passage from Wordsworth's "Descriptive Sketches" (1793)

To facilitate close analysis of a travel text, examples of focus on: time, place, perspective, movement, distance, feeling, memory, intertextuality (history not appropriate here). For views of Como see below.

time: contrast of temporal and atemporal, apprehending in a moment ("the eye that greets") what is outside time or beyond its reach ("unwearied"; "never-ending"); time appears indeterminate, daylight; but then turns unexpectedly to evening (132)
place: the western shore of Lake Como, probably the upper section beyond Menággio; main emphasis is on contrast and variety of scene, the insistence on this making for some awkward syntax: "thy cliffs that scales"; "from the water tow'r / Insinuated" (much improved in 1836); but opening lines correspond to the two types of view announced in line 121, open and secluded perspective: position of observer seems indeterminate, sometimes above the waterside, sometimes beside it; no organizing perspective, rather a series of vignettes of different types of location; use of deictic terms*; the contrast of lake and forested shore implies a coherent landscape
movement: the narrator's movements are unrecorded: W. was following the lakeside path, but no reference to walking occurs in this passage; tropes of movement enliven the scene, e.g., "sweep"; "scales"; "tow'r"; and actual movement animates other scenes: "sprinkling"; "droop"; "shooting"; but otherwise the descriptions seem static

Wordsworth, from "Descriptive Sketches" (1793)

How bless'd, delicious Scene! the eye that greets
Thy open beauties, or thy lone retreats;
Th' unwearied sweep of wood thy cliffs that scales,
The never-ending waters of thy vales;
The cots, those dim religious groves embow'r,
Or, under rocks that from the water tow'r
Insinuated, sprinkling all the shore,
Each with his household boat beside the door,
Whose flaccid sails in forms fantastic droop,
Bright'ning the gloom where thick the forests stoop;
-- Thy torrents shooting from the clear-blue sky,
Thy towns, like swallows' nests that cleave on high;
That glimmer hoar in eve's last light, descry'd
Dim from the twilight water's shaggy side

distance: everything appears viewed from the middle-distance, making for apparently generic descriptions ("Th' unwearied sweep of wood"; "sprinkling all the shore"), with perhaps greater distance comprised by the collective nouns of the last four lines: "Thy torrents"; "Thy towns"; the towns seem especially distant
feeling: two direct references to narrator's feelings occur: "delicious" and "fantastic"; W. suggests here he is experiencing that "deliquium of the soul, an enthusiastic sensation of pleasure" described by Gilpin ("Essay") as the highest emotion of the picturesque memory: being written during 1792, two years after W.'s walking tour, how far the descriptions revert to the poet's more familiar scenery of the Lake District or mark the difference (e.g., "fantastic"; and "towns . . . on high" contrast with the English scene); W. will appear to remember much more specific detail later when returning to this experience in The Prelude of 1805 intertextuality: seclusion of cots, cf. Hutchinson on the Lakes*; recurs in "Tintern"; romanticism of evening scene suggests the influence of the same writers (e.g., Young) that influenced Radcliffe's evening settings and terms ("glimmer," "dim"); that the poem is in the picturesque mode is denied by W. in his note to line 347

*deictic terms: words indicating relative position in time or space, or speaker (e.g., here, there, now, then, etc.). In this passage, see "those" (124), "where" (129); "under" (125), "beside" (127), "from" (133); but the terms are unspecific in locating the speaker who is observing these things, hence a certain sense of abstraction. Deixis is defined on a pragmatics site as:

any linguistic element whose interpretation in simple sentences makes essential reference to properties of the extra-linguistic context in which they occur, that is, an element that the speaker uses to refer to some aspect of the context. They are the most obvious way in which the relationship between language and context is reflected in the structures of the languages themselves. They standardly include demonstratives (this, that, etc.), pronouns (I, you, etc.), tense/aspect, and can also include definite descriptions and many other types of expressions. The essential categories of information expressed by the traditional deictics are (i) Person, (ii) Spatial location relative to the speaker and possibly the hearer, (iii) Temporal location (time reference) relative to the time of utterance. (from:

In "Descriptive Sketches," see also use of "Here" (106), "There" (110), to convey a representative landscape; contrast with "here" (116) involving a specific location.

*"the most fantastic ideas of rural innocence, retirement, and love." William Hutchinson, An Excursion to the Lakes (1776), 176. (see CD for complete passage)

Views of Como (click on image to enlarge):

Nobiallo, just north of Menággio on the western shore of Lake Como Gravedona, western shore of Lake Como

Return to Romantic Travellers

Document created January 6th 2003