Wordsworth: The Lucy Poems

Purpose and spontaneity together are the drivers of the poetical art. Without one or the other, there is no illumination, no novelty, no muse to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Do not try to analyse the poems, interpret them or identify to whom they might refer. The poet may not himself know. He did not write them as a series. He is a mere messenger of the divine, a purveyor of the balm which eases the shared agony of human awareness and promises the infinite. Human love, Nature, longing for home all carry the inner pain of unattainable paradise, brought to a near unbearable intensity by his imagery.

We are shown a beautiful maiden, the object of an obsessive love. There is no rival for she lives in a remote cottage, communing only with Nature. Patiently her sole admirer waits as she blossoms into womanhood. Destiny, though, decrees that his passion is not to be consummated. Nature claims her and subdues her will: she dies and they blend in earthly union. Her human lover is left with the embrace of the meadow in which her body lies. Though now away, he will return and never leave again.

I.

Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.

When she I loved look’d every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening moon.

Upon the moon I fix’d my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.

And now we reach’d the orchard-plot;
And, as we climb’d the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot
Came near and nearer still.

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopp’d:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropp’d.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a lover’s head!
‘O mercy!’ to myself I cried,
‘If Lucy should be dead!’

II.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh,
The difference to me!

III.

Three years she grew in sun and shower;
Then Nature said, ‘A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown;
This child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A lady of my own.

‘Myself will to my darling be
Both law and impulse; and with me
The girl, in rock and plain,
In earth and heaven, in glade and bower,
Shall feel an overseeing power
To kindle or restrain.

‘She shall be sportive as the fawn
That wild with glee across the lawn
Or up the mountain springs;
And hers shall be the breathing balm,
And hers the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.

‘The floating clouds their state shall lend
To her; for her the willow bend;
Nor shall she fail to see
Even in the motions of the storm
Grace that shall mould the maiden’s form
By silent sympathy.

‘The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face.

‘And vital feelings of delight
Shall rear her form to stately height,
Her virgin bosom swell;
Such thoughts to Lucy I will give
While she and I together live
Here in this happy dell.’

Thus Nature spake — The work was done —
How soon my Lucy’s race was run!
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm and quiet scene;
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be.

IV.

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seem’d a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.

V

I travell’d among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

‘Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Among the mountains did I feel
The joy of my desire;
And she I cherish’d turn’d her wheel
Beside an English fire.

Thy mornings show’d, thy nights conceal’d,
The bowers where Lucy play’d;
And thine too is the last green field
That Lucy’s eyes survey’d.

2 thoughts on “Wordsworth: The Lucy Poems

  1. I read through what I thought was one rather long poem, only to learn upon inquiry in Google that what I’d read was in fact five separate poems written or published over three years.

    Each poem seems to me incomplete as a poem, but each makes more sense when read together with the others.

    I assumed Lucy had been a real woman whom Wordsworth had been in love with, only to learn, again upon inquiry in Google, that she was fictitious. Surely, though, she must have been based in some real woman.

    I learned also that there are Wordsworth aficionados who think he’d had in his mind his sister Dorothy when he wrote of Lucy. They speculate whether Wordsworth had had incestuous feeling towards Dorothy, and tried to kill them by having Lucy die. Who can know for sure!!

    While reading the Lucy poems, and still under the impression she was real, I wondered what Mrs Wordsworth (I assumed there was a Mrs Wordsworth) may have thought had she read these poems. Surely jealousy would have consumed her.

    However, upon inquiry in Google, I learned that Mrs Wordsworth (Mary) was surprisingly broad minded, nay tolerant, considering this was upper class England of 250 years ago. Mary not only knew that William had an illegitimate child (a daughter, Caroline) by virtue of his affair with an Annette Vallon before he met Mary, she (Mary) also insisted he do more for Caroline financially.

    Now, I must read these Lucy poems again………..

    • Perhaps we concern ourselves with the life and circumstances of the poet at the expense of the poetry itself. The poems deserve constant re-reading.

      One of the articles on the web suggests that Lucy is merely figurative for Wordsworth’s art.

      There comes a time, however distinguished the experts may be, that speculation is best abandoned and the poems read for their own sake. At that stage their full introspective beauty, grief and melancholy are experienced – not as specific references to aspects of Wordsworth’s life, but as a vivid expression of human appreciation of the great unanswerables.

      In other words, we are to seek the facts no further than Wordsworth chooses to tell us.

      Ambiguous morality in many of the powerful has always been a mystery to the great unwashed. Perhaps it derives from the selfishness that so often accompanies undue comfort and security and presages a fall from power.

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