Wordsworth's Poetical Works

Primary and Secondary Nature in Wordsworth's "The Thorn"

It is not often that one would consider gossip, rumor, fear, and slander to be a part of nature, and yet it is; at least, of human nature. And as William Wordsworth is a poet of nature, one might ask of which form of nature? That of humans or of birds and trees, and so forth? Regardless, Wordsworth crafted a poem named "The Thorn" which is exemplary in demonstrating both the primary nature (nature unmediated by society) and the secondary nature (the nature which is imprinted by society) of humankind. The secondary nature is the easiest to pick out in the poem, for the poem is rampant with rumor and gossip (among other things), which are at the heart of a societal reaction to uncertainty. The primary nature is the more subtle aspect of the poem, however, and deals with the reaction to the uncertainty which is wholly innate, that being the reaction to the unknown.

The second nature in "The Thorn" is the essential of the two natures, as the poem is a tale of superstition. Martha Ray's story is thus: she was betrayed by her lover when he married another woman, and left her with child. She was understandably distressed. But this is all that is revealed as fact in the seaman's account of the woman, and the...

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