Learning check

1. Six questions

No study aids.

a) What is the metre of the poem?


b) What is the rhyme scheme? ________________________________________________________________

c) What do you call this kind of verse? ________________________________________________________________

d) What does “Close up those barren leaves” mean?






e) Fill in the missing word: “We ___________________________________________________ to dissect”.

f) Which personal pronoun does Wordsworth use when referring to Nature?





Wider contexts

1. Other works of art: painting by John Constable, The Hay Wain.


a) Students work in pairs and are numbered 1 and 2. All the number 1s turn their backs to the screen in the class. The number 2s face the screen. The teacher shows Constable’s painting The Hay Wain on the screen, and the number 2s explain what they see to their partner. After 5-10 minutes, the number 1s see the painting and comment on the differences between what they had imagined and the painting itself.

b) What can an 18th century person learn in that kind of environment? What would you be able to learn? What – if anything – does the painting add to your understanding of the poem “The Tables Turned”?

c) Compare the drawings you did in Pre-reading task 2. What are the main similarities and differences? How do these reflect the differences between the Romantic view of the relationship between man and nature and a modern view?


Wider contexts

2. Literary context: other poem by the same author: William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”

Read the poem and answer the questions below.

My heart leaps up when I behold
    A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
    Or let me die!
The child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.


behold se
natural piety reverent (ærbødig) regard for nature

a)      What are the three phases in the poem?
b)      How does the speaker’s response to the rainbow connect the three phases?
c)      Explain the paradox in line seven. In what sense is the child the father of the man?
d)     Is the relationship between man and nature the same in this poem as in “The Tables Turned”? Discuss.


Wider contexts

3. Literary context: poem by a different author (written assignment): William Blake, “The Schoolboy”

a) Read the poem and answer the questions below.


I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,    
And the skylark sings with me.
O! what sweet company!
But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.
Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.
How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring?
O father and mother, if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay,—

How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?
distant fjern    
wind blæse i
skylark sanglærke
outworn udmattet
sigh sukke   
dismay rædsel
droop synke sammen
bower bolig; løvhytte
worn through slidt ned;    
dreary kedsommelig
annoy gøre urolig
but andet end   
droop lade synke  
tender ung, følsom    
bud knop    
nip nippe af
blossom blomst
strip of fratage
care bekymring   
dismay skræk
mellow modne
blast vindstød


1. What is the child’s relationship with nature?
2. Why doesn’t the child like to be at school?
3. Make a list of the words associated with nature and the words associated with school.
4. Why can’t the child learn anything in school?
5. In what way is the child like a caged bird?
6. In what way is the child like a plant?
7. In your own words, what are the questions asked in the last stanza?
8. Are the questions in the last three stanzas answered?
9. What is the tone of the poem: melancholic amused sincere outraged ironic cheerful
10. Is the poem a condemnation of learning from books? Why/why not?
11. Why is this poem in Songs of Experience and not in Songs of Innocence?

b) Discuss whether Wordsworth’s view of nature and bookish learning as expressed in “The Tables Turned” is the same as the views expressed in Blake’s poem.  

You may choose to do assignment b) as a written assignment.


Wider contexts

4. Literary context: poem by a different author (written assignment): Walt Whitman, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American writer who came from a working class family. He only had five or six years of formal schooling. He was briefly employed as an office boy and then became a printer’s apprentice, worked as a handyman and taught in a variety of schools. He then worked as a reporter, a magazine writer and an editor. In the early 1850s he started writing poetry and the first edition of his book of poems Leaves of Grass, which consisted of 12 poems, was first published in 1855. The last edition contained about 400 poems. Leaves of Grass was revolutionary in that it was the first American effort to break free from the conventional forms and patterns of poetry. Whitman used the phrase rather than the foot as the unit of rhythm and thus helped to create what has come to be called free verse. In his poems Whitman celebrated nature, democracy, love and friendship. You may also know Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” in which he mourns Lincoln’s death from the film Dead Poets Society.

a) Read the poem and answer the questions below.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,  
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide,   
                                                                          and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much
                                                              applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick,           
Till rising and gliding out, I wandered off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,   
                    Looked up in perfect silence of the stars.


figure: tal       
chart: kort, kurve 
unaccountable: uforklarlig
moist: fugtig  

1. In pairs or groups: Translate the poem.
2. Read it aloud and comment on the sentence structure.
3. Where is the speaker?
4. Why does he leave?
5. What is the cumulative effect of words like “proofs”, “figures”, “columns”, “charts” and“diagrams”?
6. What is the effect created by the first four lines starting the same way, a technique known as anaphora?
7. What is implied in the word “mystical”?  And how is the implication reinforced in the last line?
8. What is the theme of the poem?
9. Do you agree with the view expressed in the poem?
10.  On the basis of this poem would you classify Walt Whitman as a Romantic poet? Why/Why not?

b)      Compare Whitman’s view of nature and bookish learning/academic knowledge as expressed in “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer” and William Wordsworth’s view in the poem “The Tables Turned”, p. 204. Point out the differences between the two poems and discuss which of the two poems you prefer.

You may choose to do assignment b) as a written assignment.


Wider contexts

5. Literary context: poem by a different author (written assignment): Matthew Arnold, “In Harmony with Nature”

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was a major Victorian poet and prose writer and one of the leading literary critics of his time. He wrote most of his poems during the 1850s and then shifted the focus of his writing to literary and social criticism. His best known poem today is ‘Dover Beach’, part of which he wrote on his honeymoon in 1851. This is the last stanza of the poem: “Ah, love, let us be true/To one another! for the world, which seems/To lie before us like a land of dreams,/ So various, so beautiful, so new,/Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;/And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/Where ignorant armies clash by night.” You will find a very different tone in the poem “In Harmony with Nature”.

a) Read the poem and answer the questions below.

“In Harmony with Nature?" 
Restless fool,
Who with such heat dost preach what were thee, 
When true, the last impossibility—
To be like Nature strong, like Nature cool!

Know, man hath all which Nature hath, but more,  
And in that more lie all his hopes of good.
Nature is cruel, man is sick of blood;
Nature is stubborn, man would fain adore; 

Nature is fickle, man hath need of rest;  
Nature forgives no debt, and fears no grave;
Man would be mild, and with safe conscience blest.  
Man must begin, know this, where Nature ends;
Nature and man can never be fast friends.
Fool, if thou canst not pass her, rest her slave! 

heat intensitet; 
dost does;  
thee (for) you
hath has                                              
fain gerne    
adore tilbede, forgude
fickle omskiftelig
blest velsignet
pass overgå     
rest forblive  

a. In pairs or groups: Translate the poem and then read it aloud.
b. What is the form of the poem? Look at the rhyme scheme, metre and the number of lines.
c. According to the speaker what characterizes nature and what characterizes man?
d. How does the speaker react to the preacher’s idea that man should be in harmony with 

e. Why does he react in this way? Why must people “begin ... where Nature ends”?
f. What is the tone of the poem?
g. Does the speaker ’preach’? 
h. Would Wordsworth agree with him?
i. Do you agree with him?

b)     Compare Matthew Arnold’s poem and Wordsworth’s poem “The Tables Turned”, P. 204. Focus on views expressed, tone and form. 

You may choose to do assignment b) as a written assignment.