress") (77).
Any misfortune that happened to him—lost wallet, stubbed toe, etc.—just seemed to him to be immaterial, like the stuff of dreams.
At the same time, a personified Fancy made him happy dreams from that same stuff.
Notice the use of capitalization again here. Fancy is a bit like the speaker's imagination, and in this case it's capable of sustaining his good feelings—even when the chips are down—by delivering good dreams to him.
Using a simile, the speaker lets us know that hope grew all around him like a twisting ("twining") vine (80).
It doesn't seem to be the choking kind of plant, but a pleasant and happy experience.
Still, we get some foreshadowing that bad news is on the way. What the speaker thought was his—the fruit and leaves ("foliage") of the happy vine—weren't really his.
But now afflictions bow me down to earth: Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth; But oh! each visitation Suspends what nature gave me at my birth, My shaping spirit of Imagination.
Yep, the bad news is not far behind.
The speaker continues with the plant imagery, describing now how his "afflictions" make him droop like some kind of wilting flower (82).
You know what? He's so sad that he doesn't even care anymore. That's a pretty high level of depression, when you think about it.
If you don't even care anymore that you're sad, things are rough indeed.
Every time he gets one of these bad feelings ("each visitation") (84), the speaker feels robbed of ("Suspends") his natural gift of imagination (85).
At this point, it's worth considering just who are speaker is. We say tons more about this over in the "Speaker" section, but for now we'll just point out that a key drawback to our speaker's being bummed out is the way it affects his innate creativity.
The use of the capital letter reminds us just how important his imagination is to the speaker, and how much it's a drag not to have it.
For not to think of what I needs must feel But to be still and patient, all I can; And haply by abstruse research to steal From my own nature all the natural man— This was my sole resource, my only plan; Till that which suits a part infects the whole, And now is almost grown the habit of my soul.
In order to cope with losing his imagination to his depression, the speaker has to go to some pretty far extremes.
He begins by describing how difficult it is not to dwell on the fact that he's lost his true feelings ("what I needs must feel") (87).
He has to just wait and be patient, hoping to capture some sense of his former sense, which was once so in touch with his imagination.
If he's able to do that now, though, it's only after intense and difficult reflection ("abstruse research") and by sheer luck ("haply") that he can rescue ("steal/ From my own nature") some portion of his former self (89-90).
This is all just a figurative way of saying that he's constantly trying to recapture some part of his former happy and imaginative self in the hopes that he can restore his entire self ("infects the whole") and escape his depression (92).
It sounds exhausting to us, but for our speaker it's his only plan. He does this so often that's it's practically a habit of reflection for him—bad times.