Literature

‘Anecdote for Fathers’: A Poem by William Wordsworth

‘Anecdote for Fathers’ is not one of William Wordsworth’s best-known poems. First published in the landmark 1798 collection Lyrical Ballads, which Wordsworth co-authored with Coleridge, ‘Anecdote for Fathers’ is narrated by a father who recalls going for a walk with his young son, and coming to realise that the boy’s innocence contains more wisdom than the father’s senior years. ‘A father can learn from his son, too’ might be a concise way of summarising this poem.

Anecdote for Fathers

I have a boy of five years old;
His face is fair and fresh to see;
His limbs are cast in beauty’s mold
And dearly he loves me.

One morn we strolled on our dry walk,
Or quiet home all full in view,
And held such intermitted talk
As we are wont to do.

My thoughts on former pleasures ran;
I thought of Kilve’s delightful shore,
Our pleasant home when spring began,
A long, long year before.

A day it was when I could bear
Some fond regrets to entertain;
With so much happiness to spare,
I could not feel a pain.

The green earth echoed to the feet
Of lambs that bounded through the glade,
From shade to sunshine, and as fleet
From sunshine back to shade.

Birds warbled round me – and each trace
Of inward sadness had its charm;
Kilve, thought I, was a favoured place,
And so is Liswyn farm.

My boy beside me tripped, so slim
And graceful in his rustic dress!
And, as we talked, I questioned him,
In very idleness.

‘Now tell me, had you rather be,’
I said, and took him by the arm,
‘On Kilve’s smooth shore, by the green sea,
Or here at Liswyn farm?’

In careless mood he looked at me,
While still I held him by the arm,
And said, ‘At Kilve I’d rather be
Than here at Liswyn farm.’

‘Now, little Edward, say why so:
My little Edward, tell me why.’ –
‘I cannot tell, I do not know.’ –
‘Why, this is strange,’ said I;

‘For, here are woods, hills smooth and warm:
There surely must one reason be
Why you would change sweet Liswyn farm
For Kilve by the green sea.’

At this, my boy hung down his head,
He blushed with shame, nor made reply;
And three times to the child I said,
‘Why, Edward, tell me why?’

His head he raised – there was in sight,
It caught his eye, he saw it plain –
Upon the house-top, glittering bright,
A broad and gilded vane.

Then did the boy his tongue unlock,
And eased his mind with this reply:
‘At Kilve there was no weather-cock;
And that’s the reason why.’

O dearest, dearest boy! my heart
For better lore would seldom yearn,
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.

If you enjoyed ‘Anecdote for Fathers’, you can discover more of Wordsworth’s poetry here.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 of the Best Poems about Fathers | Interesting Literature

  2. Apart from the innate beauty of form and content, portrayal of a child’s psyche is priceless.

  3. A charming poem. And I’m sure your summary – “A father can learn from his son, too’ – is a fair one.
    The question remains, “What did the father learn?”
    Maybe he learnt not to be so annoying, and that if you press five-year-olds persistently with irritating questions (Stanza XII), they are smart enough to say anything, true or otherwise, that will put an end to the torture (Stanza XIV). Fancy, asking the same question four times!