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"Of the other poems in the collection, it may be proper to say that they are either absolute inventions of the author, or facts which took place within his personal observation or that of his friends. The poem of the Thorn, as the reader will soon discover, is not supposed to be spoken in the author's own person: the character of the loquacious narrator will sufficiently shew itself in the course of the story." (Advertisement 1798)
The above statement posed by Wordsworth captures what he claims to have been an experiment for The Thorn. The Thorn is based on a communal gossip; the story surrounding the abandoned mother and her murdered infant which invites the readers to imagine the poem as a superstitious. The basis of presenting this poem surrounded in communal gossip has to do with Wordsworth's experiment which he clarifies later in Preface (1802):
"The principle object, then, which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to chuse incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual wayâ€¦"
Wordsworth wanted poetry written in 'language of men' because Wordsworth thought poetic artifice made for bad poetry. He expected poetry to purge itself of artifice by imitating common language. He approaches the problem by stylizing The Thorn in "situations from common life," [communal] and "language really used by men" [gossip]. If this is so, then The Thorn was intended to be a psychological study, a poem presenting to the mind ordinary things [communal gossip] "in an unusual way." The mind whose workings are revealed is that of the narrator who is not involved in the incident surrounding the communal gossip of Martha Ray. This paper will examine the psychology of the narrator in The Thorn within the context of syllabic meter; whenever the syllabic meter of the 8-8-8-6-8-8-8-8-6-8-8 changes within the 11 lines of 23 stanzas in the poem, the change reflects the working of the narrator's imagination that has no existence outside of the narrator's imagination of the communal gossip.
The outline of syllabic meter in The Thorn is revealed in Stanza I. The narrator associates the order in which the poem's event passes through his mind. The poem begins with the scene of the thorn:
There is a thorn; it looks so old,
In truth you'd find it hard to say,
How it could ever have been young,
It looks so old and grey.
Not higher than a two-year's child,
It stands erect this aged thorn;
No leaves it has, no thorny points;
It is a mass of knotted joints,
A wretched thing forlorn.
It stands erect, and like a stone
With lichens it is overgrown.
The syllabic meter is constructed in 8-8-8-6-8-8-8-8-6-8-8, which established the psychological stability of the narrator. The scene of the thorn is associated with the event of the poem. However, there is no interaction with the narrator's imagination with the event from the scene of the thorn. The stanza depicts of a perspective description of the thorn: the age [old], the coloring [grey], the height [two-year's child], and covered by lichens. It is the order in which the narrator's investigation begins.
The narrator's imagination begins to work in Stanza II. The thorn, after the perspective description of Stanza I, engages with nature of mosses in Stanza II:
Like rock or stone, it is o'ergrown
With lichens to the very top,
And hung with heavy tufts of moss,
A melancholy crop:
Up from the earth these mosses creep,
And this poor thorn they clasp it round
So close, you'd say that they were bent
With plain and manifest intent,
To drag it to the ground;
And all had joined in one endeavour
To bury this poor thorn for ever.
The thorn is being covered by mosses, and being dragged to the ground. Stanza II is constructed in 8-8-8-6-8-8-8-8-6-9-9 syllabic meter, which is different from the syllabic meter of Stanza I. The narrator's imagination is engaged with the last couplet of the stanza: "And all had joined in one endeavour/To bury this poor thorn forever." The couplet, [I think], is metaphorical which engages the narrator's imagination; the mosses surrounding the thorn is the communal; the thorn is associated with the event of Martha Ray. The metaphor of Stanza II then, is the communal burying the event surrounding the gossip of Martha Ray. This understanding of Stanza II differs sharply from Stanza I because the reading of the poem then becomes about a psychological study of narrator's imagination; the events that design the poem stimulates his understanding of the thorn and begins to relate it to the communal gossip of Martha Ray.
From Stanza XII, the narrator tells the story of Martha Ray's marriage and abandonment:
And they had fix'd the wedding-day,
The morning that must wed them both;
But Stephen to another maid
Had sworn another oath;
And with this other maid to church
Unthinking Stephen went --
Poor Martha! on that woful day
A cruel, cruel fire, they say,
Into her bones was sent:
It dried her body like a cinder,
And almost turn'd her brain to tinder.
The syllabic meter of this stanza is 8-8-8-6-8-6-8-7-6-9-9. Martha's joy lasts until the time of her moral violation. The narrator's imagination begins to work with the metaphor of the consuming fire because the narrator cannot feel for himself the situation Martha Ray felt. The fire is presented into both "bones" and "brain." The fire represents the consuming scorn felt from the broken oath that brings about question of moral sympathy for Martha Ray. Morality and the narrator's imagination of its affect are bound together in The Thorn; they function to outline the communal representation of the Martha Ray and create the superstition surrounding the events "some two and twenty years" ago.
Up until the narrating of Martha Ray's story, the narrator has remained "loquacious," relating pieces of the superstition. With Stanza 17 however, the author offers his experience of claiming to have seen a woman. Stanza 18 questions the validity of the claim, as the visibility is ruined. Stanza 19 is when the author is certain of seeing a woman:
I did not speak -- I saw her face,
Her face it was enough for me;
I turned about and heard her cry,
"O misery! O misery!"
And there she sits, until the moon
Through half the clear blue sky will go,
And when the little breezes make
The waters of the pond to shake,
As all the country know,
She shudders and you hear her cry,
"Oh misery! oh misery!
Stanza 18 is constructed in 8-9-8-7-8-8-8-8-6-8-8, while Stanza 19 is constructed in 8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-6-8-8. The change in Stanza 18 engages the narrator's imagination with the obscured visibility from the mist, storm, and rain. Even though the vision becomes blurry, the narrator is certain of seeing a woman in the scene: "I saw her face," which leaves this stanza ambiguous. The question of whether the woman is Martha Ray or not and examining the question left by the ambiguity would be to stray away from what Wordsworth intended with the poem: "to exhibit some of the general laws by which superstition acts upon the mind." Martha Ray's presence in the communal gossip and the ambiguous physical presence illustrate Wordsworth's intent; the narrator's sight of the mosses burying the thorn engages his mind with metaphorical representation of the gossip, then the narrator's imagination turns the thorn into a woman, a figurative representation of Martha Ray.
From the revelation of its events, the outline of the poem becomes that of a psychological study. Instigated by the narrator's encounter of the thorn, the narrator begins to relate the thorn to communal gossip about a woman. As the narrator accounts these superstitions, his own imagination is roused to activity, and he proceeds to show how superstition acts upon his mind. By the end of the poem, the idea around his imagination has no existence outside of his imagination, only under the influence of the superstition.