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William Wordsworth’s poem that begins “Three years she grew in sun and shower” can be analyzed in a number of ways, including the following:
- Line 1 is typically Romantic in its emphasis on harmony between humans and nature.
- Lines 2-6 present typically Romantic themes: the beauty and innocence of children; the resemblance of children to flowers; and the sadness potentially provoked by the deaths of children.
- Lines 7-12 emphasize another Romantic theme: the idea that humans, by their close associations with nature, can transcend mere mundane, earthly existence.
- Lines 13-36 stress yet another Romantic theme: the idea that even (or perhaps especially) in death, humans can become part of the beauty of nature. These lines also stress the typical Romantic ideas that we come from nature and return to nature when we die, and that our return to nature is nothing to fear but rather something to welcome. Furthermore, they stress the typical Romantic idea that some people (often especially children) are particularly in tune with nature and are beloved by nature.
- Lines 37-42 help protect the poem from charges of saccharine sentimentality, since they juxtapose the sad and “realistic” perspective of the speaker with the lofty, transcendent perspective of the personified Nature.
In this poem, then, Wordsworth contrasts the perspective of a personified Nature, who speaks throughout most of the poem, with the perspective of the shocked and saddened speaker, who speaks in the final stanza. Nature takes the small child away from mere mundane existence and makes the child part of Nature herself. This, Nature suggests, is a worthy transformation, but the speaker of the poem, in the final stanza, focuses instead on his sense of irrevocable loss.
One effect of the poem is to remind us of other poems that are partly similar but also significantly different, such as Ben Jonson’s poem “On My First Son.” In that poem, Jonson likewise laments the loss of a young child, but he also seems absolutely convinced that his son is not really dead but now enjoys a new and better life with God in heaven. In Wordsworth’s poem, references to an afterlife seem mostly metaphorical. It is far less clear in Wordsworth’s poem exactly how (or even if) Lucy survives as a separate, self-conscious entity after she dies. In short, the afterlife as it is presented in Jonson’s poem is far easier to imagine than is the kind of pantheistic post-mortem existence enjoyed by Lucy. The ideas expressed in Jonson’s poem were traditional; the ideas implied in Wordsworth’s poem seem somewhat improvised. Consider, for instance, the following lines, spoken by Nature:
"She shall be sportive as the fawn
That wild with glee across the lawn
Or up the mountain springs;
And hers shall be the breathing balm,
And hers the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.["]
How can Lucy simultaneously be “sportive” but also “insensate”? This is just one of many puzzles raised by Wordsworth’s intriguing poem.
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