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‘The Tables Turned’: reading

Recital of William Wordsworth's poem, ‘The Tables Turned' from Lyrical Ballads.
The Tables Turned.
Up! up! My friend, and clear your looks, why all this toil and trouble? Up! up! my friend, and quit your books, or surely you’ll grow double. The sun above the mountain’s head, a freshening lustre mellow, through all the long green fields has spread, his first sweet evening yellow. Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife, come, hear the woodland linnet. How sweet his music, on my life there’s more of wisdom in it. And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! And he is no mean preacher. Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher. She has a world of ready wealth, our minds and hearts to bless– spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can. Sweet is the lore which nature brings, our meddling intellect misshapes the beauteous forms of things we murder to dissect.
Enough of science and of art. Close up those barren leaves. Come forth, and bring with you a heart that watches and receives.

Now listen to Professor Keith Hanley reading one of Wordsworth’s poems from Lyrical Ballads, ‘The Tables Turned’. You can also follow the text of the poem on screen.

A copy of the poem is also here for you to download so that you can examine the poem at your own speed.

Though the poem stands on its own terms, you might find it useful to know that when it was first published in Lyrical Ballads in was paired with another poem called ‘Expostulation and Reply’. In that poem, William’s friend, Matthew, argued for the importance of books: ‘Up! up! and drink the spirit breath’d /From dead men to their kind’. ‘The Tables Turned’ is a response to that argument – hence its title.

As you read, reread and listen to the poem, you might like to think about the following issues:

  • How would you describe the tone of the poem?
  • Is there a message to this poem?
  • If you had to choose one line of the poem, which would it be and why?
  • How does Wordsworth illustrate his argument in the poem? What ideas or images does he use?
  • In the light of the ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads, what core Wordsworthian idea is being communicated?

We will address some of these issues in the step that follows.

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William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

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