It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder - everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

- William Wordsworth.

His soul stretched tight across the skies. Eliot

A little over a century before T.S. Eliot painted his squalid imagery of burnt out ends of smoky days, William Wordsworth was exemplifying the character of his era with the celebration of the native world and his impulsive emergence of emotion. Orphaned at a young age, Wordsworth grew up in The Lake District of England causing him to turn to nature early in life. It is a Beauteous Evening is one of many examples of the primitivism for which he is famous and in this Petrarchan sonnet he portrays children as noble savages.

Of splendor in the grass

At the age of twenty William arrived in France, met and fell in love with Annette Vallon until the war between France and England interrupted their plans for a future together. Nearly a decade later he, along with his sister Dorothy returned to France in the fall of 1802 to meet his daughter Caroline for the first time. "We walked by the sea-shore almost every evening with Annette and Caroline, or William and I alone." (Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal).

Wordsworth and the nine year old took a walk on the beach near Calais one evening and it is from this very personal event from which this poem sprang. No doubt the conversations were innocent and childlike. One can almost hear the soft French voices floating into the calm autumn evening while oceans of turmoil churned within her father. He had come to make peace with her and her mother before returning to England to marry Mary Hutchinson.

Rock my soul

Free from moral or political outrage, the poet aspires for tranquility using the technique of the sonnet to combine the imagery of the natural scene with explicitly religious imagery. To him sunset is a sacred time. Composed as an eight-line octave followed by a six-line sestet the octave makes the first metaphorical comparisons, stating that it is indeed a holy time, and quiet as a nun, breathless with adoration. While heaven hovers above the sea the reader senses the energy of the sea awakening for the night as tides turn and crash upon the shore. Wordsworth represents the force of nature at work in the sea as God observing that as the sun sets, the mighty Being moves over the waters, making a thunderous sound...

In the sestet, the poet turns to the young girl walking with him by the sea, and notes that unlike him, she is not touched by solemn thought and affirms that this fact does not make her less divine--childhood is essentially at one with nature, worshiping in the unconscious, inner temple of chaste unity with the present moment and surroundings. He juxtaposes two Biblical references one right after the other to highlight her divine innocence. Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year represents the trust and innocence of the child Caroline. 1 The New Testament parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus has appealed to many across the ages as the hope for the rectification of suffering. In African American religious faiths, the story is given expression through a myriad of sermons, narratives and particularly the a spiritual ballad famous for its rocking chorus with the rhythms of a lullaby.

William depicts the soul of Caroline clasped safely to the bosom of the guardian Abraham and by extension she worships at the Temple's inner shrine a reference to the Holy of Holies from Judaism. It was the “innermost and most sacred area of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, accessible only to the Israelite high priest and only once a year, on Yom Kippur… At its entrance stood a small cedar altar overlaid with gold. In the First Temple the Holy of Holies held the Ark of the Covenant." 2 This was the most solemn act of the year when “the high priest atoned for his own sins and those of the priesthood.” By composing these two lines in this way Wordsworth depicts Caroline as having a more innate connection to nature than her philosophical father; that God is close to her in unknowable ways. To this poet, heaven is touching earth and she is as sacred as the sunset.

Composed in August 1802 the original text first appeared in Poems in Two Volumes published in 1807. Frequently called a "Poet of Nature,” William Wordsworth is credited with helping to usher in the Romantic Movement in England. Throughout his life he supported Annette and Caroline by sending them money on a regular basis and in 1835 he was successful enough to give them a large settlement sum. By 1843 he was appointed poet laureate and passed away seven years later.

Sources:

Britannica.com:
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9040854/Holy-of-Holies
Accessed June 30, 2007

HSC Online
http://hsc.csu.edu.au/english/advanced/comparative_study/in_the_wild/wordsworth/Wordswth.htm
Accessed April 8, 2007

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free
http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/wordsworth/section5.rhtml
Accessed April 8, 2007

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free
http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/2340.html
Accessed April 8, 2007

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free
http://www.skoool.ie/skoool/examcentre_sc.asp?id=2599
Accessed April 8, 2007

Semantic Change and Semantic Guesswork
http://d.a.nicolas.free.fr/ucla/ling10/page30.html
Accessed April 8, 2007

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