illustrated portrait of English poet WIlliam Wordsworth

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What is the critical analysis of William Wordsworth's "Lucy Gray"?

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"Lucy Gray" is both a ballad, telling the story of the death of a young girl named Lucy Gray in verse form, and a meditation on death itself. The narrative or ballad is based on a story Wordsworth heard from his sister Dorothy of a little girl lost in a snowstorm. As Wordworth's idea in the Lyrical Ballads, the 1799 book of poetry in which this poem appeared, was to write about nature, the supernatural, and the common people in simple language, this poem was an ideal fit: in it Lucy, a solitary child of nature and daughter of ordinary folk, becomes a symbol of nature as well as a spirit that may roam the earth after death.

Children died often in this period, and in the nineteenth century their deaths were often the subject of poems. In this poem, by leaving the nature of Lucy's death somewhat mysterious—all we learn is her footsteps on a bridge suddenly stop on a "plank"—and by having "some maintain that to this day / she is a living child," the poet raises questions about the nature of death. Does some essence of a person's spirit get left behind after they die, especially if the person was as closely tied to nature as Lucy Gray? Do the villagers really see her "upon the lonesome wild" of the landscape or hear her voice in the wind, or is this only their imagination? The theme of imagination was especially important to the Romantic poets, and the poem implicitly appreciates the idea of remembering and imagining this little girl as part of the natural world. Further, the Romantics liked to explore the relationship of the soul to nature, and other writers, such as Emily Brontë, explore the theme of a person so tied to a natural spot that after death their soul stays on it. By recording that people still see and hear Lucy Gray, the poet argues that part of her remains behind after her death. Whether this is real or imaginary is up to the reader to decide.

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