Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known: Why the Moon is always there?

strange fits of passion have I known

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known is one of the five “Lucy” poems (unofficially called so). These poems are about the love of the poet, a girl named Lucy. That is all we know of her, nothing more. This poem is a recollection of a memory, a tale that Wordsworth is only willing to tell a lover because he knows that only he could understand this strange fits of passion. 

The poem is about the journey of a lover to reach the house of the one he loves. And while this journey continues, he describes how he is attracted to his lover, how the moon guides him, and how a strange, frightening thought occurred to him.

There are a few things that catch out attention while reading this poem. First, of course, is what strange fits of passion have the poet known? Why in such a beautiful time and place, the poet had such feelings? The second is why does the poet shares this story only with people in love? And the third and most important is the presence of the moon in all the stanzas except the first and last. We’ll explain all of this and it sure is one interesting tale. 

First, we’ll look into the meaning of the poem, what it signifies, and what it conveys to the readers. Then we shall look at the technical aspects of the poem, such as the literary devices, rhyming pattern, etc. Let’s take a look at the poem:

Strange fits of passion have I known

Strange fits of passion have I known,

And I will dare to tell,

But in the lover’s ear alone,

What once to me befel.

When she I loved looked every day

Fresh as a rose in June,

I to her cottage bent my way,

Beneath an evening moon.

Upon the moon I fixed my eye,

All over the wide lea;

With quickening pace my horse drew nigh

Those paths so dear to me.

And now we reached the orchard-plot,

And, as we climbed the hill,

The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot

Came near, and nearer still.

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,

Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!

And, all the while, my eyes I kept

On the descending moon.

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof

He raised, and never stopped:

When down behind the cottage roof

At once, the bright moon dropped.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide

Into a Lover’s head!

“O mercy!” to myself I cried,

“If Lucy should be dead!”

The meaning and analysis of the poem

Strange fits of passion have I known,

And I will dare to tell,

But in the lover’s ear alone,

What once to me befel.

The poem starts with a tale being retold. The poet says that he will only tell this to a lover because he believes only a lover could understand what once befell him.

When she I loved looked every day

Fresh as a rose in June,

I to her cottage bent my way,

Beneath an evening moon.

The tale is about a time when the poet’s lover was at her prime. She looked as fresh as a rose in June, every day. Here we see the romanticism leap out of Wordsworth’s words. Her cottage under the evening moon is just brilliant use of imagery, creating a grand scene where the poet must go to meet his love. This right here is a prime example of romanticism poetry. 

 Upon the moon I fixed my eye,

All over the wide lea;

With quickening pace my horse drew nigh

Those paths so dear to me.

Here we start to notice the use of the moon and we realize that it has some significance in the poem. The moon is where his lover’s house is, it is like the poet’s guiding star. The name “Lucy” is derived from the meaning “light” and here the moon is the only source of light. It is probable that the moon is also a metaphor for Lucy that Wordsworth is using. 

William Wordsworth

The horse, the path that is so dear to the poet, all of these are also metaphors showing the journey of the poet. The paths are dear to him because they lead him to someone dear. And of course, there is something special about the moon which we’ll discuss later.

And now we reached the orchard-plot,

And, as we climbed the hill,

The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot

Came near, and nearer still.

The setting is beautiful, there is an orchard-plot so it must be full of colorful flowers. That is what one can see, but also, the sweet smell that one would hear as they approach the house. The house of Lucy is on a hill and the moon seems to be sinking right on her house. This tells us that it is getting late. The sun will come up sometime later and the moon will be gone.

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,

Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!

And, all the while, my eyes I kept

On the descending moon.

The events that night felt like a dream to the poet. Not just because the moon floated brightly upon his lover’s cot or the orchard bloomed and the night was calm, but because of what was going to happen. He was about to meet his love on this beautiful night and that was enough to make this night “dream-like”. We’ve all had moments like these in our lives, and if you haven’t, don’t worry, you will. For now, let’s hear Wordsworth’s tale.

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof

He raised, and never stopped:

When down behind the cottage roof

At once, the bright moon dropped.

Now we come to the penultimate stanza of the tale and we are about to see this “strange fit of passion”. The journey went on, the horse kept moving ahead and before he could know, the poet was just behind the roof of the house, he saw the moon go down (behind the roof). This suggested inside his mind a thought that was strange. This idea he talks about in the next stanza.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide

Into a Lover’s head!

“O mercy!” to myself I cried,

“If Lucy should be dead!”

