Lucy Poems Essay
Lucy poems are the 5 different poems written by WW between 1798 and 1801. They belong to the second edition of ‘’Lyrical Ballads’’, which is a collection of both Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s poems. Lucy poems are lyrical ballads, they are written in verse and they all tell a story as briefly as possible. Wordsworth wrote them in the simple language of common people and he often used dramatic changes of states and ironic inversions which are also present in the traditional ballad. Among the Lucy poems, ‘’The Strange fits of passion have I known’’ is probably the most obvious ballad since it has an old, very simple ballad form. However, the Lucy poems never existed as such in W’s day, they were grouped this way by Victorian critics and editors after his death.
~ Inspiration ~
In terms of literary origin, Lucy derives from Robert Anderson’s song ‘’Lucy Gray of Allendale’’ which was written approximately at the same time and place as these 5 poems. Some critics believe that W was very much impressed with this happening and as a result, he wrote the Lucy poems. A great deal of attention has been given to the biographical problems raised by these poems. There is no exact answer to the question who Lucy is, except to say that it is irrelevant. Lucy may be inspired by W’s younger sister Dorothy or by the mother of his daughter – Annette Vallon or by any other young woman. It is interesting that Coleridge’s guess was that Dorothy is hidden behind the character of Lucy. On the other hand, she can also be viewed as a folk-song heroine, as well as a nature-spirit. However, there is no reason to suppose that W had any particular person in mind. Critics were more interested in the psychobiographical context, in the emotional line of his work, rather than in the speculations over Lucy’s real-life counterpart. Between October 1798 and February 1799, W worked on the first draft of the Lucy poems. At that time he was separated from his very good friend and colleague, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They were on good terms, they even lived as neighbours in Germany, they supported each other in many ways. After their separation, W was depressed and the consequence of his depression for
his work was the fantasy of Dorothy’s death in the Lucy poems. W both loved her and wished to be rid of her because of the serious inconvenience of her presence. It is even said that William blamed Dorothy for the loss of Coleridge’s company. However, the Lucy poems were created as an expression of his uncertainty. Their composition occurred in 3 phases which are connected with the emotional difficulties in W’s relationship with both Dorothy and Coleridge. 1. The first and the most important phase occurred during the first 3 months of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s separation in Germany: that’s when he wrote – Strange fits of passion have I known
– She dwelt among the untrodden ways
– A Slumber did my spirit seal
2. The second phase is marked with the poem:
Three years she grew in sun and shower
3. The final phase saw the composition of ‘’I travelled among unknown men’’ which was written in England, on his way back from the journeys in Germany, while the others were written on his journey.
These periods were marked by separation and reunion with Coleridge, also with several disappointments and failures through most of his adult life (e.q. when he had to abandon Anette Vallon with their daughter or when he and Dorothy were left without a permanent home they needed). Furthermore, W lived in Lake District, in the Dove Cottage, one of the most beautiful parts of England and nature, the sights around the lake where he had spent most of his adult life, had a great impact on him. His inspiration by nature can be seen in the following quote: “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours.” Many of his most famous poems involve nature, one of them is “I travelled among unknown men’’, in which W begins by personifying England; he speaks of his departure from England and it was only then that he realised how much he loved his homeland; he uses strong and vivid language to show that love, he said: ‘’To love thee more and more.’’
W knew how to create a patriotic image, and still, link his love for his country with the love he felt for Lucy; his memory of Lucy is somehow kept in England.
~ Themes ~
The constant themes in Lucy poems are the processes of growth and decay, as well as the relationship between man and nature. The narrator is the poet himself, the lover. But, in the poem ‘’Three years she grew in sun and shower, the story is told by NATURE herself. Lucy poems have a CYCLICAL STRUCTURE: Lucy is shown as moving through a cycle of childhood, maturity and death, e.q.: The poem ‘’She dwelt among the untrodden ways’’ tells the story of her growth, perfection and death in the way that she is compared with a flower, a violet in this case. In these poems, generally, Lucy is not only compared with a flower, but also with the most public beauty that is possible – the beauty of a single star when it is shining in the sky. This is an example of ANTITHETIC OPPOSITES (mutually exclusive opposites) because the flower symbolizes Lucy’s insignificance in the public world, while the star represents her supreme importance in the private world (in the world of her lover). Another important theme is the poet’s fear from Lucy’s death which is illustrated through examples from nature. The lover’s fear is shown in the sudden disappearance of the moon which he notices while he rides to Lucy’s cottage. This shows that the poet sees Lucy existing from day to day and doesn’t normally think that sooner or later she must die. He refuses to realise that he is fully human and mortal and also the lover of a mortal woman. Another example for this is when Lucy is thought of as a blossoming rose, and the poet doesn’t allow himself to think about the moment when she must fade. In ‘’She dwelt among the untrodden ways’’ the lover fears that she will die, in the other four, he laments her death. The relationship between man and nature is a very important theme which is perhaps best shown in the poem ‘’Three years she grew..” where Lucy is again thought of as a flower and the nature makes a promise to create an almost perfect woman. This is how W expresses his wonder at the magical creations of nature, in this case, a beautiful young woman as such. W is famous for combining the INORGANIC and ORGANIC worlds. In his poems, he treats them as a whole, e.q.: ‘’rocks and stones and trees’’ – this shows his awakening to the bitter truth, a kind of reconciliation or calm which came after he had faced the truth about existence. However, Lucy poems are concerned with a universal truth about human life, a truth that everyone knows but rarely recognizes because it is painful – and that is the fact that no one lives forever, everyone ceases to exist at some point. The power of these poems lies in their capacity to awaken a common knowledge which is theoretically known but usually not thought about. Lucy poems try to illustrate the way people move forward through time without realizing that every step brings them nearer to the end. E.q.: Wordsworth represents time by the quickening pace of his horse towards the object of his desire and only then realizes that everyone, including Lucy, will once die.
All these poems are based on an incident related to William by his sister and it is coloured by the poet’s imagination. This method of taking an incident from real life and colouring it with imagination is very typical of Wordsworth. To sum up, Lucy poems have a major theme in common, the untimely death of the lady and the lamentation of her lover.
~ Mood ~
Throughout the Lucy poems, the lover makes no complaint, no grief is expressed. He only states that when his beloved is gone, there will be nothing but a memory which deepens the sense of his loss. The pattern of antithesis is very frequent in these poems: it creates a contrast between the poet’s indifference to Lucy’s life and the sense of loss after her death. For the majority of people, her death means nothing, but for him it is very painful. The poet is represented as a mourner who is isolated and that makes his grief harder to bear because it is not shared. He accepts that isolation as natural, he doesn’t protest against it. The poem ‘’I travelled among unknown men’’ is characterized by the mood of passivity. That is the mood when the poet is ‘’laid asleep in his body’’. In this mood, the poet stops struggling and allows the nature to assert itself. Calmness and peace are present, their dominance can be clearly seen in the poem ‘’A slumber did my spirit seal’’ where the pace is slowed down by the language used. When the poet sleeps, Lucy is with him and in his mind she will always be young and most importantly, never forgotten. In his dreams, as well as in the English nature, the lover is always reunited with Lucy. In general, the poems end in a despairing tone because the lover as left alone with the knowledge that all that is left of his beloved is the grief he feels. Otherwise, she is nothing and she made no difference to the world. Lucy poems are love stories but also accounts of a special belief in nature which William considers necessary to live. Wordsworth wasn’t primarily a thinker, but a feeler. His poems are either the direct or the symbolic expression of his personal feelings, moods and intuitions. Most importantly, his poetry lays between the words.