This sample literature essay explores the life and career of William Wordsworth, one of the most influential writers of the 18th and 19th centuries. “We Are Seven” is a harrowing tale inspired by Wordsworth’s journey through England alone.
Unexpected wisdom in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”
In William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven,” written and published in 1798, the theme of death is examined (Moorman 369-371). Wordsworth was inspired with the idea of “We Are Seven” after he was separated from his friend William Calvert, therefore having to travel across England alone. He considered this unexpected solitude as different from his considerations of solitude that he had previously experienced, now realizing that there was a darker side to being alone as opposed to just a chance to commune with a natural country environment (Moorman 232).
The separation and isolation, along with his meeting of a little girl would catalyze, or act as the spark for, this inspiration (Moorman 237). It is not known what they talked about, but he was moved to correspond with a friend about the striking encounter that would become emblazoned in history among his other works in Lyrical Ballads and a Few Other Poems. Some literary criticism of this work has assumed that the character’s position in the poem is the logical stance, but in analyzing both the narrator’s and little girl’s assertions it becomes clear that the only “true” stance is the one that the reader agrees with (Elite Skills Classics).
Just as the little girl is ridiculous in insisting that her family is still with her when they are clearly not physically present, so is the narrator ridiculous for insisting on having the girl truly acknowledge the death and absence of those most dear to her. The point of this work is not the bemusement of a spectating passerby at a quirky child too innocent to recognize fault of reasoning, but of a bright yet ignored old soul whose philosophical depth escapes those who are stuck in the cultural ideologies that they have taken for granted.
Mythological allusions in Wordsworth’s works
In the second stanza, the young girl is described as having “a rustic, woodland air…wildly clad” (Wordsworth, 8-9). Through the use of common yet specifically-linked descriptive language, Wordsworth uses this imagery to harken to many different historical and mythological allusions. The phrases “rustic,” “wildly clad,” and “woodland air” provide a sense of otherness about the girl that issues for a vision of the wild north men of Viking tradition in Norse mythology and were proliferate in England in the 700s to 900s A.D. (von Nolcken); or perhaps, controversially so, the pagan god Pan and his lusty nymphs.
But beyond the created strangeness of the girl—which can also be viewed as a stand-in for the strangeness commonly associated with the archetype of the lone genius—these descriptors also reveal the created normalcy of the narrator and the invisible creation of the paradigm of normalcy that that character represents. It is not stated that the narrator is a gentleman dandy used to a bustling city life or the hyper traditionalized and proper country life, but it can be assumed due to the fact that the narrator is so taken aback as to describe the girl and her appearance as something wild and remote from the woods.
It should also be noted that Wordsworth’s narrator partially identifies his paradigm of reality right from the start with the assumption that children, who are so alive, have no business considering deeply upon death (Wordsworth 3-4). It is stated as being an absolutely reality that a child “feels its life in every limb,” but this is clearly subjective conjecture based on cultural bias and assumption as scientific advance of the day had yet to support that claim, even now a claim such as this is unsupportable (Wordsworth 3).
Sense of individuality and meaning of life
The hubris that accompanies the assumption that children cannot properly think and that adults are the only ones with a true reality of the world is an insult and is nonsensical in the context of such a work that is attempting to examine a deeper view of solitude. To consider that the narrator’s view is correct is to consider that consideration of silence and of being alone is pointless. Such a shallow message is beneath Wordsworth, who frequently considers the deeper nature of things.
Woodsworth may have used themes of death in poetry, but it is also never intimated whether or not the narrator has any visceral understanding of death. One may very well ask if the effects of death have ever truly touched the narrator at all. The only person proven to have been touched by death in this poem is the young girl herself. She lives with it daily, with her dead brother’s grave a mere 12 steps from the front door (Wordsworth 31-2, 39). The girl is often “with” her deceased siblings while she knits her stockings and hems her kerchief (Wordsworth 41-2).
She experiences her family as a singular unit of erasable individuals, no matter what location or state they are presently in. Her experience, being the only evidenced experience among the set of herself and the narrator, exists as the senior authority and understanding of death. This also established a spiritual foundation of which the narrator, based on his incredulous and bull-headed responses to the child, is incapable of partaking.
The trope of the wild loner iconoclast butting up against the assumed righteousness of the status quo is a frequent one, and it is interestingly applied here in the juxtaposition of an 8-year-old girl philosophically and theologically besting an adult with “common sense” derived from what one might assume as solely stemming from cultural conditioning. The little girl, through her experiences of death and loss, is actually far more experienced than the narrator; thus reversing the tables of age as experience. The narrator and many adults to this day have much to learn from this young spiritual philosopher who speaks not platitudes but—in her mind, at least—simple truths.
Moorman, Mary. William Wordsworth. Oxford University Press. Oxford, England: 1968. 232. Print.
von Nolcken, Christina. “The Wrath of the Northmen: The Vikings and their Memory”. Fathom Archive. The University of Chicago Library Digital Collections. Retrieved from: http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777122292/
Wordsworth, William. “We are Seven”. The Norton Anthology of the English Language. Vol. D. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, New York: 2006. 278. Print.
Comments Section. “We Are Seven Analysis”. Elite Skills Classics. 2008-2013. Retrieved from: http://www.eliteskills.com/c/582