The Lucy Poems Analysis
Structure of the Text
Four of the five Lucy poems are structured in quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme and alternating tetrameter (four-beat) and trimeter (three-beat) lines. These are all characteristics typical of a ballad, the English folk form traditionally used for narrative songs that were often passed down orally from generation to generation. The resulting poems have a propulsive, songlike rhythm.
The one Lucy poem that varies from this structure, “Three years she grew in sun and shower,” has six-line stanzas with an AABCCB rhyme scheme and a meter in which two tetrameter lines are followed by one in trimeter. The pattern is similar to that of the other poems, but with a slower, more contemplative pace.
Part of Wordsworth’s mandate, as outlined in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, was a kind of radical plain-spokenness—he wanted to turn the language of the common man into poetry. In keeping with that sensibility, the Lucy poems aren’t laden with sophisticated allusions. There is, however, one reference that students can benefit from being aware of, and that’s the name Lucy, which derives from the Latin word lux, meaning light. It’s possible that Wordsworth has chosen this name for a muse-like character to indicate that she is a source of poetic illumination.
Publication History: In 1798, when Wordsworth was 28, he and Samuel Taylor Coleridge collaborated on a collection of poems, published anonymously, titled Lyrical Ballads. The two considered themselves poetic revolutionaries, but they also had a prosaic goal for publishing their slim volume: they wanted to raise money for a trip to Germany. The seemingly modest book contained what would become two of the most enduring poems of the Romantic era, Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.”
Two years later, Wordsworth produced a second, revised edition of Lyrical Ballads, published under his name (though still containing “The Ancient Mariner,” duly credited to Coleridge). It was in this edition that first appeared four poems that evoke the mysterious figure of Lucy, a woman who has died young and who seems part country maiden, part poetic muse. A fifth Lucy poem appeared in an 1815 edition of Wordsworth’s collected poems.
Although he composed at least three of the Lucy poems at around the same time in late 1798, Wordsworth didn’t consistently present them as a series. Of the four in the 1800 Lyrical Ballads, three were placed in succession. In the 1815 collected poems, he kept the initial two Lucy poems together, followed directly by the new Lucy poem, and placed the other two on their own elsewhere in the book. After Wordsworth’s death in 1850, editors established the concept of the five poems as a series to be read in succession. Scholars continue to debate the significance of their relation to one another.
The Birth of Romanticism: Wordsworth was arguably the purest embodiment of what would come to be known as the Romantic period of English poetry. His preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads is a Romantic manifesto. He rejects the “gaudiness and inane phraseology” that he believed marred the popular poetry of the time, offering in its place “language really used by men” that describes “low and rustic life.” In the preface Wordsworth famously defines poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful...
(The entire section is 824 words.)