The Thorn by William Wordsworth

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

In this balladic poem, Wordsworth tells the tale of a "solitary thorn," or British Hawthorn Bush, that "marks the spot where a pregnant woman, driven from town and forced to give birth alone on the heath, died from famine, pain and cold and anguish."

In typical Wordsworthian fashion, however, he was not at all interested in the tale of the woman. he was interested in how a tale like that, a stormy night and a solitary thorn can have a deep impact on the mind and soul of a certain type of man.

For Hawthorn, his main purpose for many of his poems was "to illustrate the manner in which our feelings and ideas are associated in a state of excitement. But, speaking in language somewhat more appropriate, it is to follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature."

Before listening to this poem it is important to note the narrator. In this case, it is NOT WIlliam Wordsworth. Instead, Wordsworth is projecting the character of a specific type of superstitious mind

  • In this poem the narrator is: A sufficiently common man A captain of a small trading vessel Past the middle age of his life retired on an annuity to a small village or country town

  • He is not a native of the town he has retired to

Men such as this having little to do, become credulous and talkative from indolence. They are prone to superstition. This character is best able to exhibit, for Wordsworth "some of the general laws by which superstition acts upon the mind."

This will be our journey for this episode. How does superstition act upon the mind? What effect does it have? What turns of passion do men and women operating under superstition make?


The Thorn

By William Wordsworth


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-years’ 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.


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;