The Lucy Poems Background

The Lucy Poems Background

The “Lucy Poems” are five works of verse composed by William Wordsworth between 1798 and 1801, most of which were composed during a very cold German winter. The titular figure which gives this group of poems its name is unknown and may possibly not even be real. Others have suggested that Lucy is in actually Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy. Each of the poems is constructed from the perspective of someone who loved Lucy deeply, but from a distance so that it had to remain unrequited and it is her death that is the stimulus for transcribing of emotions into poetry.

The five works which make up the “Lucy Poems” are of "Strange fits of passion have I known", "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", "I travelled among unknown men", "Three years she grew in sun and shower", and "A slumber did my spirit seal". All except “I travelled among unknown men” were originally published as part of the collaborative effort with Samuel Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads. Because that fifth addition was a poem sent in a letter to the woman who would later become his wife, Mary Hutchinson, speculation that she is the mysterious Lucy remains in play.

It is important to note that Wordsworth did not write these five poems with the intent of their being grouped together as they have been. The first mention of as an independent collection sharing thematic value was made in 1831 by literary critic Thomas Powell. The first publication to group the Lucy Poems together was Golden Treasury published in 1861 and it omitted “Strange fits of passion I have known” from its consideration.

With the exception of “A slumber did my spirit seal” all the poems in the grouping mention Lucy by name. Another poem written around the same period has been excluded from the grouping despite being titled “Lucy Gray” because of its supposedly factual inspiration. Ultimately, the elegiac treatment of the death Lucy by the speaker transforms her into an idealization of a young woman more than a literal interpretation of the flesh and blood being she might have been before her premature death.

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