Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275

“We Are Seven” is a 1798 poem written by William Wordsworth, published as a part of his collection of poems titled Lyrical Ballads. It consist of 69 lines which are separated in 17 stanzas. The poem depicts the conversation between the narrator and a “little cottage girl”, who talk about the little girl’s six siblings. We learn that two of her siblings have died. However, the girl firmly believes that her siblings live on because she still loves them. Just because there are no longer seven children in the house, doesn’t mean that there’re not together.

Illustration of PDF document

Download We Are Seven Study Guide

Subscribe Now

At first we believe that perhaps the little girl is in denial, and can’t accept or cope with her siblings’ deaths. But, as we continue reading, we see that the narrator begins to realize that the girl is, in fact, very wise and knows much more about life and death than him, or any other adult for that matter. The speaker realizes that the girl, whom he deemed foolish and illogical at first, is very mature for her age, and didn’t allow her siblings’ death to sadden or depress her; instead, she continued to love them and feel for them, as if they were still alive.

The main theme in the poem is, obviously, the love all siblings share. An interesting element about the poem is that the fact that the girl is certain and confident that she will see her siblings again. She fondly remembers the times she spent with them, and joyfully expects the moment in which she will meet them again. Thus, life after death is perhaps a secondary theme of “We Are Seven”.

The Poem

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

“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 tenaciously insists that “Seven boys and girls are we.”

The narrator seems amused. He points out gently that the two who are buried in the churchyard are significantly different from her: “You run about” and live, whereas they simply lie. In sum, he concludes, “ye are only five.” The child is obstinate and describes how she frequents the two graves near the cottage door. She knits and sews by the graves; she eats her supper there; she sings songs to the occupants of the graves. She tells the narrator how she had played with her sister and brother and describes the days when they were laid side by side in the churchyard.

What had first seemed a pleasant chat with a pretty child has turned into a contest of wills. “But they are dead; those two are dead!” cries the narrator, but he concludes that he is only “throwing [his] words away” when the girl willfully insists: “Nay, we are seven.”

Forms and Devices

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

Wordsworth wrote most of this poem during the spring of 1798 while walking in a grove of trees near his rural home in Somerset. He composed the last five-line stanza first, beginning with the last line. After he had composed most of it, he recited it to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and remarked that it needed an opening stanza. Coleridge then improvised what is now stanza 1. (Coleridge’s first line was “A little child, dear brother Jem,” later changed to “Jim”; the first line was changed and shortened in 1815.)

Except for the last five lines, “We Are Seven” is written in standard ballad stanzas in which the lines are alternately eight and six syllables long and which usually rhyme abab. This is the stanza of many anonymous oral folk ballads, a kind of poetry that began to be written down, collected, and imitated in the eighteenth century, even though most major poems of that age employed heroic couplets. So when Wordsworth elected to write in the ballad form, he labeled his poem as different from those written during the age that preceded him.

Because “We Are Seven” is written by a single poet, it is a literary ballad, not a folk ballad. Nevertheless, it shares many characteristics with folk poetry: Ballads tell simple stories of uncomplicated characters with straightforward emotions; when they speak, they speak simply and often repetitiously. A ballad’s rhythm is marked and fairly regular, for many ballads are meant to be sung. Not only is Wordsworth’s little girl a representative of the rural lower class, but the form of this poem is also a literary version of the form that poetry coming from her class was thought to take.

In poems such as “We Are Seven,” Wordsworth consciously presented to British readers a new kind of poetry. Its language was to be simpler than that of previous poetry, stripped of poetical terms and circumlocutions until it resembled what he termed in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) “the real language of men.” In this poem, one can see how much he simplified. There is only one metaphor, and that is a conventional one (“throwing words away”) employed by the narrator when he is most exasperated. The little girl personifies God, but this is hardly a figure of speech to her. The poem’s syntax is marked by simple balanced phrases, pairs of words, and parallels. Although its language is somewhat general, it becomes more specific and more touching toward the end of the poem. The reader discovers then how very close the graves are to her cottage door, that she is by them when she eats her supper out of her porringer, that she and her brother would “run and slide.” The poem then shifts from being rather matter-of-fact to deeper emotions: The narrator implies his exasperation while the reader responds to the little girl with pity. The last stanza, marked as conclusive by having the weight of an extra line, in fact seems not to conclude at all: Neither the narrator nor the child has begun to convince, let alone understand, the other.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

Themes

Next

Characters