Student Question

How does "We Are Seven" relate to the "Preface" of the Lyrical Ballads?

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The poem is an excellent example of the aims and intentions of Wordsworth and Coleridge in their "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads. Through his description of a little girl who feels unseparated from her dead siblings, he presents to the reader a seemingly simple scene that carries a deeper meaning and establishes the child as wiser than the man because she is aware of death without being frightened by it.

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This poem is a perfect example of what Wordsworth and Coleridge set out to do in their groundbreaking work of poetry, Lyrical Ballads. As the "Preface" to this work explains, what they aimed to achieve was writing poetry in an everyday language, as opposed to the rather elevated and elaborate language used prior to this, and focusing on the everyday and the mundane as the topic of their poetry. Although they deliberately chose rustic and "natural" characters and situations, they nonetheless imbued such humdrum scenes with an unusual method of presentation to help the audience see these sights with different eyes. Note how Wordsworth explained this in the "Preface":

The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect...

The "certain colouring of imagination" can be seen in the almost supernatural sense in which the young girl met in "We Are Seven" stubbornly insists that, although she is the only one of her siblings still alive, she is still one of seven, in spite of the rather vexed protestations of the speaker:

"But those are dead; those two are dead!

Their spirits are in heaven!"

'Twas throwing words away; for still

The little Maid would have her will,

And said, "Nay, we are seven!"

Although the speaker seeks to bring his adult logic to bear on the childish understanding of the girl, she proves that, to answer the first stanza of the poem, there is a lot that a child can "know of death," and, it is suggested in the poem, this child actually intuitively knows more than the adult speaker, because she fails to see death as a separation and still feels very close to her dead siblings. This is the "certain colouring of imagination" that presents this everyday scene in a different light, but also in everyday language.

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