It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.
Summary and Analysis
William Wordsworth’s ‘It is a Beauteous Evening‘, is structured in the Italian form with the rhyme scheme, abba, abba, cde ced which shows a slight variation in the endings.
The sonnet refers to the poet’s visit to France in August 1802. This sonnet describes evening time which is equated with Godliness and purity as is brought out in the simile of a “nun” in the second line. “Breathless with adoration” elaborates the idea of a very special time of the day which is suffused with an elevated, hushed sensation. The fourth line describes the physical aspect of the time – the setting of “broad sun” which creates a striking sense of wonder as it sinks serenely. The juxtaposition of size and silence creates the atmosphere of beauty and enchantment. The next line i.e. line five strikes a note of discord in the image of “brooding” and especially because it is the heavens above which perhaps frown over the world below. Somewhere through this line the Christian notion of God disturbed by man’s actions on earth is conveyed but only briefly or perhaps transiently. The imagery in the last three lines of the octave creates the presence of another “Being” which is a manifestation of mighty nature which rolls on into an eternity which is integral with nature.
The next part of the sonnet, the sestet shifts the focus to another subject – “Dear child”. The reference is to Caroline, Wordsworth’s daughter by Annette Vallon, reiterating the essential goodness, innocence and divinity of childhood. There is difference in the reception of nature, but that does not reduce the inherent spirituality of a child. The thought is conveyed through the parable of the beggar who was carried to “Abraham’s bosom” which in the Bible is associated with a place of rest for good souls. The lines thus privilege the child’s position over that of the adult – As a child she is specially blessed, because she is born with a natural goodness which she possesses as a child. In other words, the impulses, intentions and actions of a child derive their source from the creator – a knowledge that the child is unaware of while the adult is deprived of that state of “Godliness”.
The sonnet elaborates three notions of divinity: the first four lines describe divinity as an experience of tranquility at a point of time. The next four lines connect divinity with a form more palpable and rather overwhelming – “Being”. The third idea of divinity takes up the Blakean notion of innocence as integral to a child. The lines also describe the idea of child that was further elaborated in a much longer poem, ‘An ode on the Intimation of Immortality‘, from Recollections of Early childhood.
The whole sonnet is an intertwining of passing thoughts which lead to multiple images infused with sensation leading to a belief about the special place of a child, the girl, who is a daughter in the context of a spiritual, natural and religious world view.