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Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770

William Wordsworth didn’t give titles to any of the Lucy poems, but by convention they are commonly referred to by their opening lines. Four out of the five poems identify Lucy by name. The fifth, “A slumber did my spirit steal,” mentions only a Lucy-like “she.” Editors usually place it...

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William Wordsworth didn’t give titles to any of the Lucy poems, but by convention they are commonly referred to by their opening lines. Four out of the five poems identify Lucy by name. The fifth, “A slumber did my spirit steal,” mentions only a Lucy-like “she.” Editors usually place it last in the series.

Although Wordsworth never grouped all five of the poems together, the two usually presented first—“Strange fits of passion have I known” and “She dwelt among untrodden ways”—have always appeared in succession. Though Wordsworth’s overall intentions for the Lucy poems remain murky, it’s safe to say that he thought of these two poems as a pair.

Strange fits of passion I have known

The first line of the first poem in the series serves as a forewarning for the reader: something strange is coming. The speaker tells a tale of riding on horseback beneath the moon to his lover’s cottage. There’s a dreamlike quality to the story. The speaker seems to be racing against the moon as it sets over the cottage; an urgency in his tone implies that if the moon arrives first, there will be dire consequences. Time seems distorted: while the speaker rides “with a quickening pace,” the moon is descending even faster. In the midst of this kinetic storytelling, Wordsworth includes a pair of lines that make the poem’s dreaminess explicit: “In one of those sweet dreams I slept, / Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!”

There’s no further reference to the speaker’s dream state. He rides on, but the moon reaches the cottage first. The poem ends with a premonition that’s fittingly ominous, given what has come before: “’Oh mercy!’ to myself I cried, / ’If Lucy should be dead!’”

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She dwelt among the untrodden ways

The second Lucy poem confirms what “Strange fits of passion” suggested: Lucy is indeed dead. This brief 12-line poem describes her isolation and her beauty. She was a flower hidden behind a stone, a solitary star in an otherwise dark sky. The final line brings the focus back on the speaker: few knew Lucy, and few could know of her death. For the speaker, however, the loss is devastating.

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I travelled among unknown men

For the first two stanzas of this 16-line, four-stanza poem, the speaker makes no reference to Lucy. Instead, he laments time he has spent “In lands beyond the sea.” Travel abroad has made him realize how much he loves England, and he vows never to leave again. In the third stanza, he counts among his cherished English associations a woman (unnamed, but presumably Lucy) spinning yarn before a fireplace.

In the final stanza, the speaker evokes with affection the gardens where Lucy played and the last field that she looked upon. The clear implication, reinforced by the other poems, is that Lucy is now dead, thus tingeing the speaker’s fond recollection with melancholy.

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Three years she grew in sun and shower

The longest of the Lucy poems (62 lines in seven stanzas) consists primarily of a speech delivered by “Nature.” Notice the capitalization of Nature to indicate its role as a personified character. Lucy as a child is such a lovely flower that Nature decides he will take her to be his lady. For five stanzas Nature describes the ways in which Lucy is synonymous with the beauty and the power of the natural world: she plays like a fawn and feels “silent sympathy” with the changing weather; her face possesses the loveliness of a burbling stream. In the final stanza the voice shifts back to the speaker, who once again declares with resignation that Lucy is dead, leaving him with only her memory.

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A slumber did my spirit seal

This eight-line poem first appeared directly after “Strange fits of passion” and “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, but in later editions it was positioned apart from the other Lucy poems. It’s the only one of the five that doesn’t mention Lucy by name. However, the poem memorializes an unnamed and departed “she.” The “spirit” of the first line appears to be Lucy, and the “slumber” her death. She no longer “hears nor sees,” having returned to the earth and become one “With rocks, and stones, and trees.” 

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