#34a & #34b: untitled Lucy poems (William Wordsworth)

#34 in the Countdown is the promised “twofer,” listed here as #34a and #34b. The two poems are from a set called the “Lucy” poems, by William Wordsworth, our daffodil poet. They do not have individual titles. These two tiny lyric poems are among the most celebrated short pieces in the English language. They have occasioned thousands of words of critical commentary, and I will invoke none of that commentary here. For our purposes, the poems are not verbal puzzles, but stark expressions of what it means to lose someone: a lover primarily, but in the larger sense anyone at all.

What does it mean to die, and be dead? Several of our Countdown poems have dealt with this question, and it lies ahead in many others. For most people in the world, whether any particular other person lives or dies is pretty much the same thing. We’ll never know them, anyway. “Few could know / when Lucy ceased to be,” says the speaker in the first of our Lucy poems. Multiply that “few” by only a very few more, and you have the entire ripple effect of the death of the most beloved person on the planet.

But “oh, / the difference to me!” It doesn’t matter how widely a death is felt; if someone feels it that intensely, the disappearance alters the universe. The wonder of a single existence, if it is beloved, is incalculable.

The second Lucy poem is one of the greatest evocations, in English poetry, of the finality of death. A dead person is the equivalent of “rocks, and stones, and trees,” that last line coming in to chime with the rhyme-word “sees” with a tremendous inevitability.

Wordsworth was perhaps the most long-winded poet ever to write in English. That long-windedness obscures the fact that he was also among the most gifted. When Wordsworth is too much with us, it’s best to return to these simplest examples of his lyric gift.

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13 responses to “#34a & #34b: untitled Lucy poems (William Wordsworth)

  1. I very much enjoyed these two Wordsworth poems. I think that it’s interesting that there was no real “Lucy” in his life and that she is a figment of her imagination. The fact that she didn’t really exist doesn’t make what he wrote any less true though. We have all felt the loss of someone in our lives and as it was said in class the individual that passed on may not have been well known but to someone they could have been the most important person in their lives. For me “Lucy” was my maternal grandmother, she was known by a few people but to me any my family she was everything. She was the foundation of our lives and without her present we all felt lost. Other people went on about their normal lives while ours had slipped away one night and we were left with her in a hospital bed and machines. Although she was being kept “alive,” for us she had already gone. I had felt as Wordsworth put it, that “I had no human fears.” I had already lived through my worst fear. There was nothing left for me to fear she was gone and nothing else mattered. These poems are so short and so powerful they evoke images of my own loss in them. They really touched me.

  2. I enjoyed hearing these two poems being read. After the first one was read I wrote down next to it that you can care for someone in the world that no one else cares for, and when that person is gone it has a huge effect on you, but to no one else. It is sad to know that when a person dies it doesn’t have a huge effect on everyone. I feel like with this first poem you can think of it as when you die, no one will really care because a lot of people didn’t know you, or you can think that everyone that knows you will care tremendously and it will make a big difference. It is like looking at the situation as the glass half empty or half full.
    The second poem makes me wonder how much a person’s death means to the earth. The last sentence, “with rocks, and stones, and trees,” talks about how the person is becoming one with the earth; a part of its everyday course. This is a very short poem but says so much about death. Wordsworth’s words in both poems make you think that it was a personal experience. They are very powerful and have great meaning, and are both so true about how a person would feel. The emotion of these poems really makes me like them.

  3. WOW… finally a poem that I am more accustomed to. What I mean by that is that although I know that poems dont have to follow with the A,B,A,B pattern, that is the pattern that I most think about when thinking about poems. I want the 1st and 3rd lines to rhyme and the 2nd and 4th lines to match as well. Having this rhyme pattern made me more excited about reading these poems.
    The poems themselves obviously deal with death. The first one describes a woman that appears to me to be beautiful (atleast in the eye of the writer). She is described as a Violet by a mossy stone and a Star in the sky when there is only one star to see. But, in spite of her beauty no one really knew her because she lived an unknown, uneventful life. Whats worse is that very few knew when she died.
    The second poem describes the aftermath of death and how a body no longer feels what it’s like to be here on earth How motion or force no longer has an affect on the body, how the body finally becomes a part of the earth along with the rocks, stones and trees.
    Regardless of how death and individuals are perceived, everyone is important to someone and will be missed once they are gone.

  4. firewaterboi321

    What does it meant to be dead? The second poem describes the anonymity of Lucy. A sense that she, like us, will not really be noticed when death occurs. Contrasting this is the line in the first poem comparing her presence to that of a star “…when only one is shining in the sky,” indicating the writer’s affection to a person that didn’t really exist. Wordsworth compares Lucy’s return to the earth with the existence of rocks, stones and trees. These are things that go one usually unnoticed in our daily lives. Lucy wouldn’t really be missed by everyone. Perhaps the writer would miss her deeply, but Wordsworth invokes a sense of individual consciousness returning to the greater presence of nature with little to no impact on life itself. She returns to the beauty of nature. She becomes an image of art and beauty through the idea of youth in death. It’s almost tragic to think that anyone could pass on into death and not be noticed. Is this Wordsworth’s point? Does death mean to pass into an unknown state of being without anyone in this life noticing your absence?

