The Lucy Poems


The Lucy poems are a series of five poems composed by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) between 1798 and 1801. All but one were first published during 1800 in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, a collaboration between Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that was both Wordsworth's first major publication and a milestone in the early English Romantic movement.[A 1] In the series, Wordsworth sought to write unaffected English verse infused with abstract ideals of beauty, nature, love, longing and death.

The poems were written during a short period while the poet lived in Germany. Although they individually deal with a variety of themes, as a series they focus on the poet's longing for the company of his friend Coleridge, who had stayed in England, and on his increasing impatience with his sister Dorothy, who had travelled with him abroad. Wordsworth examines the poet's unrequited love for the idealised character of Lucy, an English girl who has died young. The idea of her death weighs heavily on the poet throughout the series, imbuing it with a melancholic, elegiac tone. Whether Lucy was based on a real woman or was a figment of the poet's imagination has long been a matter of debate among scholars. Generally reticent about the poems, Wordsworth never revealed the details of her origin or identity.[2] Some scholars speculate that Lucy is based on his sister Dorothy, while others see her as a fictitious or hybrid character. Most critics agree that she is essentially a literary device upon whom he could project, meditate and reflect.

The "Lucy poems" consist 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". Although they are presented as a series in modern anthologies, Wordsworth did not conceive of them as a group, nor did he seek to publish the poems in sequence. He described the works as "experimental" in the prefaces to both the 1798 and 1800 editions of Lyrical Ballads, and revised the poems significantly—shifting their thematic emphasis—between 1798 and 1799. Only after his death in 1850 did publishers and critics begin to treat the poems as a fixed group; anthologies since have generally presented them as a series.

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