Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
The River Wye
This is, after all, where the poem takes place: on the banks of the river Wye, looking out across the river valley. The specific location is important, because the poem is about the speaker's changing relationship to this spot on the river Wye. He visited it five years before, but now his impressions of it are different.
- The title: The speaker situates us very specifically with his title. He practically gives the reader directions to spot on the river Wye where he had the transcendental experience described in the poem.
- Lines 2-4: He personifies the river in line 4 when he describes the sound it makes as a "murmur."
- Lines 55-57: The speaker says that, in anxious, sad moments, he "turned to" the river "in spirit" for guidance and comfort. He apostrophizes the river by calling out to it, even though it obviously can't respond to him in a literal way.
Eyes and Vision
The poem is mostly about how the speaker is able to compare what he sees with his eyes to the memory of the scene he's been carrying around in his mind's eye (yes, we just used a metaphor!). The literal eyeball is the barrier between the poet's mind and the scene in front of him. It's not surprising that eyes, both literal and figurative, are important.
- Line 24: The speaker uses the simile of the "blind man's eye" to describe the way he was able to see the river valley in his mind's eye during his long absence. It's a negative simile, though – he says that it's not like a "blind man's eye." In other words, his mind's eye sees things almost as clearly as his real eyes.
- Line 47: The speaker is talking about the calming influence of the beautiful scene at the river Wye. His gaze doesn't dart from object to object in a frenzied way; his "eye" is "made quiet." We could read this as a synecdoche, because it's not just his eye, but his entire mind and body that are "made quiet." So the "eye" is being used to stand in for the whole person.
- Lines 82-3: The speaker is saying that when he was the young, boyish "William," his interest in nature was purely visual. Nature had no "interest" for him that wasn't what he could see with his "eye."
- Line 106: the speaker is saying that the "spirit" (100) in nature connects everything together, which is why he's "a lover" (103) of all natural things that can be perceived with "eye, and ear" (106). But then he goes on to say that the "eye and ear" are able to "half create" the things that they "perceive." Wait, what? Does this mean that our eyes play tricks on us? Well, yes. And the speaker is also suggesting that the "eye and ear" have a kind of consciousness that we're not aware of, so that they "half create" without our even being aware of it.
- Lines 117-9: There's a lot going on in these lines. First of all, the speaker uses the metaphor of "read[ing]" (117) to describe what he thought he could sense from looking at Dorothy's eyes. He also uses synecdoche. He makes Dorothy's eyes stand in for her entire personality. Finally, the speaker uses another metaphor when he talks about the "shooting lights" coming out of her eyes. We have to assume that her eyeballs are not literally shooting laser beams. She's just looking around with such excited pleasure that it's like her eyes are "shooting lights."
Out of his Senses
Vision (and hearing, to a lesser degree) is obviously important in this poem. But what about when the speaker is so overwhelmed that his senses get all mixed up or even seem to leave him?
- Lines 43-5: The speaker slips into what we might call a meditative trance when he recalls the "beauteous forms" (22) of the river Wye. His breathing and even his blood seem to slow down, or become "suspended" (45).
- Line 85: The speaker's past self, the boyish "William," used to feel so overwhelmed by the beauty he saw that he would feel "dizzy."
- Line 90-1: The speaker has grown out of the tendency to fall into "dizzy raptures" (85). He might not feel "dizzy" anymore, but his sensory perceptions seem to be misfiring. He has learned how to "look" at something in order to "hear." Synesthesia, or the mixing up of different senses, sometimes indicates that a character is close to overwhelmed.
We know what time of year the poem takes place from the title. It's mid July. It makes sense, then, that the fruit on the orchard trees won't be ripe yet. So why bring them up? "Unripe fruit" isn't as tasty or even as attractive as brightly colored, ripe fruit. "Unripe fruit" probably has a symbolic significance. After all, the poem is about the passage of time, and the transformation from a young man to the more mature (or "ripe") speaker. Could the "unripe fruit" represent the speaker's past self, the boyish "William"?
- Line 12: Our attention is especially drawn to the "unripe fruit" because it comes at the very end of the line.
The hermit only appears one time in the poem, at the end of the first stanza. A hermit is a person who secludes himself from the world and lives alone, usually for religious reasons. We don't even know whether there is really a hermit living in the woods near the Wye. The speaker is just musing about the possible source of the smoke he sees rising from the trees. Maybe the speaker thinks of a Hermit because he'd like to retire into the woods himself and live in seclusion from the rest of the world to commune with nature.
- Lines 21-22: The "Hermit" really stands out to us for two reasons: first, because it's capitalized. Second, look at the shape of the line. Line 22 breaks off in the middle to end the stanza. The "Hermit" is "sit[ting] alone," all right – alone at the end of the stanza. That line is actually isolated from the rest of the poem, just as the Hermit is secluded from the rest of the world. Neat!