Wordsworth is baffled and shocked by the thought that came to his mind and he says the same in the first two lines. A fearful thought comes to his mind, a lover’s mind because only a lover has love to lose. This is what he thinks of;

What if his love, Lucy, is taken away from him? What if she dies? This is undoubtedly a very terrible thought that comes inside his mind, especially at this moment when things are so beautiful. And yet it comes and this perplexes the poet. The fear of losing Lucy makes the poet shudder. 

While the poem is very simple to read and understand, thanks to the eloquence of Wordsworth, there are some things about the poem that might be missed by many poetry enthusiasts. For example, why did Wordsworth say that he’ll tell this tale only to lovers? And more importantly, why is there a mention of the Moon in every stanza except the last one? Let’s find out. 

Hidden meanings in the poem 

Let’s first see why the poet specifically says that he should only tell this tale to a lover. But why? One reason for such a request is because the poet knows that this was a strange thing to happen and only a lover who has loved someone might understand this sudden rush of unexpected thoughts of losing the loved one. 

The loved one is pretty obvious, but what about the consistent presence of the moon? The moon plays an important role in the poem and even in the thoughts of the poet. The moon is a representation of Lucy herself. How? Let me explain.

Importance of the moon in  Strange Fits of Passion Have I known

The poem starts with the mention of the moon, which is said to be right above the place Lucy lives. Not once the mention of the moon is omitted in any other stanza except the last one (the first one as well, but it is the prelude of the poem). As the poet continues his journey, the moon guides him as well as it keeps descending. As the poet reaches his destination, the moon keeps going down.  

The poet associates the moon with Lucy. Lucy is the guiding light, leading him towards his destination, towards the path that he is attracted to. As mentioned earlier, the name “Lucy” has been derived from “light” and here, the moon’s light is what guides our traveling lover. But a strange thought comes to his mind and it is brought by the moon, or by the absence of it. 

As the poet reaches Lucy’s house, the moon goes behind the cottage’s roof. The light is gone and because the poet has associated the moon with Lucy, the absence of the moon brought this strange thought in his mind. What if the moon sets? What if it goes out and he is left in darkness with nothing to guide, no destination. This is why the moon holds so much importance.

The fear of loss only comes when you truly start loving someone or something.

Literary devices 

All of Wordsworth’s poems have abundant literary devices, especially metaphors and imagery. Here are all the literary devices found in Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known:

Metaphors: The most abundantly used literary device used in this poem is metaphors, it is everywhere and that’s what gives Romanticism poetry its most idiosyncratic quality. The very title of the poem Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known is a metaphor that refers to the unexpected thought the poet had about Lucy’s death. 

Another example is the line In one of those sweet dreams I slept which refers to the beautiful night when he was about to meet his lover, reaching her house that sits below the moon. The lines in the last stanza are also an example. 

…thoughts will slide

Into a Lover’s head!…

These thoughts will slide into a lover’s head and are used to convey that only a person who’s in love with someone will have these thoughts about his/her head. The lines With quickening pace, my horse drew nigh, Those paths so dear to me are used to refer to the road that leads him to his lover. The path is not dear to him in itself, but the destination where his lover lives. 

Simile: Wordsworth says that Lucy looked as Fresh as a rose in June. This is an example of a simile where one compares two unrelated things based on a shared quality. 

Rhyme: The poem has a rhyming scheme of ABAB and the poem is a classical lyrical ballad.

Form and meter: The poem is in ballad form with 7 quatrains. The meter alternates from iambic tetrameter to iambic trimeter for A and B rhyme respectively.

Imagery: Imagery is used extensively in this poem with every scene, every moment described so vividly and beautifully. The orchard, the cottage on the hill, the moon over the house slowly descending are all examples of imagery in the poem. The scene described is in such stark contrast with the thought that comes to his mind and hence, imagery in this poem is of utter importance. 

The themes of the poem 

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known has some major themes such as love, death, nature, anticipation, beauty, etc. Another major and often overlooked theme of the poem is vicissitudes. Vicissitudes are the fear that something wrong might occur. The poet is struck by this unexpected thought out of nowhere. 

Death also is significant in this poem. The whole reversal of the meaning of the poem, the contrast that is created is with the help of death. The thought of death is what this “strange fits of passion” is. 

The thoughts love brings to lovers’ mind is also a theme of the poem. Love’s tendency to bring such thought of death is what creates this strangeness that perplexes Wordsworth. 

This concludes the article. While you are here, how about spending a little more time with us? Check these poems that will interest you:

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