  5. Much like Dickinson, I would consider myself a “love and death” kind of girl. The important poems are about love and death, and the best are about both. I know, I know, this post is about Wordsworth. But the Lucy poems have always related back to Dickinson in my head. They are very out of character for Wordsworth, yet they are some of his greatest work. These two in particular make me think of the Dickinson quote, “Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality” from one of her untitled poems. Yes, this Lucy died. But even if no one else remembers her, the speaker in the poem will never forget her. In not being forgotten, it’s as though a part of her continues living. In the second poem, the speaker thinks of Lucy as rolling around like the rocks, stones, and trees. In a way she lives like this as well, becoming a part of the earth which in turn gives life. For the speaker, losing Lucy is something that he can barely bring himself to describe. Indeed, he approaches it in a very macho sort of way, only acknowledging that her death does, in fact, make a difference. I think Wordsworth’s true gift is shown in the fact that Lucy is fictional. He has the ability to write in such a way that you almost think this has to have happened to him in order for him to know so keenly how it feels. The genuis comes through more knowing that he wrote this only guessing as to what it might actually feel like. To really get the full effect, I suggest reading the entire set of poems. He’s not as vague about his feelings for Lucy and his feelings regarding her death in some of the other poems (the third in the set is my personal favorite), and I think that the puts the whole story of Lucy and her death in a much clearer context. Wordsworth has a gift for making you experience what he’s writing about, even if he himself never actually had to.

  6. The first poem is talking about death and preparing for it. When we know we are about to lose a loved one or someone close to us we kind of prepare for it. If the person is sick and we already know they are going to die we give ourselves time to prepare. When my great grandmother was put on life support my family and I prepared for her death mentally and emotionally.
    The second poem describes life after death. It is saying everyone will not remember us or what we did but our loved ones and people close to us will. Those people will go on about their everyday lives while we still mourn our loved one. When my great grandmother passed this is what my family went through. When she first passed people were calling and sending their condolences. Days after her funeral the calls stopped and people forgot and went on with their lives but my family and I were still grieving. I like this poem because it expresses so much emotion in such a small poem.

  7. decarlocoleman

    In the poem She dwelt among untrodden ways, William Wordsworth describes a young lady that lives away from everyone else. And that not many people traveled her direction. The young lady lived alone and didn’t know very many people. The author describes her as being a beautiful young lady in the lines, “a violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye, fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky.” To me it means that her beauty is hidden by something, possibly where she lives or how she dresses when others see her. If no one is able to see what the author sees then her beauty remains hidden. In the second poem,”a slumber did my spirit seal” the speaker describes being in a slumber type state which kept him from being in touch with reality. The speaker says, she seemed a thing that could not feel the touch of earthy years. It seems that he felt this unnamed female could not age over time. In the second stanza the speaker reveals the young lady’s death and how she has become a part of earth’s course which is death. So much is being relayed to the reader in such a short poem. I think it is genius the way the words were formed together in order to say so much and paint this broad mental picture.

  8. I enjoyed the beauty of these poems. In the first poem it is evident that this fictional woman embodied uniqueness, she was unlike any other and for this Wordsworth loved her. It was her rarity that caught his attention and drew him to her as well as the fact that she was not known by many. But what stood out to me was the excitement invoked in him when he spoke of her death. Perhaps it is because we appreciate and treasure things more so when they no longer exists. Although she was just a figment of his imagination, her death symbolizes an end to her livelihood and a new beginning in his remembrance of her. He could have possibly just imagined her in order to have something or someone worth remembering. lastly, the second poem expresses how inhumane her characteristics are, and emphasizes more so that she is not real.

  9. In William Wordsworth’s first poem death is discussed on a level many have not cared to think about. It is true that most if not all of us will live a life that is unknown to others. Sure we have friends and loved ones but within the big picture none of us are big enough to cause a dramatic impact with our passing. There is nothing wrong with that, this is life. I found it very interesting during the discussion the other night when Professor Morris described life and said how little and small it truly was. In the scope of everything a person’s life is but a mere grain of sand on the worlds beaches. It seems so big to us because the events of our lives have been so far and vast we feel that we are special. We can all teach each other something important but the reality is there are 100 others just like us if not more. In the last stanza of poem one it is made clear how much Lucy means to him. Forget the need and want of today’s generation to be popular or to be wanted and needed by many. To be truly loved and missed by one person is more powerful than to pass and no one take notice. The true love of one far outweighs the supposed love of many.

