"Nuns Fret Not at their Convent's Narrow Room" by William Wordsworth


William Wordsworth published this Petrarchan sonnet in 1807. In a somewhat self-reflexive manner, the poem describes the usefulness of the poetic form, which may appear overly limiting by its strict rules and structure. Instead, the poem argues that constraint may be a liberating rather than a restrictive path. 

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you understand the line, "In truth the prison, into which we doom Ourselves, no prison is"?
  2. What do you think Wordsworth means by the "weight of too much liberty"?
  3. How does this poem negotiate freedom and law? 

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