Ruth: Poem by William Wordsworth - Summary & Analysis

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      Ruth Or The Influences of Nature, was written in Germany in 1799, the poem was suggested to the poet by his hearing an account of a wanderer in Somersetshire. The story is about the miseries and desolation of a girl, Ruth, brought on her by an American youth, whose nature was made inhuman by receiving ‘fierce and irregular stimulus’ of the tumultuous and voluptuous scenes of tropical America. The poem is a recognition of the darker side of the influence of Nature, of which the brighter side is presented in The Education of Nature (1799).


      Ruth was an unfortunate vagrant girl, who had lost her mother in her seventh year and was let loose upon the world by her father, who married a second wife. She wandered over hills and dales; and when thus she grew up, she gave her hand to a wild American youth, who had crossed over to England after the War of American Independence. During his stay in America, this young man had been much influenced by the tumultuous, irregular and violent manifestations of Nature in those wild tropical regions. In consequence, he had become irregular and passionate, losing all self-control and the nobler aspirations of the soul. He was a slave to low desires, and though he at times thought of mending his ways, his resolutions were swept away the moment they were taken. After sometime, his "better mind’ vanished entirely, and he was sick of monotony; lured by the novelty of a wild and unrestrained life, he treacherously deserted Ruth and set sail for America. Ruth could hardly stand the shock and the treachery, and in her miseries, she lost her senses and moved about; she was shut up for a time in a lunatic asylum she came out as soon as she showed signs of recovery. After some wanderings, she took shelter on the banks of the Tone, deriving solace and comfort as well as she might form calm aspects of Nature, whose violent aspect had made her husband savage to her. She diverted herself by setting up little toy water mills on the hillside, as perhaps she used to do in her happy childhood days in delightful play.


      The poem Ruth, on the whole seems to be rather uninspired; there are a few fine pictures, which, only first rate poets can achieve, such as the description of the magnolia, the cypress, and the lake with all its fairy crowd of islands; the description is couched in lovely similes. But as we read through the poem we cannot avoid the impression that Wordsworth fails, as he so often does in other places, too, to distinguish between the functions of prose and poetry. His theory of poetic diction is at fault here.

The Value of the Alternative Title

      The alternative title, of the poem Ruth is The Influences of Nature, properly points to the purpose of the poet underlying the story, viz., that Nature in her aspect other than those that served to educate Lucy (as in The Education of Nature) has power of affecting adversely the human heart, exciting its passions and feeding its lower appetites. “The point impressed upon us is that Nature’s influence is only salutary so long as she is herself so to say, in keeping with man; that when her operations reach that degree of habitual energy and splendor at which our love for her passes into fascination and our admiration into bewilderment, the fierce and irregular stimulus consorts no longer with the growth of a temperate virtue”. Ruth herself knew something of Nature’s healing power, her breathing balm, not only in childhood, but in moments of respite from her madness.

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