The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth cover image

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth: Easy Analysis & Meaning

Imagine sitting in a dimly-lit room, the windows closed but the cracks in the wall let in a few golden rays of the run. A book sits on the table in front of you and all you can see are gray, dull sentences and words. In this black-and-white world, what kind of knowledge can one acquire? Something that fills your brain with information, but depletes the wisdom, and drains the life from your soul. The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth is all about situations like these. 

Before you say that your personal workspace is filled with blinding lights and a window that’s large enough to serve as a door, you need to know that this poem was written hundreds of years ago. Back when there were no artificial lights when candles were the brightest thing you can get after sunset. 

Just because the environment has changed does not make the message of the poem obsolete. The Tables Turned has a message that would help everyone, at any age, it’s read. Let’s look at the poem first, and then at the detailed analysis, meaning, and literary devices of the poem. 

The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; 
Or surely you'll grow double: 
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; 
Why all this toil and trouble? 

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! 
He, too, 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 
Mis-shapes 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.
- William Wordsworth

Meaning and Summary

William Wordsworth was a lover of nature and there is not a single speck of doubt about this. With just a single glance at all the poems he has written, one can get an idea about his love for nature. “The Tables Turned” is a poem that shows him trying to make someone else love nature just as he does. 

Wordsworth is talking to someone in this poem, but this “someone” is the reader. He is referring to use, saying that he should not remain enclosed within the confines of a room physically and within the dull confines of bookish knowledge. He says that far better and more important knowledge can be obtained through books. All we need to do is find it and obtain it. 

The poem is very simple to understand, as it is written in simple language and a deliberate omission of metaphors and other complex literary devices. Wordsworth might have done this to put his point forward. The poem is about simplicity, about seeing nature and admiring its beauty. The poem is about learning from the simplicity of nature.

It would have been ironic if the poem was filled with complex metaphors, allusions, and other bookish terms that take away the enjoyment one gets while imagining a beautiful sunset and birds singing. The poem is about the beauty of nature, and how it can be a better teacher than books. 

Wordsworth mentions a very important line where he says that our meddling intellect often misshapes the beauty of nature. He says that we murder to dissect, which means that to understand things, we completely destroy them. This is something he does not want us to do. He wants to take nature whole, without any dissection, just the way it is.

Analysis of the Poem

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; 

Or surely you’ll grow double: 

Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; 

Why all this toil and trouble? 

The first stanza starts with Wordsworth telling his friend to stand up from his reading desk and stop reading the books. “Surely you’ll grow double” means that if he keeps reading at this rate, he will age at twice the speed. In the very next line, Wordsworth says to wash his face and clear his looks, meaning that he was looking dull, a nod to his apparent “aged” face. 

It is clear from the description that this person was not enjoying the process of reading. This “toil and trouble” of going through the pages in a dingy, dull room has put a toll on him. But Wordsworth has something to offer that will cheer him up. 

The sun above the mountain’s head, 

A freshening lustre mellow 

Through all the long green fields has spread, 

His first sweet evening yellow. 

Now we get a description of what is going on outside. It starts with the sun which is about to dip down the horizon and is just about to touch the mountain’s head. Dusk is coming and the sun is about to turn from yellow to red very soon. The imagery used here can help the reader imagine the scene; the sun is near the mountains, a very scenic sight. Below are green grasses covered by a luster of yellow. What a beautiful sight to behold!

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. 

This is the stanza where we get to know about the latent feature of Nature; not only nature is beautiful, but it gives one wisdom, a knowledge that no book can even possess. Books are dull and shall never end, no matter how much you try. You can only read so much your entire life, but take a look around, and heed the calls of the cosmic teacher. 

The woodland linnet’s music passes wisdom, and a single creature of nature has more wisdom than all the endless books ever written. Instead of being a dull teacher, nature is a vibrant symphony of wisdom.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! 

He, too, is no mean preacher: 

Come forth into the light of things, 

Let Nature be your teacher. 

Here Wordsworth adds another quality to the books; mean preacher. They preach in a dull and dictating tone, where one can read and hear, but never understand. But take a look at the throstle, or listen to it. Throstle is an archaic term for the bird song thrush. 

Wordsworth says that it sings without a care, it does not bother about any syllabi. It is not a dictator, it is a singer of beautiful songs. It is no preacher, and according to the poet, let nature be your teacher. Let nature bring light to you. 

She has a world of ready wealth, 

Our minds and hearts to bless— 

Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, 

Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

This is an important stanza as we get to know more about the teachings of Nature. Perhaps Wordsworth was worried about the way education was given to kids at that time. Enclosed within four walls, with everyone made to sit in an orderly fashion, a teacher telling what to read, and a book telling what to think. 

