We Are Seven Questions and Answers
by William Wordsworth

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Compare and contrast William Wordsworth's "We Are Seven" with Percy Bysshe Shelly's "The Masque of Anarchy" in terms of writing style, form, and content.

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Despite both poems being considered lyrical ballads, when read side-by-side, they appear to be very different from one another. Interestingly, they share a common theme: hope. How they portray hope, however, is not the same. Let us examine the writing style, format, and content of each poem to see how the theme of hope is represented in each poem.

Wordsworth writes “We Are Seven” using a consistent rhythm throughout his poem. He uses a discussion between an adult and an 8-year-old child to show how both speakers feel and react to loss and death. The discussion is civil, with the adult somewhat in disbelief that she could be so matter-of-fact that she considers her dead siblings still part of her family. Shelly’s poem, “The Mask of Anarchy,” on the other hand, is one-sided. There is no conversation. Rather, it is a frustrated speaker trying to make a point to a large audience—an entire country as a matter of fact. The tone of the speaker is one of frustration. It is not conversational; it is didactic.

The format of Wordsworth’s poem comprises 15 stanzas written in the ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem is in a traditional ballad format with four lines per stanza and regular, iambic tetrameter lines alternating with iambic trimeter lines. Listen to the beat of the poem and how it rolls merrily along (da Dum, da Dum, da Dum, da Dum…). The effect of the beat is conversational in and of itself. But look carefully. Are all the beats the same from beginning to end? No. The first stanza and the last stanza veer from the normal course. Why do you think this is? You will see this also happen in Shelly’s poem, “The Mask of Anarchy.” Consider why Wordsworth does this and why Shelly does the same in his ballad. Why does each divert from consistency?

Shelly’s poem is writing in a longer format, although he still uses quatrains. His poem comprises 38 stanzas with a different rhyme scheme of AABB. The poet uses words to display his urgency and frustration. Examples include the words “destruction,” “blood,” and “Apocalypse.” Consider how he uses the rally cry in this political call-to-action poem. See how different this style of poem is in terms of the poets’ choices of words and rhyme? How the words sound and how the meter courses throughout the poem emulate the strong call to action.

The content of each poem varies dramatically, but interestingly, they both come to a similar conclusion. Wordsworth’s 8-year-old speaker is insistent throughout the poem, but she is calm in demeanor. The adult speaker is also insistent, but neither grows exasperated with the other. The girl simply states that she considers her two dead siblings to be part of her family, even though they are buried and no longer playing and singing with her. She represents a sense of hope that life goes beyond death—one that an adult who has not experienced such death can comprehend. It is too simple. Compare this with the content of Shelly’s poem. He, too, concludes with a sense of hope. His war cry is one that urges his listener to use justice, love, and other positive values to overcome the British anarchy (the king). Yet he writes that the audience should use rationale thought—one that involves science and intellect—to rescue themselves. The young maid in Wordsworth’s poem does not need to rely on adult concepts and beliefs to see the hope. Shelly, however, believes his adult readers need to be much more rational.

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