Sonnet 227: The River Duddon VIII
Streams can be considered one of the more peaceful aspects of nature on Earth. They are always pictured as a place where wildlife such as deer and bears come to sip at its remnants or where birds may come to wash off their feathers. Along with this, some streams closer to civilization may contain history; a war may have been along its waters or maybe the stream might have been a boundary between different tribes. In sonnet VIII of The River Duddon, the poet uses a shift in tone and at the volta to display the eternal peace of the stream in contrast to the ignorant and violent men of humanity that have used it.
Before the volta of this poem, the theme of the poem is quite dark and mysterious. The stream is introduced in the first few lines, and the speaker of the poem seems to be curious as to who may have been to this body of water in the past. This curiosity is represented by a multitude of questions asked in the first 8 lines, such as “who first/ In this pellucid current slaked his thirst?” and “what hopes came with him?”. The questions show a gradual change from being referred to the stream to instead being focused on the one using the stream and their life. The speaker’s view of the user of the stream is a dark one, using the phrase “slaked his thirst” and referring to him as an “intruder” to show that this person is not worthy of using its waters. The last question is asked menacingly to the first user of the water, asking, “Was the intruder nursed/ In hideous usages, and rites accursed, / That thinned the living and disturbed the dead?”. This final question before the volta shows that the speaker disapproves of the first user of the stream, saying that they take the peaceful waters of the stream but carry out lives of barbaric and violent deeds, as referred to with, “thinned the living and disturbed the dead”.
After the eighth line, or volta of the poem, the poem changes to one of peacefulness as the speaker attempts to answer his or her own question. The vengefulness of the questions asked towards humanity in the first part of the poem is now met by the change of thoughts to the light and peaceful aspects of the stream itself in the second part. The speaker shows that the stream’s answer to the corruption of the men who have touched its waters is that in fact “no voice replies”, saying that the nature around the stream is “mute”. The stream quietly moves on, doing only what it knows best, “to heal and to restore”, no matter what tainted hands may enter it. While the corruption of humanity surrounds and momentarily uses the stream for its own need, the waters continue to move down the stream, washing away these bad remnants and keeping it peaceful.