In the poem “The Ruined Cottage” by William Wordsworth, the narrator listens to an old man sitting outside of an abandoned cottage tell of the family that used to live therein. The man describes how he was once friendly with the family living there, and how he embarked on various travels and visited the cottage each time he happened to be in the area, sometimes going years before seeing the cottage again. Because of this, the old man is able to observe the gradual changes that overtook the cottage as if they were sudden, and he is shaken by the tragedy that afflicts the once-happy family living there.

This poem makes use of a trope that I have noticed in other poems, short stories, books, and even movies: a narrator that goes away and returns to observe a place/person that he/she once knew after a long period of time, emphasizing the changes having taken place in the narrator’s absence.

Does this trope have a name?

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    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by your "returning traveller trope". Is Odysseus an example, or not? – user14111 Jan 22 '19 at 7:24
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    You've just given it a name. But I'd call it a motif rather than a trope. Motif is a narrative concept (which is what you mean here), while trope refers to language (though, unfortunately, the term is increasingly misused to refer to motifs). And we have a tag for motif. – Tsundoku Jan 22 '19 at 14:13
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    @Christophe: In current-day English, these things are called tropes, probably influenced by the website TV Tropes. It's too late to go back to the days when motif wasn't one of the meanings of trope. – Peter Shor Jan 22 '19 at 14:42
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    @ChristopheStrobbe Okay, thanks! I was not aware of that; I have only ever seen “motif” refer to music. – Franklin Pezzuti Dyer Jan 22 '19 at 20:56

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