(What the original question was, I forget. "Compare two poems" or very similar.
I'll try to find either the original Word document or returned essay at some point.)

As is obvious, the stories contained in the Wordsworthian poems "Beggars" and "The Sailor's Mother", despite being contemporaneously individual and distinct, are intrinsically linked. The underlying message which the notable author seems to be trying to communicate is that the poor and afflicted are possessed of a greater nobility of spirit than may generally be accepted in society. In each instance, as in others, Wordsworth seeks out the quiet dignity of such individuals, uncovering and emphasising positive aspects of their character and lives. Even when he allows negativity to creep into his tone, it becomes an almost paternal remonstration ("yet a boon I gave here, for the creature / Was beautiful to see—a weed of glorious feature.") In his encounter with her children, despite their evident lies, the narrator is neither judgmental nor harsh with them for this; he goes on to describe them as "joyous Vagrants", displaying that love of the affable rogue common to all genial 'men of the world'—even going so far as to wish supernal gifts upon them ("Wings let them have.")

The poems both have in common the use of pathetic fallacy very early in each poem: the weather is "raw", "wet" and "in winter time" for a melancholy tale, and casts forward "summer's ... heat" for a far more cheery and positive encounter. This not only immediately provides a recurrent frame of reference for anyone familiar with some of Wordsworth's other poems, but is a statement of the author's intentions for the rest of the narrative. In both instances nature and weather references repetitively enter and sustain the poem's form and mood: "a crimson butterfly", "yellow flowers the gayest of the land", "leaves of laurel", as opposed to "cold damp air", "a foggy day". In both instances the speaker is come upon by the voice of the poem during a walk, the purpose of which walk is not at all obvious, but simply "on the road"; indeed its telling might be superfluous and uninteresting, its recounting serving only to detract from the rest of the story.

In Wordsworth's mind, the majesty of persons (and women in particular) is recurrent in connection with the imagery of height. "Tall and straight" he says of the sailor's mother, and "she had a tall man's height or more ... she towered" of the beggar woman, the inference seeming to be that they stand unbowed under the pressures of life. Imagery of ancient and imperial powers are also seemingly respected in their utilisation by Wordsworth: exotic Greece, Egypt, Rome and further reaches are all invoked in the description of dignity ("like a Roman matron's was her mien and gait", "her skin was of Egyptian brown", "ruling Bandit's wife among the Grecian isles", "fit person for a Queen / To lead those ancient Amazonian files".) He bestows upon ordinary lives an incredible charm; more than that, he suggests that such mystical splendour is in fact already present everywhere were we but to look for it.

The voice of the poem in both instances takes an exceptionally strong pride in the English country and culture. Of the sailor's mother it speaks its pride that "my country bred" such a woman; in the case of the Amazonian beggar woman that in such a glorious country her story of poverty must be false, for in that exalted land "such woes, I knew, could never be". Both women beg for alms—a sum of money or a benefaction which is not simply for themselves, but it is implied by the rest of the poem that they each have a dependent something to support beyond their own frames, be it children or a cage-bird. Also, it is perhaps important that the beggar in each instance is a woman; a man begging in Wordsworth's time would have been far less likely to incur the sympathy of readers if there was the slightest evidence for his being able to work to support himself—an old woman and a woman with young children, both mothers, possess a much more universal appeal, no matter their circumstances.

These striking similarities are not to say that the poems lack an individual voice and pathos. Though their rhyming patterns are identical and their subjects not dissimilar, there is a correlation which results not in one poem becoming an inferior or superior version of another, but in a diversity and intensity of spectrum; in particular, there is evidence of a strong preoccupation with the vibrantly living rather than that past and gone—for instance, the conversation worthy of record in "Beggars" is with the woman's children, not she herself. The plight of the old woman in "The Sailor's Mother" is evidently the main thread of that poem rather than her son's fate. This seems most likely to be because Wordsworth cherishes positive thoughts over their opposites; the triumph of spirit over adversity in the case of the sailor's mother, rather than wallowing in grief and negativity.

There is a difference of style also: the fact that exactly one half of the verses of "The Sailor's Mother" are a chronicle of her son's life-story give Wordsworth only odd lines of those verses in which to inform us of the mother's continuing life story—a task which he fulfils admirably. Though the phrase "[she] begged an alms" is used in both poems, there is a humbler nature inherent to the sailor's mother than the "haughty" Amazonian—she is more obviously pious and truly in need, no "weed" is she, and says "God help me for my little wit!" in self-deprecation. There is something as charming as the roguish nature of the beggar boys in the way she carries this bird with her; a feeling as strong, though Wordworth induces it through differing methods. This is the power of his poetry: he makes us feel the lives of others; he makes us feel that life has something to offer.


Departmental question sheet.