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Themes in The Lucy Poems

Themes Examples in The Lucy Poems:

Strange fits of passion have I known

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"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...."   (Strange fits of passion have I known)

Wordsworth clues the reader into the possibility that the poem’s events and characters exist in a dream. The appearance of the moon earlier in the poem and its association with the idealized love object suggest a dreamy, imaginary atmosphere. This stanza confirms that the speaker’s journey is more figurative than literal. This tension between fantasy and reality is a key theme in the Lucy poems.

"She lived unknown, and few could know When Lucy ceased to be; But she is in her Grave, and, oh, The difference to me!..."   (She dwelt among the untrodden ways)

The muse is a personal figure for the speaker. “Few could know” Lucy’s presence or demise because she exists solely in the poet’s mind. Lucy dies at the end of each poem because, as an object of imagination, she cannot exist in reality. This tension between the poetic imagination and reality is a key theme.

"A Maid whom there were none to praise And very few to love...."   (She dwelt among the untrodden ways)

These lines depict Lucy as an abstract love object. She is defined not by her own qualities or actions but by the opinions and praise she receives from others. Thus, the love the speaker expresses for Lucy in the poem’s final line is a form of idealized love. Unrequited, idealistic longing is a central theme in these poems.

"She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the springs of Dove,..."   (She dwelt among the untrodden ways)

Wordsworth introduces the character of Lucy as a figure with one foot in reality and the other in fantasy. As in “Strange fits of passion have I known,” Lucy represents a fantasy for the speaker, suggested here by the “untrodden ways” in which she resides. Yet the “springs of Dove,” likely a location near Wordsworth’s own Dove cottage, gives the poem a setting in the real world. The tension between fantasy and reality is an important theme throughout the Lucy poems.

"'Tis past, that melancholy dream! Nor will I quit thy shore A second time; for still I seem To love thee more and more...."   (I travelled among unknown men)

In a way, this is a love poem to England. Having spent time abroad, the speaker vows to commit to England. The speaker’s love of country represents an important theme. As will become clear, England is also important to the speaker as the home of Lucy, the beloved muse figure.

"I travelled among unknown men, In lands beyond the sea; Nor, England!..."   (I travelled among unknown men)

The speaker establishes the background of the narrative as well as the addressee. The speaker, addressing England itself, has returned home from travels abroad. The address to England is unique among the Lucy poems, which are otherwise addressed to an unknown audience. The speaker’s love of England, as a parallel to his for for Lucy, becomes one of the poem’s central themes.

"The memory of what has been, And never more will be...."   (Three years she grew in sun and shower (The Education of Nature))

Lucy’s death can be read in two different ways. It is possible that the speaker laments the departure of his muse, his source of poetic inspiration. Lucy’s death can also be seen as a confrontation with reality. The poet’s idealistic imagination—personified by Lucy—can never exist in the harshness of reality. These lines reiterate the gap between fantasy and reality, an important theme throughout the Lucy poems.

"“And vital feelings of delight Shall rear her form to stately height, Her virgin bosom swell,..."   (Three years she grew in sun and shower (The Education of Nature))

Wordsworth points to the idealistic nature of Lucy, as woman and as poetic muse. Lucy, with her “stately height” and virginity, has an unrealistic grandiosity and purity. Lucy, who inspires flights of fancy in the poet’s mind, cannot exist in the lived world. This tension between idealism and reality is a key theme in the Lucy poems.

"“The floating clouds their state shall lend To her; for her the willow bend,..."   (Three years she grew in sun and shower (The Education of Nature))

Lucy represents the poetic imagination, that characteristic which allows one to find figures in the “floating clouds.” In other words, it is the poet’s muse who is lent the metaphors and images in the cloudy sky. In this stanza and the next, Wordsworth depicts how Lucy is touched by a number of quintessential sources of poetic inspiration: the clouds, the weeping willow, the storm, the star-filled sky at night, the river that “dances” and “murmur[s].” Lucy is that part of the human soul attuned to the poetry in the world around us. The emphasis on the features of the natural world is a hallmark of Romantic-era poetry.

"Shall feel an overseeing power To kindle or restrain...."   (Three years she grew in sun and shower (The Education of Nature))

This couplet expands on Lucy’s relationship with the natural world. From the speaker’s perspective, she is guided by the “law and impulse” of nature, but has some control over it. As poetic muse, it figures that Lucy would have the power to “kindle or restrain” the figures of the earth. The poet must shape the subject matter into verse, kindling certain elements, restraining others. The interest in the natural world as a guiding influence is a key theme in Romantic poetry.

"“Myself will to my darling be Both law and impulse,..."   (Three years she grew in sun and shower (The Education of Nature))

Nature takes on the role of a character in this poem. Nearly six of the seven stanzas consist of Nature’s own words, which weave an account of Lucy’s birth and upbringing. Throughout the Lucy poems, Lucy represents a muse, a personification of the speaker’s poetic inspiration. In this poem, it becomes clear that the speaker’s muse is inseparable from the natural world. The poets of Romantic movement—Wordsworth included—almost universally viewed the natural world as a primary source of poetic inspiration.

"She seemed a thing that could not feel The touch of earthly years...."   (A slumber did my spirit seal)

The speaker reinforces Lucy’s ethereal, immortal nature as muse. In the ancient Greek tradition, muses are not understood to be personal to each poet. Rather, they are goddesses who visit poets and bards as they choose. Wordsworth depicts such a relationship between Lucy and the speaker, who yearns for the presence of his muse but finds himself at a loss. The speaker’s idealistic desire to find forces beyond the empirical world is exemplary of the themes and beliefs of the Romantic movement.

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