"A Simple Child, What Should It Know Of Death?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poet meets a curlyhaired eight-year-old girl and asks how many children are in her family. "Seven are we," she answers; "And two of us at Conway dwell,/ And two are gone to sea./ Two of us in the church-yard lie,/ My sister and my brother,/ And, in the church-yard cottage, I/ Dwell near them with my mother." Trying to correct the child, the poet remarks, "If two are in the church-yard laid,/ Then ye are only five." But the maid explains, "Their graves are green, they may be seen." She knits or sews by the graves, she sings to her sister and brother, and sometimes eats her supper there. Jane died first and John was soon laid by her side. The poet repeats his question: "How many are you then . . . / If they two are in heaven?" When she answers, "O master! we are seven," he insists, "But they are dead; those two are dead!/ Their spirits are in heaven!" The child's mind, though, cannot conceive of death as the poet's does, and her final reply is "Nay, we are seven." The unreality of death to a healthy young child is suggested by the poem's opening stanza, which was written, Wordsworth said, not by himself but by his friend and collaborator, Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

–A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?