Anecdote for fathers – William Wordsworth



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ANECDOTE FOR FATHERS – William Wordsworth

(title suggests maybe there is something fathers can learn)

I have a boy of five years old;

His face is fair and fresh to see; (fair and fresh – alliteration)

His limbs are cast in beauty’s mold

And dearly he loves me. (It immediately opens in a touching and sentimental manner; The simpleness in these lines is immediately apparent. The form and structure of the piece, the light and jovial use of rhyme easily conveys the emotion of gentle and honest love; rhyme scheme abab; colloquial, simple language)

One morn we strolled on our dry walk, (morn – colloquial, simple language)

Or quiet home all full in view,

And held such intermitted talk

As we are wont to do. (he mentions the "dry walk" and the fact that his house is coming into view, which not only sets the scene but is of significance later in the poem. The subtitle for the poem "showing how the art of lying may be taught" starts to become significant in the next verse which is to become one of the main talking points in the poem)

My thoughts on former pleasures ran;

I thought of Kilve's delightful shore, (old house)

Our pleasant home when spring began,

A long, long year before.

A day it was when I could bear

To think, and think, and think again;

With so much happiness to spare,

I could not feel a pain. (liked his new house, no pain on leaving his old house)

My boy was by my side, so slim

And graceful in his rustic dress!

And oftentimes I talked to him

In very idleness. (unoccupied)

The young lambs ran a pretty race;

The morning sun shone bright and warm;

“Kilve,” said I, was a pleasant place,

And so is Liswyn farm.” (The clear yet detailed description gives the reader a good idea about the setting. According to Wordsworth, a poet is a reflective man who recollects his emotion in tranquility.)

“My little boy, which like you more,”

I said and took him by the arm—

“Our home by Kilve’s delightful shore,

Or here at Liswyn farm?” (Repetition from previous stanza)

“And tell me, had you rather be,”

I said and held-him by the arm, (Repetition from previous stanza)

“At Kilve’s smooth shore by the green sea,

Or here at Liswyn farm?” (Repetition from previous stanza)

In careless mood he looked at me,

While still I held him by the arm,

And said, "At Kilve I'd rather be

Than here at Liswyn farm." (Repetition from previous stanza)

"Now, little Edward, say why so: (The reaction to this which the father gives could be taken for one of mild surprise and even gentle hurt)

My little Edward, tell me why;"

"I cannot tell, I do not know." (innocence, simplicity – no reasoning, no materialism)

"Why, this is strange," said I.

"For, here are woods, hills smooth and warm:

There surely must some reason be

Why you would change sweet Liswyn farm

For Kilve by the green sea."

At this, my boy hung down his head,

He blush’d with shame, nor made reply; (being overpowered by adult dominance – feeling shameful that his response does not match the adult’s response; There is a conflict in the poem as to where the boy wanted to live versus where the father wanted to.)

And five times to the child I said,

"Why, Edward, tell me why?"

His head he raised---there was in sight,

It caught his eye, he saw it plain---

Upon the house-top, glittering bright,

A broad and gilded vane.

Then did the boy his tongue unlock,

And thus to me he made reply;

"At Kilve there was no weather-cock; (innocence;first thing to catch his eye)

And that's the reason why." (It is upon these lines that we realise the boy didn't want to hurt his father's feelings by expressing the real reason he prefers his old home, instead he lies in order to protect his father's feelings. Though it is to last stanza which the real wisdom is to be found in the poem aside of intimate moments between the boy and his father.)


O dearest, dearest boy! my heart

For better lore would seldom yearn, (knowledge on particular subject enhanced by legends)

Could I but teach the hundredth part

Of what from thee I learn. (Here we have the father realizing too that his boy has lied in order to protect his feelings and the father is as touched as we are. He then muses on the wisdom to be found in the innocence and natural wonder of youth. His boy is but five years of age though is able to teach him a great deal about humanity.)



Lessons learnt: how he was forcing his son to accept his choice by asking him reasons; how he ignored his son’s innocence and simplicity; attempted to make him materialistic

Theme: how we are ignoring the importance of nature and teaching the next generation the same; reference to Ode to Immortality – child’s related to celestial light (with ref to nature)

Background Notes

"Anecdote for Fathers" taken from Wordsworth's hugely influential "Lyrical Ballads" is a touching rendition of the relationship between father and son. It is a beautiful, simple and uplifting poem representative of the style used throughout Wordsworth's famous collection of poems first published in 1798.

This poem is a true representation of the type of poems to be found in the "Lyrical Ballads" both in subject theme and in the simplistic nature of its construction. The poem features at its heart a conversation from father to son during a walk one day in the glorious Lake District. It immediately opens in a touching and sentimental manner.

Above all "Anecdote for Father's" despite its simplistic tone, or indeed because of its simple, child-like construction, is able to convey to the reader a heartfelt moment in the relationship between parent and child. Wordsworth therefore helps to remind us of those little precious moments in our lives by allowing us a brief glimpse into his world, which he captures so effortlessly in this delicate but enduring poem. The poem was written in colloquial like language very clear and easy to comprehend, that shows William’s desire for the public to understand this poem and also highlights the element of reality.

It does have some integral reflection on Wordsworth's attitudes to the relationships between parents and children, and the importance of not imposing rational thought on children.

The fact that it's subheaded with something like 'showing how the practice of lying may be taught' just shows how adults corrupt children by forcing them to conform to logic and reason instead of accepting them as they are.

Structure – Consistent metric sequence. Metric refers to the recurrence of regular beats in a line. Iambic octameter- 8syllables; iambic hexameter – 6 syllables; in a stanza 8886 syllables – establishes rhythm

Link to Romantics

In the wider scheme of things it shows how the Romantic writers were keen on expressing the power of innocence, partly as a reaction against what they saw as the repressive nature of the Industrial Revolution, as well as the power of individuality over conformity. Adults' learning from the innocence of the child is something which is found throughout the Romantic poets, but especially in Wordsworth and Blake. The child can also be taken as a symbolic representation of hope, hope in what must have been seen as a troubling time for lovers of the natural world and the old ways of living.

The age of Romanticism is characterized by the need for emotions and communication of feelings. The period emphasizes sentimentality and passion, the use of imagination, and creativeness. There is sympathy towards the environment and towards the person being more nature-involved.

In his "Anecdote for Fathers", Wordsworth portrays the characteristics of Romanticism. He strongly asserted feeling into his writing which keeping it serene. " This description of the setting is vivid and depicts the real image.



He glorifies beauty and the importance of nature. Romanticism placed a large emphasis on a person's individuality; man was thought to be good-natured. These expressions represent the mind-set of Romanticism. Both locations, Kilve and the Liswyn farm, are illustrated to be picturesque. The poem itself describes the point of view of a father who has been strongly influenced by his child's thoughts.
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