  10. to me these two poems seem to be really cynical. once I learned that these two poems are not actually about a real young lady, the meaning of the poem radically shifted. The auther is speaking on the death of a single young lady, and because she has no name she is actually a universal single character. This character through out the beginning seems to have intrinsic qualities which differentiated her form all others, which made her better, yet at the end of the first poem the difference is made or evident within the speaker, kind of a relative beauty that was possessed by the female character The speaker is really caught up on earthly beauty yet I dont understand how this is even relevant anymore now that shes dead. other than now she posses a new beauty one of nature and trees.

  11. In the “lucy” poems William Wordsworth describes the loss of a loved one. The first goes on to describe the insignificance that most people serve in the grand scheme of things. The beauty found in very few people can be opened like a sealed package and whats inside can be spectacular. There truly is a glowing essence to them and they have a magnetism felt by few whom can adequately reciprocate their force. The second “lucy” poem is interesting to me because it attaches to more of the physical presence of the being, the first being transcendental. The beauty of growing old with someone is that they don’t seem to have any sort of change in appearance because you are constantly with them. This is what I think the second is about because it says: “She seem’d a thing that could not feel…The touch of earthly years.” In the second stanza it is interesting because he focuses on her presence in the ground. I am surprised by this shockingly realistic outlook on someone whom seems so special. I often find myself wondering if we do go somewhere when we die, do some not. I think that if Mr. Wordsworth was a religious man he would put something in his poem about how she is in heaven now, flying with the angels. It almost seems that her passing has taken any belief he might have had in a god.

  12. It is true, what someone is to or means to us is not necessary what he/she is or means to someone else. Someone can be a very huge part of our lives and be someone who has a tremendous impact on us. This person can be very well known in the family or to a group of people, but not to the extent of a famous celebrity. So, when the passing of this person comes, it is a very sad and painful time in our lives, yet as others have mentioned, life seems to go on as of nothing for others who did not know this special person whom we knew and has passed on. When we are sitting and looking up at the sky, thinking and missing this person, we see the moon and the stars and when that one star shines it is as if
    “Fair as a star, when only one Is shining in the sky.” The person is the shining star we see and know that he/she is shining down on us and watching us and will always be with us.

    In the second poem the person whom was lost might have been someone who was always doing for others. Someone who gave of their time and love and compassion. Always there no matter what time of day or night or reason. A tireless person. When the person has passed on and is no longer with us, we reflect on how much that person did for others. A person who again, to us, was someone important, yet to others, unknown. The passing of this person makes us realize that she no longer has “No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees;” and we respect him/her for all she/he was.

    This poem again, reminds me of my grandmother who I have mentioned before. She gave tirelessly without ever expecting anything in return. She let others steal from her because she felt that the people must have needed what they took. She was a woman who gave everything her all. Always smiled and was always there. She never complained. She was the famous celebrity in my life. She was the important person ion my life and when she died my life changed forever and I saw how others just went on in life as if nothing. She was everything and someone very important but to others, she didn’t exist.
    “She lived unknown, and few could know When Lucy ceased to be; But she is in her grave, and, oh, The difference to me!”

  13. This poem is unlike any I’ve previously seen, for the author takes great liberty in dividing each scenario into a separate part of the work. I found this to be helpful, as it allowed to author to explore each feeling/idea to the degree that it should have been. As well, the portions gave the illusion of a journey that the reader was required to make in order to fully understand the work. Part one introduces the man, speaks of his journey to his lover’s cottage, as well as his fear of losing Lucy. In the second part, the man describes Lucy, but also speaks of Lucy’s absence, and the profound effect that this has had on him. Part three discusses the man’s attachment to England, as he feels that England was the last place where Lucy was, and a green field in England was the last field that Lucy’s eyes observed. Nature’s desire to make Lucy her own, as well as various metaphors as to why Lucy would be such a strong candidate, is discussed in part four. Lastly, in part five, the man confesses that despite having no human fears, his sleep have been stolen by Lucy and that her presence on this earth can no longer be felt.
    I personally feel that this poem conveys a deep longing from the man to be with Lucy again, and that his affections for her run strong and deep. For instance, the man states that although Lucy’s death may have been unknown to others, it has definitely impacted him. Also, the man almost appears to sympathize with nature for taking Lucy, and he is able to list several reasons why nature would have desired Lucy for her own, for “a lovelier flower on earth was never sown”. Another point worth noting is that this man appears to have it all – “this health, this calm and quiet scene”, yet, without Lucy, all of the above are pointless to him, such as is the case with those who have lost someone extremely loved. Although some would consider it absurd that the author is excessively over Lucy’s loss, only someone who has lost a Lucy can completely comprehend the author’s pain in this work, and this is where this poem is able to articulate such pains flawlessly.

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