“Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned” are two poems written by William Wordsworth during the Romantic Period, which lasted from approximately 1789 to 1840.
During this period, known as the Age of Enlightenment, European philosophers prioritized rational thinking. They believed that everything should have a logical explanation for why it occurs. Romanticism, on the other hand, encompassed various forms of expression such as art, music, architecture, and literature. Romantics emphasized the importance of emotions over logic and had a profound admiration for nature.
The poem titled “Expostulation and Reply” explicitly conveys its meaning without any hidden intention. It indicates a situation where one person gently protests or reprimands, followed by a reply to that reasoning. Similarly, the poem titled “The Tables Turned” conveys a clear message that the situation has reversed. Moreover, this poem also includes a subtitle.
“An evening scene, on the same subject” clearly indicates that this poem is about the same topic and establishes a clear connection between the two poems. “Expostulation and Reply” consists of eight stanzas, each containing four lines, with one standout stanza in the middle. The first part of the poem presents a conversation, followed by a pivotal stanza where no one speaks, and then the conversation continues until the end. The structure of “The Tables Turned” is similar to “Expostulation and Reply” with eight stanzas and four lines, but in this poem, William is the sole speaker throughout.”
The poems have similar structures and are intended for the same audience, further affirming their pairing. Wordsworth’s accessible language makes his poems easy for anyone to understand, as it is clear, simple, and to the point.
This is to ensure that the poems are easily readable and not intimidating in terms of length, so as not to discourage readers. This aligns with Wordsworth’s preference for simplicity, ease, and accessibility for all. Wordsworth holds the belief that nature has the power to enhance one’s intellect, and I believe the main theme running through both poems is that nature has the capacity to impart knowledge just as effectively as books and scientific experiments. “Expostulation and Reply” takes the form of a dialogue between two characters, Matthew and William.
The poem “The Tables Turned” is unique in that it consists entirely of dialogue. It is preceded by the poem “Expostulation and Reply,” which surprised me. In the second poem, William responds to the conversation in the previous poem through a monologue. Matthew begins the conversation by speaking critically to William and asking a faultfinding question, “Why William, on that old grey stone.” Throughout Matthew’s part of the dialogue, he continues to question and accuse William of lacking a desire to learn from books.
In “The Tables Turned,” William expresses his urgency in responding to Matthew’s inability to comprehend how he can simply observe his surroundings all day. While William does reply in “Expostulation and Reply,” it is not to the same extent as in “The Tables Turned.” The repetition of “Up! Up!” emphasizes the urgency with which William wants to convey his opinions on nature.
What is interesting is that “Up! Up!” is also used in “Expostulation and Reply” by Matthew. The exclamation marks show the urgency and an abruptness, and it is like William is repeating this deliberately to place pressure on Matthew, as now everything is reversed and the tables are turned! The tone of “Expostulation and Reply” is very critical to start with and it tries to be persuasive through the use of emotive language throughout the poem. It is shown clearly that Matthew is irritated through the use of emotive language that William does not want to know the scientific reasons why a tree is there. It then changes when William replies, as he is trying to defend himself, putting forward his argument.
The poems display similarities in their tones, with William’s criticism of Matthew apparent in “The Tables Turned.” William contends that there is no requirement for a reason for everything in life and that scientific facts are unnecessary to appreciate nature. He states, “That we can feed this minds impress, In a wise passiveness.” The term “passive” signifies the opposite of “active,” implying William’s desire for individuals to receive knowledge rather than actively seeking it. William’s perspectives on nature oppose the prevailing philosophy known as the “Age of Reason,” which sought explanations for everything. Both poems incorporate the use of the senses.
Both poems, “Expostulation and Reply” and the other one, feature William as the one using the senses. In “Expostulation and Reply,” various senses are employed, such as the eyes and ears. The poem emphasizes that the eyes cannot help but see, the ears cannot be commanded to be still, and our bodies can feel sensations whether we want to or not. The use of senses in these poems symbolizes nature. It indicates that in nature, one can perceive through sight, touch, hearing, and occasionally taste.
William is conveying the idea that nature is something we cannot control and that it is an innate part of us. It is intriguing to note the recurring use of the word “Sweet” in the poem “The Tables Turned,” suggesting a pleasant taste associated with nature. In contrast, the word “sweet” is only mentioned once in “Expostulation and Reply,” but it also evokes a pleasing image: “When life was sweet.”
…The evidence provided through the use of senses suggests that Wordsworth has a favorable connection with nature.
The text suggests that the appreciation of nature is not limited to our minds, but belongs to all of us. Both poems utilize personification to describe nature. Notably, the world is personified as “she,” symbolizing its abundance. Similarly, the sun is personified, emphasizing that light represents knowledge, and it is our responsibility to embrace this knowledge. In “The Tables Turned,” William employs emotive language to depict the harmful effects of curiosity during that era, which he considers to be incorrect.
‘We murder to dissect’. These powerful and emotional words suggest intentionally cutting things up in order to understand them. William’s use of evocative language emphasizes his perspective. It is evident in both poems that Wordsworth takes pleasure in nature and encourages others to appreciate it.
In the first poem, Wordsworth uses two characters, Matthew and William, to depict different perspectives. Matthew represents a typical person from the romantic period, seeking explanations for everything. On the other hand, William is portrayed as someone who simply appreciates nature without the need for reasons. This contrast between the characters is explored in the second poem and the latter part of “Expostulation and Reply.”