Wordsworth’s “Lucy Gray, or Solitude”… Evolution of Body to Spirit

Lucy GrayOne of Wordsworth’s most haunting ballads of childhood, “Lucy Gray, or Solitude” describes the death of a young girl who went out one evening into a storm and was never found again.

Written while Wordsworth was in Goslar, Germany, it was founded on a true circumstance told to him by his sister, Dorothy, of a little girl who was bewildered in a snow-storm. Her footsteps were traced by her parents to the middle of the lock of a canal, and no other vestige of her could be traced.  Her body was later found in the canal.

Noteworthy in this poem is Wordsworth’s use of the bridge.  Lucy’s parents follow her footsteps to the middle of the bridge (a connection of two sides) and then they disappear.  The fact that she disappears in the center of two opposing sides poetically launches Lucy into another realm of existence altogether.

Lucy becomes the symbol of the interface between life/death, body/spirit, this life/the next, realism/imagination, civilization/nature (an interplay of opposites reminiscent of 17th century poet, John Donne).

Wordsworth’s description of Lucy’s spirit singing a solitary song “That whistles in the wind” connects her to nature and makes her evolve out of and pass back into the landscape; just as she passes in and out of this world and the next.

Lucy Gray, or Solitude by William Wordsworth

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray,
And when I cross’d the Wild,
I chanc’d to see at break of day
The solitary Child.

No Mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wild Moor,
The sweetest Thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the Fawn at play,
The Hare upon the Green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

“To-night will be a stormy night,
You to the Town must go,
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your Mother thro’ the snow.”

“That, Father! will I gladly do;
‘Tis scarcely afternoon—
The Minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the Moon.”

At this the Father rais’d his hook
And snapp’d a faggot-band;
He plied his work, and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe,
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse, the powd’ry snow
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time,
She wander’d up and down,
And many a hill did Lucy climb
But never reach’d the Town.

The wretched Parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlook’d the Moor;
And thence they saw the Bridge of Wood
A furlong from their door.

And now they homeward turn’d, and cry’d
“In Heaven we all shall meet!”
When in the snow the Mother spied
The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downward from the steep hill’s edge
They track’d the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn-hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they cross’d,
The marks were still the same;
They track’d them on, nor ever lost,
And to the Bridge they came.

They follow’d from the snowy bank
The footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank,
And further there were none.

Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living Child,
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome Wild.

O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

While “Lucy Gray, or Solitude” was written in 1789 and published in Lyrical Ballads, it is not one of Wordsworth’s “Lucy” poems.  It is excluded from the series because the traditional “Lucy” poems are uncertain about the age of Lucy and her actual relationship with the poet; Lucy Gray provides exact details on both.

As a contrast to “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” Lucy Gray is not idealized in death through the Romantic notion of love; her loss is quiet obvious in the poem to those who loved her.  Rather, Wordsworth uses this poem to provide an “escape of spirit” for a lost child through the interplay of realism and imagination.

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William Blake’s TO AUTUMN- Summer’s full-bodied Offspring

Autumn- Summer's full-bodied OffspringWilliam Blake’s To Autumn recounts the meeting of the poet and “Autumn”– the offspring of an inebriated Summer.

Autumn is described by the poet as being “stain’d with the blood of the grape”, a reference to wine (the result of grapes reaching full maturity, death and fermentation) and also a reference to being newborn.  The poet asks Autumn to rest and recount the lusty tale of his creation.

Autumn sings of  the rapture of  Summer (his Mother) and her consummation to the poet’s music, “The narrow bud opens her beauties to the sun and love runs in her thrilling veins”…. “Blossoms hand round the brows of morning, and flourish down the bright cheek of modest eve”.

Though Autumn is newborn, his time is fleeting.  Sadly, at the poem’s end, the full bodied offspring of Summer is forced to “gird himself” for the coming Winter and fleas from the poet’s sight “o’er the bleak hills”- leaving only his legacy, his “golden load” behind.

To Autumn, by William Blake

Oh Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hand round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

To Autumn, an early poem by William Blake and part of a larger work, Poetical Sketches, was published around 1782.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream”…. lost memories a dark sun

Young Edgar Allan Poe

A Rare Portrait of Young Edgar Allan

“A Dream”, one of Edgar Allan Poe’s first poems (written in 1827), is rife with longing and sentiment for memories trapped forever in the past.

The poet’s dreams or “visions of the dark night” are more real…. more bright, than the waking light of day.  These “holy dreams” become his sun; even as the outside world tells otherwise.

This early work by Poe is part of a larger series inspired by the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, and includes the long title poem “Tamerlane”, which depicts an historical conqueror who laments the loss of his first romance.  Tamerlane and Other Poems includes themes of love, death and pride.

Poe’s “A Dream” captures a yearning to hold onto a lost past… a  lost love…. lost joy… lost inspiration; so much so, the poet’s truth becomes his dreams.

A Dream, by Edgar Allan Poe

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed-
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted,

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?-

That holy dream- that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding

What though that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?

Wordworth’s Lucy: Death of Idealized Love… or his Muse?


She dwelt among the untrodden ways“She dwelt among the untrodden ways” is a stirring meditation on both William Wordsworth’s feelings of loneliness and loss as well as his Romantic notion of unrequited, idealized love.  It’s a stirring ode to the beauty and dignity of an idealized woman; one who lived unnoticed by all except the poet himself and died young.

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways, by William Wordsworth

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!

