Study Guide

This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison Spirituality

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Now my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heavenβ€”and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent(21-23)

The word "Heaven" does not have a specifically religious meaning here – it just means "sky." But the phrase "many-steepled track magnificent" compares the hills that poke out of the landscape to the steeples of country churches that are visible when you approach a village. Rather than being confined to one church, as most villages were, the landscape has many of these metaphorical places of worship. In other words, nature beats man.

gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when he makes
Spirits perceive his presence. (41-44)

These lines are the most difficult in the poem. The speaker says that the landscape is not just blind matter, not "gross" like a lifeless rock or stump. Instead, nature is like a body that houses that "soul" of the Almighty Spirit of God. A philosopher might find this imagery to be evidence of "Transcendentalism" or "Idealism." The basic idea is that the "real world" – the true nature of things – lies "behind" or "inside" the visible world.

Henceforth I shall know
That nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! (61-66)

Try taking out the word "nature" in these lines and replacing it with the word "God." Do you see a substantial difference?

Had cross'd the mighty Orb's dilated glory
While thou stood'st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creaking o'er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life. (74-78)

The bird is a traditional symbol for the spiritual soul that flies "above" the material world. But this bird makes an awkward "creaking" sound that can only be understood in the context of nature as a whole.

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