Laodmeia: by William Wordsworth - Summary & Analysis

Also Read


      Laodmeia was the daughter of Acastus, King of Locus and wife of Protesilaos, a native of Phylace in Thessaly. Protesilaos led the warriors of several Thessalian princes against Troy. He was the first of the Greeks to land on the shore of Troy, though he knew from the oracle of Apollo at Delphi that the first to land would be the first to meet his death. He was slain by the Trojan Prince Hector. When Laodameia came to know this, she begged the gods to restore him to life and allow her to converse with him for only three hours. The request was granted. Hermes (Mercury) led Protesilaos back to the upper world and, when he died a second time, Laodameia died with him. This is the classical legend.

      In Wordsworth’s poem, Laodameia is first described in the posture of a suppliant, petitioning the gods to restore her slain lord to her sight. To her great joy, her prayer is heard and she sees her husband in bodily form; led by Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods, who tells her that her husband has come to tarry with her for the space of three hours and who then departs. She tries to embrace the figure but every time the ghostly form eludes her grasp. She asks him to speak and he informs her that he has been sent as a reward of her fidelity and of his fearless virtue in leaping first on the sandy plain of Troy in spite of what the Delphic oracle had foretold. In reply, she expresses her appreciation of his matchless courage, his kindness and goodness and invites him to the nuptial couch that she might be his bride a second time. But he tells her that he cannot now be the joys of sense. Only calm pleasures, majestic pains abide in the other world. She should learn how to ‘control her rebellious passion, for the gods approve the depth, and not the tumult of the soul, a fervent, not ungovernable love’. But she reminds him of how the gods are merciful to human beings. They allowed Hercules to take back from the under-world Alcestis, the wife of his former host, Admetus, king of Pherae in Thessaly. Medea, the wife of Jason, rejuvenated her aged father-in-law, Aeson. They may yet relent further, for love is almighty. But if thou goest’, she adds. ‘I follow’.

      Protesilaos then assumed the beautiful and pensive mien of his Elysion abode. He spoke of spiritual love, heroic arts, finer harmony, all that is imaged in happier beauty in Elysium, the abode of the blessed. He spoke of more pellucid streams, an ampler ether, a divine air and fields invested with purpureal gleams. He next narrated all that had befallen him since he had left her and gone to the Trojan war and had been slain. Finally, he advises her bravely to seek their blessed reunion in the other world.

      The three hours had elapsed. Hermes reappeared. The time was all too short. Laodameia would have clung round her husband’s figure but no mortal effort could detain him. As he went away silently, she lay a lifeless corpse on the floor. According to the classical legend, from the tomb of Protesilaos, for whom Laodameia died, there grew for ages a group of lofty trees. As soon as they reached the height from which the walls of Troy were visible, they withered but again they grew till that height. There was continual growing and withering.


      It is Wordsworth’s noble poem on the ancient touching story of Laodameia. His handling of the subject is most austere and majestic. It shows his predilection for the dramatic form. It illustrates the correspondent weight and soundness of his thoughts and sentiments as well as his meditative pathos. There are fine examples in this poem of the felicity of his diction. The rhyming stanzas, each of six lines, are well suited to story telling.

      The main theme is of love in conflict with reason and duty. Love is given to mortals, encouraged, sanctioned for the lofty purpose of ascending towards a higher object. The lesson to be learned from the poem is summed in the following lines:

“The gods approve
The depth, and not the tumult of the soul
A fervent, not ungovernable love’’.

Previous Post Next Post