If we think of it, not much has changed even today, hundreds of years after this poem was written. Wordsworth took a major dislike to this form of teaching. He says that nature has a lot of wealth for our minds and hearts. Truthfulness and health are some of the greatest gifts nature can give us. 

He says that instead of learning dully from books, nature can breathe in health, wisdom, cheerfulness, and so much more. So why deteriorate your health and kill your cheerfulness? 

One impulse from a vernal wood 

May teach you more of man, 

Of moral evil and of good, 

Than all the sages can. 

This is an interesting stanza. The line “One impulse from a vernal wood… than all the sages can”. What do these lines mean? The essence of these lines is that there should be an urge to do things, to achieve things rather than just knowing. To be a man of action, rather than just an intellectual. But how do these lines say that? 

Vernal wood means the woods and trees of the spring. These young and fresh, alive trees can teach you more about man, about morals, about rights and wrongs than all the old sages can. Sages can give you knowledge, and can fill your mind with ideas and information, but you need the impulse to act, to do it at the moment. Only then your knowledge becomes wisdom. 

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; 

Our meddling intellect 

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:— 

We murder to dissect. 

What can the sages and books teach us? The way the book teaches and tells us to learn is by meddling, changing, and often destroying the shape of beautiful things. The line “We murder to dissect” is a very powerful line telling us about how bookish knowledge works. We destroy to learn. 

Enough of Science and of Art; 

Close up those barren leaves; 

Come forth, and bring with you a heart 

That watches and receives. 

The final stanza is about keeping the books away, keeping the subjects of sciences and arts away, and just trying to learn from nature. To open up the heart and let it see, and learn in the process. Wordsworth says that for a moment let us just stop trying to understand things and try to enjoy things. The learning will happen in the process itself. 

Theme and Central Idea of The Tables Turned

The theme of the poem The Tables Turned, as with almost every Wordsworth poem, is nature. But it goes beyond that. The theme here is the wisdom we can get from nature, and how nature can be a teacher instead of a preacher. This poem does not say to stop reading books, rather it says to take a look around and learn from Nature a thing or two. 

The mood of the poem is also very similar. It is about a cheerful understanding of the world, from the world itself. Do not spend all your days and nights inside a room trying to learn the facts from a book. But come out of it, enjoy the sight that you see, and nature will teach you so much more than these books. 

The tone of the poem is happy, cheerful, enthusiastic, curious, impulsive, and a desire to explore and go beyond one’s capabilities. It serves as a motivational, enriching poem. 

Why is the Poem Called “The Tables Turned”?

The poem is called “The Tables Turned” because, metaphorically, the tables have been turned. One would think that books are the only source of knowledge and wisdom and nature is just a source of beauty. But that’s not the case. 

Wordsworth says that nature is a beautiful teacher that teaches us to see and learn without destroying something. He says that it is a better teacher than the books and sages as nature lets us learn, but also makes us take action. The tables have been turned. 

Literary Devices in the Poem 

All the poems by William Wordsworth are a treasure of literary devices. The exceptional quality of Wordsworth’s poems comes from the deep meaning, simple language, and yet the use of a diverse range of literary devices. Here are all the literary devices used in the poem;

Metaphor: Metaphors have been used here extensively. Here are some examples: 

Or surely you’ll grow double: 

The sun above the mountain’s head, 

A freshening lustre mellow 

Let Nature be your teacher. 

She has a world of ready wealth, 

One impulse from a vernal wood 

Our meddling intellect 

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:— 

We murder to dissect. 

Close up those barren leaves; 

That watches and receives. 

Alliteration: Here are the examples of alliteration used in the poem: 

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; 

Why all this toil and trouble? 

She has a world of ready wealth, 

Imagery: Imagery is one of the most prominent components in this poem. Many examples can be taken from the poem that uses imagery. For example;

The sun above the mountain’s head, 

A freshening lustre mellow 

Through all the long green fields has spread, 

His first sweet evening yellow. 

Come, hear the woodland linnet, 

How sweet his music! on my life, 

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! 

He, too, is no mean preacher: 

Come forth into the light of things, 

Let Nature be your teacher. 

Personification: Examples of personification in the poem include the sun, the woodland linnet, the throstle, nature, books, etc all being personified in different ways. For example: 

His first sweet evening yellow. 

Come, hear the woodland linnet, 

How sweet his music! on my life, 

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! 

He, too, is no mean preacher: 

Type: The Tables turned is a lyrical poem, with a proper meter and rhyming scheme. 

Rhyming scheme: The rhyming scheme of the poem is ABAB. The meter alternates from iambic tetrameter to iambic trimeter.

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