William Wordsworth’s “Lucy” series was written in 1798, when he was 28 years old.  They include five poems in total:

They were not conceived as a group, nor did he seek to publish them in sequence and only after his death in 1850 did publishers treat them as a fixed group.

Many speculate who or what inspired these poems.   Some guess that they are an attempt to voice his affection for his sister, Dorothy; his life-long companion.  Dorothy was never married and lived with her brother even after he was married.  Dorothy eventually fell seriously ill in 1829 and spent the remainder of her life in “a deepening haze of senility”.

Others believe that Lucy represents Peggy Hutchinson, who he loved deeply before her early death in 1796.  Wordsworth later married Peggy’s sister Mary in 1802.

Some conclude that Lucy is the personification of  Wordworth’s MUSE– feared dead.  Wordsworth was traveling in Germany when he wrote these poems and, as a series, they focus on his longing for the company of his friend-Coleridge, who had stayed in England.

Wordsworth himself never commented on the details of her origin or identity.

Virgil’s THE GOLDEN BOUGH… Sibyl, Aeneas and Mistletoe??

The Golden Bough, written in the epic Aeneid, book VI, by the Roman poet Virgil (70 – 19 BC), narrates the adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas after the Trojan War.

Aeneas finds the Golden BoughIn this tale the sibyl (prophetess) Deiphobe, over seven hundred years old, consents to escort Aeneas on a journey into the underworld to comply with his wish to see the “shade” of his deceased father.

Before entering Hades, she tells Aeneas that he must obtain the bough of gold which grows nearby in the woods around her cave; it must be given as a gift to Proserpina (the queen of the Underworld) in order to gain entrance into Hades.

In the woods, Aeneas’s mother, Venus, sends two doves to aid him in this difficult task.  With the assistance from his mother’s doves, Aeneas finds the tree holding the Golden Bough.  When Aeneas tears off the bough, a second golden one immediately springs up, which is a good omen, as the sibyl had said that if this did not happen the coming endeavor would fail.

Aeneas, the Sibyl and Charon

Aeneas, the Sibyl and Charon- by Guiseppe Maria Crispi

Soon after they start their descent into the Underworld, the sibyl shows the golden bough to the ferryman (Charon) who only then allows them to enter his boat and cross the Stygian river.  On the other side, she casts a drugged cake to the three-headed watchdog, Cerberus, who swallows it and falls asleep.

Once in the Underworld, Aeneas puts the golden bough on the arched door of Pluto’s palace (the Ruler of the Underworld) and goes through to the Elysian Fields, the abode of those who led just and useful lives.

Aeneas finally locates his father in the green and sunny Elysium and attempts three times to hug him, but has no success as his father’s shade is like thin air, or empty dreams.

In spite of this, they have a happy encounter and Anchises (father of Aeneas) tells his son a about the nearby river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, on the other side of which are a multitude of spirits waiting to be born on Earth- many of whom would live in the future Roman Empire such as Romulus, Camillus, Fabillus and Caesars. The Ivory gate, one of the gates of “Sleep” returns the party to Earth.

The Golden Bough was written during the Golden Age of the Roman Empire under the auspices of Caesar Augustis.   Some believe the symbol of “The Golden Bough” refers to mistletoe; as popular superstition cast a mystic glamour on the plant that “blazed into supernatural golden glory”.

It has been believed throughout history that a tree hosting a mistletoe plant was a tree marked as particularly sacred by the gods; its golden color associated with the sun.  It has also been widely believed that mistletoe takes on the properties of its host tree (it actually feeds on its host) containing its essence and power.

Mistletoe has been considered sacred for centuries.  It was a Scandinavian custom that if enemies met under a mistletoe bearing oak tree, they would lay down their arms until morning.  Druids cut mistletoe following the winter solstice and distributed it among the people to hang over their doors for protection against evil in the coming year.

Today, we still hang this mysterious “Golden Bough” from our doorways, as Aeneas and the Sibyl did when entering the gates of Hades, to protect us, and provide good luck in the coming year.

THE EXTASIE by John Donne- A Transcendence from Two to One

John Donne is one of the great Metaphysical poets of the 17th century; a period of poetry marked by abrupt and dramatic openings, familiar speech, an argumentative structure and an introspective quality.

Much of Donne’s poetry utilizes the interface of opposites (up/down, physical/spiritual, this/that).  This juxtaposition of disparate concepts creates a window into Supernatural or Metaphysical realm.  Later in the 19th Century, William Wordsworth has this revelation that he refers to as “Spots of Time”.

The Extasie, by John Donne, describes lovers bound together in an embrace that joins two hands…. two bodies….. two souls.  This embrace takes the lovers from a physical union to a spiritual one; resulting in the creation of a third soul that transcends the sum of the two.

The Extasie, by John Donne

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best.
Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;
So to’intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.
As ‘twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung ‘twixt her and me.
And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.
If any, so by love refin’d
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,
He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.
This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;
But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.
A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.
When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.
We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.
But oh alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They’are ours, though they’are not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.
We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.
On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.
As our blood labors to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,
So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.
To’our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.
And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.

 

Thomas Hardy- Natural Inspiration

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Many know Thomas Hardy, a Victorian realist, for his novels like Jude the Obscure and Far From the Madding Crowd.  However, Hardy regarded himself primarily as a poet.  The Darkling Thrush is a stirring account of the inspiration he derived from nature; his thrush, daring to sing amid the cold, dark of winter. Simply Brilliant!    THE DARKLING THRUSH By Thomas […]