The Affliction of Margaret: Summary & Analysis

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      The poem The Affliction of Margaret, written in 1804 at Grasmere was suggested to the poet by the case of a poor widow of the town of Penrith. She would often ask the passers-by about her son.


      The poem, The Affliction of Margaret, purports to be the lamentation of a mother for her absent son, from whom she has not received any tiding for about seven years. She does not know what has become of him, and longs to have him by her, whether prosperous or undone; even if he is dead it would be some relief to her awful suspense to know the fact. When she sent him abroad, he was a good young man, innocent and bold; if he had ever done anything bad, she is sure that he was not guilty of any baseness. She was a kind and loving mother and certainly does not deserve any neglect from her son. The idea that the son neglected her pressed her down for a time, but now she believes that the son has kept away from her for some other reason than neglect. It may be that he has become poor, without any hope of honour or gain; but yet a son is always welcome to his mother. If she were free to fly up to him she would; but chains tie her down by land and sea. It may be that he lies imprisoned in a dungeon or lies dead in a lion’s den or is drowned in the sea. She sometimes expects to be visited by the ghost of the son, if he is dead; but no ghost comes to assure her of his death. Fears of various kinds rush in upon her mind; the rustling of leaves and the shadows of passing clouds make her tremble with anticipation of something turning up. None can properly realize the depth of the sorrow of her heart.


      Wordsworth is specially the poet of the secret springs of the human heart, that often lie too deep for tears’. Such an analysis of the mother’s heart, racked by uncertainties about the fate of her only child, and torn between her material pride and her maternal affection, could come only from a poet who “saw man through Nature’s eyes dwelling therefore not on accidents of temperaments and disposition that go to differentiate men and women from each other, but on those primal qualities of humanity where Man and Nature touch and blend”. The poem is important to us in another way; it illustrates” “the inadequacy of Wordsworth’s theory to explain the merits of his own poetry.” The significance of these remarks of Myers is best explained in the words of Wheeler. “In the first two stanzas the mother speaks, or Wordsworth for her, according to his theory that poetry should be a selection of the language really spoken by men, with meter superadded. But in the next two lines, she speaks a language that is artificial without being poetical, which may be said also of line nineteen. The three next stands are full of artless pathos then suddenly the great poet begins to speak, and for four stanzas, and in the second of which he reaches the full-power, we are help spell-bound”.

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