#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.