I heard the murmur, and the murmuring sound,In that sweet mood when pleasure loves to payTribute to ease; and, of its joy secure,The heart luxuriates with indifferent things,Wasting its kindliness on stocks and stones,And on the vacant air. Then up I rose,And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crashAnd merciless ravage: and the shady nookOf hazels, and the green and mossy bower,Deformed and sullied, patiently gave upTheir quiet being: and, unless I nowConfound my present feelings with the past;Ere from the mutilated bower I turnedExulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings,I felt a sense of pain when I beheldThe silent trees, and saw the intruding sky.—Then, dearest Maiden, move along these shadesIn gentleness of heart; with gentle handTouch—for there is a spirit in the woods.(1798. From Wordsworth’s “Nutting,” lines 38-56)
In Wordsworth’s “Nutting,” the narrator of the poem recounts an incident from his youth in which, going out to gather hazelnuts, he comes upon a “virgin” bower where, to his own surprise, he discovers in himself a capacity for wanton, violent destruction and yet manages to learn from it. The story, told to an unnamed “Maiden,” reads as an instruction upon the necessity of a close, physical relationship between man and nature for the development of man’s capacities for imagination and self-awareness.
With line 38 Wordsworth is well into his story, his boyish self having reached his destination and the hazel trees with their “tempting clusters hung.” He lies down with his cheek on a rock and tells us, “I heard the murmur and the murmuring sound,” (38) repeating the syllable “mur” so many times that alongside the direct meaning of the words there is an onomatopoeic sense of the sound of a nearby brook “where fairy water-breaks do murmur on /for ever” (33-34). Wordsworth’s language achieves a similar effect six lines later when, in describing the young boy’s violent attack on the hazel tree, he employs a combination of alliteration and onomatopoeia to immerse his reader in the aural experience of the bower once more—but to completely different effect. The repetition of the harsh “b” in “both branch and bough” (44) mimics the violence of the boy’s breaking the branches in its abruptness, creating in language the sounds of the branches breaking under their brutal onslaught and shocking the reader with their sharpness. Coupled with the onomatopoeic “crash” (44), (whose shock power is fortuitously increased by its relegation to its own line by the width of the column in our version), these harsh sounds serve to set us in the bower next to the boy as he attacks the trees. We hear, in the childlike glee of “crash,” the boy’s delight in his own power of destruction just as we hear in the “b”’s the crack of the branches.