Life and Death in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”
As a romantic poet and a lover of nature and humanity, William Wordsworth wrote often about life and death. His lyrical ballad “We Are Seven” looks at these issues from the perspective of both an adult and a child, posing the question of whether death truly separates the living from the departed. Wordsworth had a strong family tie with his sister, Dorothy, and an affinity for the world of nature, in which he spent much of his childhood. The happy memories of playing in and exploring the natural world inspired him throughout his life, and he maintained a close relationship with Dorothy. This feeling of family closeness, combined with his vision ...view middle of the document...
When she tells the narrator that “‘Two of us in the churchyard lie,’” the narrator is suddenly confronted with a situation his logical mind has difficulty processing. He expresses his perplexity by asking the girl,
“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven!—I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.” (25-28)
The child explains that, although her sister Jane died of an illness, and her brother John followed not long after, she still visits them regularly, sometimes singing to them, sometimes doing her sewing work, or even eating a meal under the tree that shelters their graves. The math that so bothers the narrator—that with two of the siblings dead, only five remain—means nothing to the girl. In her mind, there are seven siblings, and always will be. She feels a tie to Jane and John; their physical absence is unimportant, as long as they live in her heart and memory.
Wordsworth emphasizes the closeness of the family’s ties by situating the children’s graves only “‘Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door’” (39), where the proximity of her siblings keeps them alive in the child’s mind. He also stresses the differences between the ephemeral nature of the dead and the solid physicality of the living by having the narrator twice mentioning the vitality of limbs that can engage in vigorous movement (3 and 34). He evokes a sense of the continuance of life by having the child describe the seasons in which Jane and John died, reminding the reader of the never-ending cycles of nature. Finally, he finishes the poem dramatically, both in content and in structure. In the final verse, the narrator cries out in frustration, “‘But they are dead; those two are dead! / Their spirits are in heaven!’” (65-66). His words of logic make no impression upon the girl: