Ode to Duty

Original Text: 
William Wordsworth, Poems in Two Volumes (1807). See The Manuscript of William Wordsworth's Poems, in Two Volumes (1807): A Facsimile (London: British Library, 1984). bib MASS (Massey College Library, Toronto).
Jam non consilio bonus, sed more eo perductus, ut non tantum recte facere possim, sed nisi recte facere non possim"
"I am no longer good through deliberate intent, but by long habit have reached a point where I am not only able to do right, but am unable to do anything but what is right."
(Seneca, Letters 130.10)
2O Duty! if that name thou love
3Who art a light to guide, a rod
4To check the erring, and reprove;
5Thou, who art victory and law
6When empty terrors overawe;
7From vain temptations dost set free;
8And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity!
9There are who ask not if thine eye
10Be on them; who, in love and truth,
11Where no misgiving is, rely
12Upon the genial sense of youth:
13Glad Hearts! without reproach or blot;
14Who do thy work, and know it not:
15Oh! if through confidence misplaced
16They fail, thy saving arms, dread Power! around them cast.
17Serene will be our days and bright,
18And happy will our nature be,
19When love is an unerring light,
20And joy its own security.
21And they a blissful course may hold
22Even now, who, not unwisely bold,
23Live in the spirit of this creed;
24Yet seek thy firm support, according to their need.
25I, loving freedom, and untried;
26No sport of every random gust,
27Yet being to myself a guide,
28Too blindly have reposed my trust:
29And oft, when in my heart was heard
30Thy timely mandate, I deferred
31The task, in smoother walks to stray;
32But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.
33Through no disturbance of my soul,
34Or strong compunction in me wrought,
35I supplicate for thy control;
36But in the quietness of thought:
37Me this unchartered freedom tires;
38I feel the weight of chance-desires:
39My hopes no more must change their name,
40I long for a repose that ever is the same.
41Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
42The Godhead's most benignant grace;
43Nor know we anything so fair
44As is the smile upon thy face:
45Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
46And fragrance in thy footing treads;
48And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.
49To humbler functions, awful Power!
50I call thee: I myself commend
51Unto thy guidance from this hour;
52Oh, let my weakness have an end!
53Give unto me, made lowly wise,
54The spirit of self-sacrifice;
55The confidence of reason give;
56And in the light of truth thy Bondman let me live!


1] An early form of the poem, without a title and first stanza, was completed before April 1804. Wordsworth said that his literary model for the poem was Gray's Ode to Adversity. Cf. Paradise Lost IX, 652-53: "God so commanded, and left that command/Sole daughter of his voice...." Back to Line
47] Cf. II Peter 3: 5: ". . . by the word of God the heavens were of old...." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.382.