Term Paper, 2015
15 Pages, Grade: 1,0
2. About the motif of death in the “Lucy Poems”
2.1. Who is/was Lucy?
2.1.1. Lucy – a real person or a symbol?
2.1.2. Lucy – a beloved person and a child of nature
2.2. Lucy’s death and the links to nature
2.3. The meditation on Lucy’s death compared to the process of grief
4. Works Cited
The term “Lucy Poems“ includes five poems written by the romantic poet William Wordsworth which, traditionally, are grouped in literary studies because they seemingly create an “extraordinary unity” (cf. Bloom and Trilling, p. 152). Yet the poet did not intend them to be sequenced (cf. ibid.). As a consequence, there is uncertainty about which and how many poems could be considered as a “Lucy Poem” or not (cf. Eilenberg, p. 111). One has found a conventional solution or compromise declaring Wordsworth’s “Strange fits of Passion have I known”, “She dwelt among the untrodden ways”, “I travelled among unknown men”, “Three years she grew in sun and shower” and “A slumber did my spirit seal” to be the “Lucy Poems” (cf. Bloom and Trilling, p. 152ff.; Durrant, p. 135ff.; Eilenberg, p. 108ff.; Margoliouth, p. 51ff.; Woodring, p. 43ff.). I will base my investigations on this grouping.
During the poet’s time in Goslar, the German harvest and winter put Wordsworth in a pensive mood and “he turned […] to thoughts of death, represented in his poetry by an elegiac strain far stronger than any of the varieties of sentimental morality it replaced” (c. Woodring, pp. 43-44). The “Lucy Poems” arose out of this gloomy mood and can be described as “poems of homesickness” (c. Woodring, pp. 43-44; cf. Margoliouth, pp. 51-52). Four of these poems, namely “Strange fits”, “She dwelt”, “A slumber” and “Three years” were published in the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads in 1800 (cf. Eilenberg, pp. 111-112). The fifth one, “I travelled” was published later (cf. Margoliouth, p. 52).
Only in the later edition of the Lyrical Ballads published of 1815, Wordsworth rearranged all five poems as he divided his poetry into “Poems Founded on the Affections” and “Poems of the Imagination” (cf. Eilenberg, p. 112; Durrant, p. 136). “Strange fits”, “She dwelt” and “I travelled” belong to the first group whilst “Three years” and “A slumber” were integrated into the latter (cf. ibid.).
As the “Lucy Poems” are seen as a “sober meditation on death or a subject related to death” (c. Woodring, p. 44) this link between the poems will be the subject of investigation in my seminar paper. Roughly summarizing the content of the poems, the speaker after somehow intuiting the passing away of his beloved Lucy meditates on her life and death. Since the representation of death in the “Lucy Poems” is linked to its counterpart, the representation of life, it is inevitable to naturally take a look at Lucy as a living creature of nature first. Examining the representation of Lucy’s passing and its emotional impact on the speaker in the five poems I will then illustrate the gradual changing within the motif of death. Finally, I will compare my findings to the human process of grief and its different stages to point out that not in spite of but because of the changing in the representation of Lucy’s death the poems are linked to each other sequentially.
There are many speculations about what or who Wordsworth’s Lucy could be and whether she might even represent a real person whom the poet had a relation to. Some critics believe that she represents Mary Hutchinson, who later became the poet’s wife (cf. Woodring, p. 44). But Margoliouth states that “Mary was beloved not only for herself but as part of England, not only for herself but as inheriting also Wordsworth’s unfulfilled love for her dead sister” (c. p. 56). He suggests another point of view, namely that Lucy might just be Mary’s sister, Margaret, whose sudden death at a young age moved Wordsworth to write the poems known as “Lucy Poems” (cf. Margoliouth, pp. 52-58). Actually, if this were true, it would give evidence that these five poems more than likely represent the process of grief after the loss of a beloved person, in particular, the poet’s own emotional state expressed in his poetry. Furthermore, sometimes even Dorothy, Wordsworth’s sister, is assumed to be “the chief inspirer of these poems” (c. Durrant, p. 137). Of course, there “may have been an actual Lucy otherwise unknown to us. Or she may have been […] ‘nobody at all’” (c. Woodring, p. 44). Yet, “[t]his must all remain surmise, as no definitive evidence exists” (c. Bloom and Trilling, p. 152). But even if Lucy did not represent a person that existed in reality, this would not make these works of poetry empty of sense. On the contrary, she as the main figure of the poems embodies ideas, concepts or feelings of the poet which are not limited to personal experiences even though these might have served as foundations. She could therefore be seen as a symbol whether based on a real person of Wordsworth’s environment or not. This symbolic meaning will be analysed in the course of my investigations.
