Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem may seem simple at first reading, even childish and laughable. It is true that Wordsworth has not availed himself of many of the resources of impressive poetry, but the dramatic confrontation of the narrator and the little girl is not merely a conversation at cross-purposes. The poet raises important questions to which several answers have been given.

What is one to make of this confrontation? Wordsworth himself gives an opening to an interpretation in the Preface. He says that “We Are Seven” shows “the perplexity and obscurity which in childhood attend our notion of death, or rather our utter inability to admit that notion.” This passage has meant to many readers that one should sympathize with the girl because she is blind to the reality that her brother and sister are dead; one should pity her benignly for her childish ideas but reflect sadly that time will teach her the lesson that everyone must learn about death.

Wordsworth’s Preface was intended, however, to ease the reception of his poems, not to engage the reading public in specific interpretations. In reality, the poet’s (and the poem’s) sympathies may have been profoundly with the girl. Late in his life he quoted part of “We Are Seven” to a friend and said that “Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my own being.” He went on to say that, unlike the little girl who displayed such...

(The entire section is 459 words.)