Summary and critical analysis of the poem Yarrow Unvisited by William Wordsworth

by Benjamin Robert Haydon,painting,1842

Yarrow Unvisited, along with Yarrow Visited, is one of the most popular and successful poems of William Wordsworth. It is, of course, not given a very high place among Wordsworthian great poems by a good many critics. Nevertheless, Yarrow Unuisited is a fine and delightful poem. It brings out much of the characteristic marks of Wordsworth as a poet and lover of Nature.

The poet and his sister Dorothy, in course of their Scottish tour in 1803, reached Stirling Castle, wherefrom they had a clear view of the river Forth, flowing in a zigzag course. They proceeded along the banks of the rivers – Clyde, Tay  and Tweed. They reached Clovenford finally. Dorothy then proposed to change their track a bit to see the braes of Yarrow. Wordsworth, however, objected to her proposal. He asserted that the Yarrow valley should be left to its native rustics and beasts and birds. Many other beautiful places were yet to be visited by the poet and his sister. They should not, therefore, waste one day in order to see an ordinary river, like Yarrow. Sensing Dorothy’s shock, of course, the poet admitted the beauty of the river Yarrow and its neighbourhood. Nevertheless, he wanted to remain satisfied for the present with the mere knowledge of that beauty. He further pointed out to his sister that a visit to the river Yarrow, despite all its magnificence, might prove a great disappointment to them. Their imaginary picture of the river Yarrow might have been shattered by the real Yarrow that they would behold. Moreover, they should better retain their ideal vision of the river Yarrow for the future days of their old age, sorrow and disgust. This will act as a consolation to them then.

The poem is on the river Yarrow. The river Yarrow has been celebrated in a number of ballads. Yarrow Unuisited has also the appearance of ballad poetry. It shows a marked resemblance to a ballad in its local colour, metre and diction. In its narrative and conversational character, the poem also bears a strong ballad element. In fact, the poem is a happy instance of romantic ballad poetry, of course on the popular Wordsworthian matter-Nature.

The poem is particularly interesting for the display of the poet’s different moods. There is a fine transition from the light to the serious mood in the poem. The poet’s earlier arguments to his sister are quite fanciful and light. But the poet grows sober and thoughtful towards the close of the poem. The poem expresses Wordsworth’s deep thoughts on the relationship between reality and imagination and man and Nature.

This brings out distinctly the didactic aspect of the poem. The poet in Wordsworth is a philosopher and moralist. The moral note is struck primarily in the poet’s arguments to Dorothy for keeping off Yarrow in their present tour. He admits the loveliness of the river, but is afraid that real Yarrow may not be equal to the river Yarrow of their imagination. After all, reality hardly comes on a par with ideality, created by imagination. Man’s ideal vision is liable to be undone by his experience of rude reality. So the poet exclaims interrogatively,

We have a vision of our own,
Ah ! why should we undo it?

Wordsworth’s last argument contains his moral view on Nature’s restorative influence. The poet assures Dorothy that in their old age and agony and despondency, they are certain to have comfort and joy from the very thought that there is yet a delightful spot of Nature-Yarrow and its surroundings—for them to see and refresh themselves-

That earth has something yet to show,
The bonny holms of Yarrow.

Wordsworth is above all a poet of Nature. Yarrow Unvisited suggestively shows his profound regard for the quiet beauty of Nature. He expresses here his profound interest in the spots of natural beauty. Moreover, the conclusion of the poem testifies to Wordsworth’s reverential attitude to Nature as man’s friend, philosopher and teacher.

Yarrow Unvisited is a lively and fanciful poem. It is rich in pleasant pictures and diverting moods. The poem has eight stanzas of eight lines each. This, as stated already, is written in the characteristic ballad metre. There is an appropriate swing of the metre here. There is also a brisk movement of the poetic diction that makes it quite diverting.

Also read; Summary and critical analysis of the poem The Idiot Boy by William Wordsworth 

Also read; Critical Analysis of Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimation of Immortality