Woodring says that “Lucy may be the ideal English girl, a symbol of everything in England the speaker longs for” (c. p. 44). But I would only partly agree on this statement as it only more or less corresponds to just one of the “Lucy Poems”, namely “I travelled”, since only here the speaker’s love for England is explicitly mentioned. And even in the context of this poem’s message Lucy may be indeed an idealised girl, but she is not embodying “everything in England the speaker longs for” (cf. ibid.). She is only a part of England or, more specifically, part of the nature of England such as the mountains, the bowers (cf. Wordsworth, “I travelled”, v. 9-14) “[a]nd […] the last green field / [t]hat Lucy’s eyes survey’d” (c. ibid., v. 15-16). It is “[k]ind Nature[ ]” (c. Wordsworth, “Strange fits”, v. 18) which the speaker relates Lucy to and which is why the speaker bears great love to England (cf. Wordsworth, “I travelled, v. 3-4). Stating: “Among the mountains did I feel / The joy of my desire” (c. ibid., v. 9-10), it does not seem to be the nation of England but the nature of England which he loves “more and more” (c. ibid., v. 8). That is to say, Lucy’s character does not embody the natural environment, England’s countryside, but is a part of it.
She can be seen as a symbol, “a representative figure” (c. Durrant, p. 164), rather “of Wordsworth’s concern with human identity, life and death” (c. Durrant, p. 138) than only of the speaker’s love for his alleged home country. A supporting argument for that is to be found in the “Preface” to the Lyrical Ballads of 1800, where the poet himself declares:
The principal object then which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to chuse incidents and situations from common life […] and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature […]. Low and rustic life was generally chosen, […] because in that situation of life our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity […]; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and from the necessary character of rural occupations are more easily comprehended; […] because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature. (c. p. 244-245)
That is to say, living in the natural solitude “among the untrodden ways / [b]eside the springs of Dove” (Wordsworth, “She dwelt”, v. 1-2) Lucy represents the pristine human identity, the human being as a natural creature.
Whilst Eilenberg, in contrast, speaks of “a figurative corpselessness in the proper Lucy poems, whose blank, practically nameless heroine hardly seems real enough to die” (c. p. 113) I would rather concur with Durrant’s opinion who claims that divesting Lucy of human reality would mean “overlook[ing] many sharp antitheses in the poems between human life and its natural setting, between Lucy and the ‘mute insensate things’ which are one of the sources of her being” (c. p. 138). Eilenberg questions “that a girl who is a flower (or a simile, or a metaphor) can die at all, except figuratively” (c. p. 114). Undoubtedly, Lucy is referred to as a flower, namely “a rose in June” (c. Wordsworth, “Strange fits”, v. 6), “a violet” (c. Wordsworth, “She dwelt”, v. 4) and in Wordsworth’s “Three years” “Nature said, ‘A lovelier flower / [o]n earth was never sown” (v. 1-2). But Lucy is more than that. She is a “lady” (c. ibid., v. 6), a solitary “Maid” (c. Wordsworth, “She dwelt”, v. 2) living on a cottage (cf. Wordsworth, “Strange fits”, v. 7) in England “[b]eside the springs of Dove” (c. Wordsworth, “She dwelt”, v. 2) where “she […] turn[s] her wheel” (c. Wordsworth, “I travelled”, v. 11) and enjoys the natural landscape (cf. ibid., v. 13-16). I therefore think of Lucy as a woman either representing a real person of whom Wordsworth might have been inspired by or standing on her own as a poetic figure of his poetry.
“He [the poet] considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting qualities of nature” (c. Wordsworth, “Preface”, p. 259). If Lucy was only a ghost-like figure the subject matter of the poems would be far too abstract to be consistent with the significant aim of a Romantic poet to represent the relationship of nature and the human soul and being as a whole.
While many major poems by Wordsworth […] set out from and return to an aspect or change of aspect in the landscape, the outer scene is not presented for its own sake […] Representative Romantic works are in fact poems of feelingful meditation which, although often stimulated by a natural phenomenon, are concerned with central human experiences and problems. (c. Abrams and Harpham, p. 239)
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