William Wordsworth, about 20 years after he composed today's poem, recalled the day of its composition:
"Actually composed while I was sitting by the side of the brook that runs down from the Comb, in which stands the village of Alford, through the grounds of Alfoxden. It was a chosen resort of mine. The brook fell down a sloping rock so as to make a waterfall considerable for that country, and, across the pool below, had fallen a tree, an ash if I rightly remember, from which rose perpendicularly boughs in search of light intercepted by the deep shade above."
You get the picture. He is in a beautiful wood in Somerset. He has that moment of epiphany we have all experienced when we are overwhelmed by the beauty and harmony of the natural world. In a word, everything seems perfect in this little world of Earth. But then the epiphany changes to what Klaus Conrad coined as an apophany: Everything seems perfect, just as it should be, but somehow Man doesn't fit well into the harmony of things. The phenomenon of Man brings "sad thoughts to the mind." Is Wordsworth's description too romantic? Very likely. Is Tennyson's later vision of ‘Nature Red in Tooth and Claw’ closer to the truth? Probably. But even given the inherent violence of the natural world, "survival of the fittest" and all that, there is a harmony to it that seems close to perfection. But then there is Man.
It is interesting that Wordsworth doesn't site any examples of how the world of Man breaks up the harmony of things, the "thousand blended notes," which is perhaps why the poem transcends his own time. He concludes with the deeply Christian idea that in the face of the beauty and harmony of things, should not our response to the reality of Man be one of repentance and contrition? "If this belief from heaven be sent, / If such be Nature’s holy plan, / Have I not reason to lament / What man has made of man?"
Lines Written in Early Spring
By William Wordsworth
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?