woman sitting among purple grass at night with a flower on her chest and in her long, flowing hair

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

by William Wordsworth

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What is theme of William Wordsworth's "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways?"

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"She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways" celebrates the life of a simple unknown young woman named Lucy who has died. We learn that Lucy was:

A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

The poem's theme or point is that the lives of ordinary people in remote places have value and are worth remembering. This is a prominent theme in Wordsworth's poems and in Romantic poems in general. Wordsworth wanted to break away from eighteenth century Neoclassic poetry that focused solely on the lives of the great and the wealthy.

A precursor to this poem is Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which also celebrates the lives of simple people who will never be remembered in history books. Gray likens them to flowers born to "blush unseen." In Wordsworth's poem, Lucy is likewise compared to:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
While we in our times are used to poems that show ordinary people in a positive light, this idea did not become widespread until the Romantics took hold of it. While a few precursors, poets of sentiment such as Gray, Crabbe, and Cowper, wrote in this vein, it was Wordsworth who truly brought it to the fore. He ends this poem by asserting Lucy's worth, saying of her death:
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
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One of the most dominant themes of the Wordsworth's poem is the appreciation of that which is unrecognized by society. There is a Romantic tendency to embrace that which is not acknowledged by the conformist driven social order in the poem. Wordsworth's poem makes this very clear through the apotheotic language adopted in describing the subject. The "loveliness of body and spirit" as well as the "solitary violet, unseen and hidden" help to bring this out. There is a beauty that is present "among the untrodden ways." For Romantic thinkers like Wordsworth, consciousness is filled with examples of this. It is up to the individual to break free from what others say and discover this beauty in which "the life of things" exists. This is how the speaker, presumably Wordsworth, sees the subject. In the closing lines, the declaration of "The difference to me" brings to light the idea that individuals are able to find this beauty and this distinction if they place primacy upon its discovery.

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