Essay on ‘The Tables Turned’ by William Wordsworth

Published: 2021/11/23
Number of words: 951

‘The Tables Turned’ presents the reader with a persona who passionately argues that man can learn infinitely more from nature than from the world of books. The ‘self’ within the poem cries out to ‘my Friend’ and pleads not be sedentary but instead to seek his knowledge from a place ‘of ready wealth’, that is nature.

The fourth line of the fourth stanza is the epicentre of the poem, both physically and emotionally. It is structurally common in ballads of this form to place the fundamental principle at the very heart of the poem. Here we read, ‘Let Nature be your teacher’. The imperative ‘Let’ encapsulates the intensity the ‘self’ possesses. The ‘selfs’ intense seeking for knowledge is extremely palpable throughout the poem and is most evident in the comparisons made between books and different aspects of nature. Wordsworth describes literature as ‘a dull and endless strife’ while ‘the woodland linnet’ is presented as being a far greater source of wisdom. It is as if the persona is suggesting that we look in unconventional places for our sources of knowledge and allow the tables to be turned.

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The poem is saturated in poetic imagery as Wordsworth seeks to breathe life into the verses. Various facets of nature are personified such as, ‘the mountain’s head’ to bring the readers attention to the mind. The persona is urging the reader to seek their knowledge out of the world of academia and highlights that the natural world is in fact a place of ‘ready wealth’. The personification of the mountains create a sense of enormity as they symbolise strength and surety. This is portrayed as an admiral quality so that the reader, or the recipient if the poem, might be persuaded to ‘close up [the] barren leaves’ of their books and learn instead from the world around them.

The theme of strength and surety is also conveyed through the regular structure of the poem. The poem contains structured interlocking rhyme in the form of ABAB which creates a sense of fluidity. It is as if the poet is creating a desirable atmosphere through the tone of the poem as a way of easing the reader away from their books and gently introducing them to the natural world. The alternating rhymes are also imitative of the seasons. The rhymes do not occur until a whole other line has passed, mimetic of how the seasons come, go and then return the following year.

The poem itself was penned in 1798 which was a time of great political upheaval concerning the French and American Revolutions. This period of the ‘Enlightenment’ also saw an increase in philosophy and science within society. Wordsworth addresses this prominence in ‘The Tables Turned’ as he concludes ‘enough of Science and of Art’ that we might better appreciate the sweet traditions ‘which Nature brings’. The idea of self is reflected as one greatly concerned with the well being of the whole of society at this time. The possessive pronoun ‘our’ is used frequently to create a collective voice. The persona talks of ‘our minds’ and ‘our meddling intellect’ which forms a relationship between the self of the reader and the self portrayed within the poem. This sense of unity is also evident between the self and the natural world. We are told to ‘Come forth, and bring with you a heart’. By referencing the heart as opposed to the mind, it signifies that the very core of our being is required for us to be able to receive what nature has to offer us. This is a direct reference to the self that we must look deep within our true being and return to nature as opposed to putting on a facade and seeking our knowledge from books.

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The poem is, however, extremely ironic. Wordsworth is encouraging for us to abandon books when the method of his communication is through literature. The reader is then challenged while they read as the message is telling them to ‘quit [their] books’. Although this is true, it is not Wordsworth’s desire for his works to be ignored or avoided. The reader is then forced to find a connection between these words and the natural world, perhaps that the paper the poem was written on originally came from the trees around us. This tactile relationship re-emphasises the integral part nature has within our everyday lives. Rather than a turn, it is a return to nature that is spoken of here. Just as the physical origins of the poem came from the natural world, we are urged to revisit our origins as described in scripture as, ‘dust you are, and dust you shall return’.[1]

Although the poem was composed over two hundred years ago, it does not make the portrayed ‘self’ an archaic entity. Wordsworth is not only addressing the society of his time but society as a whole. In contemporary society we face an increase in technology where people are not even going to books as sources of knowledge, but instead using computers and the internet. Modern day society has, as it were, abandoned their books but not for the edifying reasons Wordsworth speaks of. Just as Wordsworth does not wish for people to abandon his poetry, a medium ground must be established from where we source our information. Therefore, our ‘true self’ can fully appreciate the beneficial qualities of nature without neglecting the advantageous opinions of others in our modern day society.


Menon, R.V.G, An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science, Pearson Education (2010)

[1] Genesis 3v19, English Standard Version

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