The Lucy Poems

Between 1798 and 1801, William Wordsworth wrote five ballads about an idealized young woman named Lucy. Although Wordsworth did not compose the poems as a strict sequence, they are often collected and published together. To scholars and historians of Wordsworth, Lucy remains a mystery because she does not correspond to any one woman in Wordsworth’s life. Each poem follows the same basic story: a beloved young woman dies an early death. The details are unimportant; for Wordsworth, Lucy represents a broad figure upon which to project his many passions as a quintessentially Romantic poet. Thus, Lucy takes on a variety of roles: She is the object of unrequited love, ever out of reach. She is the poet’s muse, arriving to provide a surge of inspiration only to depart all too soon. She is the personification of nature in all its beauty, wildness, and perfection. She is fantasy and dream, an imagined ideal who cannot exist in the real world. Despite the tragedy of Lucy’s inevitable death, these poems are often joyful in the way they indulge the great flights of the human spirit.

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