Strange fits of passion have I known Summary
We start off with a confession: our speaker's known some strange fits of passion in his life. That sounds…pretty mysterious. He's prepared to say more about these fits, but he'll only talk to a lover (as in, someone who is, or has been, in love).
Lucky for us, the speaker assumes that we fit the bill, because he goes right on talking. He tells us the story of going to visit his beloved one night. He makes the visit, apparently, on horseback. As he rides closer to the cottage of his beloved—whose name we learn is Lucy—the moon gets lower and lower in the sky.
The speaker feels like he's traveling in a dream (ah, love), but then the moon drops out of sight behind the roof of Lucy's cottage. Apparently, this has quite an effect on our guy. Just as he's about to get to the front door, he wonders if Lucy might be dead—how romantic.
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover's ear alone,
What once to me befell.
- Our speaker starts things off with a confession. He (we're just going to go with "he" at this point—check out "Speaker" for more) has experienced some…well, "strange fits of passion" in his life.
- Were these "fits"—moments of losing control—good experiences? Were they bad? What brought them on? We're not quite sure about any of this just yet. We just know that they were "strange."
- Want to know more? Too bad. He's only going to talk about these fits to "the Lover." Great—first we have an unclear speaker, then we have some strange fits, and now we have a mysterious lover. Just who is this person now? He or she is the only person who gets to hear about these fits.
- Like the fits, though, we don't get any more details in this first stanza. It looks like we're going to have to read on…
- …right after we point out that we have some pretty regular rhythm and rhyme going on in these first four lines. Check out "Form and Meter" for all the details on that.
When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.
- The speaker starts laying out his story here. It's about a woman he loved.
- What's with the past tense of "loved" though? Does he no longer love her? Has he moved on?
- Again, it's not yet clear. All we know is that this beloved girl used to look as "Fresh as a rose in June" (6). That simile shows us how young and vital this girl was.
- It was a look that apparently attracted our speaker, because the dude went to go visit her at her cottage one night.
- And that's all the story we get in this stanza—pretty thrilling, we know. Still, the action is starting to pick up.
- Right after we note that the rhyme and rhythmic pattern in this second stanza is similar to the one we noticed in the first (check out "Form and Meter"), we'll let you hustle on over to the third stanza to find out what happens next.
Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.
- At the start of this stanza, the speaker is checking out the moon. That seems like natural behavior for someone who's in love—those people are always gazing at the moon.
- It looks like the moon is shining down on the speaker's surroundings, a wide and grassy area ("lea") (10).
- The speaker's horse starts to pick up the pace as it gets closer ("drew nigh") to some paths that the speaker holds dear. We're guessing these aren't just his favorite jogging trails. It must be that he and the horse are getting closer to his beloved.
- The excitement is building. Will our guy ever get there? Will Wordsworth ever alter the poem's form and meter? We can only guess at this point. Read on to answer the first question, and hit up "Form and Meter" to answer the second.
And now we reached the orchard-plot;
And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy's cot
Came near, and nearer still.
- The speaker and his horse are getting closer to their destination. They come to an orchard and start climbing a hill. (Well, we'd bet that the speaker is making his horse carry him up the hill on its back. It's pretty unlikely that the speaker's walking, and it's even less likely that he's carrying the horse.)
- What goes up must come down, right? That's certainly the case with this poem. As the speaker goes up the hill to his beloved's cottage ("cot" means cottage, not bed here), the moon is making its way down in the sky.
- We get another crucial detail here: the beloved's name is Lucy. (See "In a Nutshell" for more on Wordsworth's "Lucy" poems.)
- We don't get any more detail than her name, though. It looks like we're going to have to keep reading, as our speaker keeps climbing.
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature's gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.
- Don't look now, but it looks like the speaker's fallen asleep—just when things were getting good, too.
- That's one way to read line 17, anyway. Another way to see it is as a metaphor for being in love. Doesn't that feel like being in a "sweet dream"? Here the speaker says that this feeling is one of nature's greatest gifts ("gentlest boon") (18).
- Even as he experiences this dreamy happiness, the speaker keeps his eye on the prize.
- Actually, check that—he keeps it on the moon, which is still sinking in the sky.
My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropped.
- The speaker keeps riding his horse up the hill: clip-clop, clip-clop. That horse is not taking any breaks.
- As the horse keeps rising up the hill, the moon all of a sudden dips below Lucy's cottage roof. The speaker can't see it anymore. It looks like it's just him and the horse now.
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover's head!
"O mercy!" to myself I cried,
"If Lucy should be dead!"
- The speaker reflects on the kinds of thoughts that can pop into the head of someone who's in love. Those thoughts can be pleasant ("fond"), and they can also be totally random ("wayward") (25).
- Hey, here's a thought that popped into the speaker's head: "What if Lucy is dead?"
- Come again? Why would our speaker think that at this very moment?
- We mean, here he is, making his journey to see his beloved Lucy and—just when he gets near to her cottage—this random thought about her death jumps into his brain. What's with this guy, anyway?
- Is his alarm at this thought ("O mercy!") evidence of how much he loves her (27)? Or is he just a depressed dude who can't maintain happy thoughts? Or (option C), is this poem just showing us how—even in the midst of happiness—worry and death can intrude on our thoughts? Maybe it's a combination of all three of these.
- The poem ends without forking over an answer key, so it looks like it's up to us to answer these questions.