Unlike Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”, Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Thoughts on My Sick-bed” presents a positive message for those experiencing illness. Instead of chronicling her illness and resulting depression, Wordsworth’s message is one of hope even in bad times. Wordsworth’s poem also offers a method for escaping the gloom that can arise when confined to a bed.
Wordsworth’s poem begins by describing an inner light that remains even after illness has ravaged her body. She writes, “Ah! Say not so—the hidden life / Couchant within this feeble frame / Hath been enriched by kindred gifts, / That, undesired, unsought-for, came” (lines 4-7). For her, even laying in a feeble state, she perceives gifts and positive events in her life. She writes of occasions “when loving Friends an offering brought” (line 33) or “when spring-time in rock, field, or bower / was but a fountain of earthly hope” (line 27). It is not always clear whether these events are still occurring or are merely memories, but the narrator’s viewpoint remains mostly positive. In the last four lines, Wordsworth offers up her secret; “No need of motion, or of strength, / Or even the breathing air: / --I thought of Nature’s loveliest scenes; / And with memory I was there” (line 49-52). For her, memories of better times seem to sustain her.
Whether or not the memories explain the difference in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s viewpoints, it seems like Coleridge spends much more time focused on the present—and all the pain and despondency that comes with it. For me, the comparison of these two poems provides an interesting look into two paths that people can take when experiencing long-term illness. The poems also raise the question of whether or not the way you look at memories and the present times influences long-term mental health. Based on the two authors, it seems to me like focusing on the present and the pain of illness can exacerbate health problems, whereas Dorothy’s more positive memory-based outlook seems to maintain her level of health.