Study Guide

The Lucy Poems

by William Wordsworth

The Lucy Poems Summary

Summary and Analysis ("Three years she grew in sun and shower")

William Wordsworth's poem "Three years she grew in sun and shower," sometimes titled “The Education of Nature,” is usually considered one of the so-called Lucy poems—that is, poems written about an ideal female (whether partly real or wholly imagined) for whom the speaker feels great affection.

As Michael Mason notes in his annotated edition of the Lyrical Ballads (a collection of poems by Wordsworth and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which this text first appeared), the poem is difficult at first to interpret, mainly because of the word take in line 4. At first, the word may seem to suggest that Nature “take[s]” a three-year-old girl in the sense of causing the girl to die. As Mason points out, however, this potential interpretation is undermined by subsequent details. The phrase “I to myself will take” (4), then, seems to mean something like “I myself will show special favor to” or “I myself will adopt.” Once the phrase is read this way, the poem makes much better sense.

Line 1, like the entire poem, is typical of Wordsworth’s emphasis on the beauties of physical nature, an emphasis that is one of the chief characteristics of “Romantic” poets in general. For three years, a girl grew up among the basic nurturing elements of “sun and shower,” phrasing that already prepares us for the comparison, in line 2, of the girl to a flower. Apparently the girl was so appealing that a personified Nature then decided, in a sense, to adopt the girl as her (or its) own (4) in order to fashion the girl into an even more appealing young “lady” (6). It is, once again, typical of Wordsworth’s Romanticism that he thinks of Nature as almost a living, conscious, benevolent force—a force that in some ways resembles God in traditional Christian thinking. Wordsworth believed, in general, that human beings profit from their contacts with the beauties of nature, and in this poem, the girl is an unusual specific instance of nature’s beneficial influences.

In the second stanza, Nature announces its plans to oversee the growing girl’s development almost as a parent might try to oversee the growth of a child. Nature will motivate the girl to grow in the right ways by encouraging or “kind[ling]” proper “impulse[s]” (8, 12), and by “restrain[ing]” improper impulses by imposing “law[s]” (8, 12). The laws and restraints Nature will impose will, presumably, be for the growing child’s own good, and the reference to “law,” in particular, suggests that Nature is a moral and ethical force. Nature will provide the growing child with a kind of comprehensive education, exposing her to both “rock and plain,” both “heaven and earth,” and both “glade and bower.” The implication, again, is that contact with many facets of the physical environment will be beneficial to the child, just as, presumably, such contact is beneficial to all human beings.

In stanza 2, the growing...

(The entire section is 1210 words.)