"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free" : Introduction, Critical Summary and Development of Thought


The sonnet was written in 1802 at Calais and published in 1807. In August 1802, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were in Calais to meet Annette Vallon. Annette and Wordsworth had become lovers when the poet had visited France in the 1790's. A child, Caroline, was born of this union in 1792. Though Wordsworth probably considered marriage with Annette, certain factors prevented it. He had little money and no prospect of a profession; he was also a
Protestant and Annette a Roman Catholic. The story of this love is outlined in a veiled form in Vaudracour and Julia. In 1802, Wordsworth met Annette after ten years, by appointment. In the four weeks that they stayed at Calais, Dorothy tells us in her Journal that
they all walked about on the sands by the sea in the evening. One such calm and beautiful evening inspired this sonnet.

Development of Thought
In the opening lines of the poem the poet draws a graphic picture of a tranquil sunset by the side of a seashore. The closing lines contain a reflection of the attitudes of man and child towards peaceful nature.

On an evening of extraordinary splendour and beauty when the
atmosphere was perfectly calm and clear and the glorious sun was
setting in the western horizon, while the poet was walking ona
seashore, accompanied by a little girl, he was deeply affected by the
tranquil scene. The child, however, did not seem to share the poet's
solemn thought. The poet says that this does not mean that the child's nature is less divine than the grown-up man's. On the other hand, the child is in direct communion with God, and is thus much nearer to the Supreme Being, and more divine, than the grown-up man.

Critical Appreciation
The sonnet is descriptive with a tinge of meditation in it. In the Octave (the first eight lines of the Italian sonnet) the poet describes
the beautiful evening. In the sunset (the last six lines of the sonnet) he addresses the little girl Caroline and speaks of the instinctive closeness of a child to divinity. This is one of those sonnets written by Wordsworth, which are of the first order and without flaw. It gives us the picture of a beautiful calm sunset and may be compared with Wordsworth's picture of a beautiful and tranquil sunrise in the sonnet: Composed upon Westminster Bridge, and the description of a calm evening in:

Composed upon an evening of extraordinary splendour and beauty.

See also Milton's famous description of evening Paradise Lost, Book IV. L. 598. This picture of a tranquil sunset may be contrasted with the stormy sunrise and sunsets in which Shelley delights.

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