William Wordsworth’s “Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont” was written more about his reaction to the painting with regard to the death of his brother, John, than about the Peele Castle Ruins. His brother’s death serves as the catalyst for Wordsworth’s emotionally charged poetic reaction to Beaumont’s dark painting.
Beaumont’s A Storm: Peele Castle is painted in dark, muted colors, boasts a dreadful sky with black and gray clouds, and shows a group of sailors navigating the perilous rocks along the shore in the sight of Peele Castle ruins. It is a painting full of emotion with the spray of the crashing waves separating the toiling sailors from the lonesome ruins of the castle. The only hope in the painting lies in the setting sun that shines opaquely through the clouds just above the sailors’ heads.
Wordsworth paints his own picture of the ruins in light of his “four summer weeks” opposite the castle in 1794. There were happy times for Wordsworth and that happiness and optimism shine forth in his poetic description of that beautiful summer. He describes the ruins and his time there with:
I saw thee every day, and all the while
Thy form was sleeping on a glassy sea.
So pure the sky, so quiet was the air!
So like, so very alike, was day to day! (Lines 2-5)
He illustrates a peaceful Eden in which perfect peace and tranquility rule in the delicate sunlight. He wants to remember the ruins a positive light and goes as far to cast himself in the role of painter in Lines 13-30. He indicates that he would have painted a much different picture:
I would have planted thee, thou hoary pile,
Amid a world how different from this! –
Beside a sea that could not cease to smile,
On tranquil land, beneath a sky of bliss; (Lines 17-20)
He wants so desperately to hold onto that elusive feeling of hope, optimism, and tranquility.
Wordsworth then juxtaposes those bright images with, “So once it would have been – ’tis so no more;” indicating a dark shift in mood (Line 33). In fact, this is an opening to his lament over his brother’s death at sea. According to Duncan Wu, John Wordsworth drowned aboard the “Earl of Abergavenny, of which he was the Captain, 25 February 1805″ (584). Wu indicates that William may have viewed Beaumont’s painting “at the Royal Academy, 2 May 1806” (584). Nearly twelve years after his summer there and just over a year after the tragic loss of his brother, Wordsworth’s pain calls to him through the dark, swirling waters of Beaumont’s painting.
Wordsworth, however, does not end this poem with the tarry thickness of doom and gloom. In true Wordsworthian fashion, he calls out to his brother:
Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone,
Housed in a dream, at distance from the kind!
Such happiness, wherever it be known,
Is to be pitied, for ’tis surely blind.
But welcome fortitude, and patient cheer,
And frequent sights of what is to be borne!
Such sights, or worse, as are before me here –
Not without hope we suffer and we mourn (Lines 53-66).
Thus, the burden of his loss is lifted from the reader with a certain portion of hope, albeit a melancholy hope.
Wordsworth mourns his brother’s loss and bears his soul in his reaction to Beaumont’s A Storm: Peele Castle. His pleasant thoughts and memories of the Peele Castle ruins are juxtaposed with the dark, brooding images displayed in Beaumont’s painting. The reality of his loss brings him to realize that the painting’s darkness reflects his own wounded feelings of hurt and loss. However, hope rules at the end of his reaction and illuminates the triumph of the human spirit.
Wordsworth, William. “Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont.” Romanticism: An Anthology. Ed. Duncan Wu. 4th ed. Malden: Blackwell Anthologies, 2012. 583-584.
Wu, Duncan. Romanticism: An Anthology. 4th ed. Malden: Blackwell Anthologies, 2012. 584.