The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“We Are Seven,” written in 1798, is a short poem of sixty-nine lines divided into seventeen stanzas. It relates the story of a narrator meeting an eight-year-old girl who tells him about her family. (According to William Wordsworth, the poem was suggested by a real child he had met near Goodrich Castle in Wales five years earlier.)

Stanza 1 asks a broad question that points to the theme of the poem: What can a lively child “know of death”? In stanzas 2 and 3, the narrator sets the scene. He is presumably walking in the country when he encounters an eight-year-old “cottage Girl,” the kind of ordinary lower-class child he might have expected to meet there. He is struck (“madeglad”) by her beauty, in particular by her thick curly hair and “very fair” (blue?) eyes, by her strange clothes (“she was wildly clad”), and in general by her rural “air.” He pauses and, in order to make conversation with her, asks ordinary questions: How many sisters and brothers do you have? Where are they?

The girl gives him an extraordinary answer: How many siblings? “Seven in all.” There are herself, two living in Conway (a seaport in Wales), two at sea, and two others who “in the church-yard lie.” In short, of the seven, two are dead. She and her mother live in the churchyard cottage near the two dead children—a sister and a brother. Even though it is obvious to the narrator (and to the reader) that these two are dead, the girl...

(The entire section is 412 words.)