Poets And Poetry

Poetry Analysis Lucy Gray by William Wordsworth



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In his poem, "Lucy Gray," William Wordsworth examines the dire, often heartbreaking, consequences of human interference in the dynamic, ever misunderstood realm of nature.  In this short poetic work, Wordsworth recounts the disappearance of Lucy Gray, a young girl sent to town with a lantern to show her mother safely through the snow.  As little Lucy makes her way to town, the predicted storm sets in earlier than anticipated and, through the ensuing blizzard, the lost child wanders "up and down" to no avail—the poor child never reaches town, overwhelmed by the ferocity of the storm (30).  When she does not return, the frantic parents begin a rigorous search that lasts all night, shouting for her in the darkness.  When dawn finally breaks, the mother picks out Lucy's little footprints leading away in the snow.  They follow the prints across an open field, tracking them to the wooden bridge near their home.  Halfway across the bridge, the footprints cease and the parents know their sweet child is dead.

Wordsworth, in showing the helplessness of both child and parent, demonstrates the futility of man's ceaseless warring against nature and the dominance of primitive forces .  At the very outset of the poem, Lucy sets out to show her mother through the snow before a winter storm rolls in.  Her sole mission is to navigate a path through the dark, winter-clogged landscape, only the artificially manifested light of the lantern to illuminate her path.  She is forced to subject this primeval world to a sensible, labeled world of order by the need of her familial unit, which, through their very existence, is at war with the archaic forces of the natural world.  This imposition represents the arrogant, over-reaching attempt to pacify the surrounding environment, the brutal, yet unbiased, force of nature.  She leaves early—"the minster-clock has just struck two"—lantern in hand, sure of her success (19).  "That, Father! will I gladly do," she cries, agreeing with giddy self assurance when asked to head to town, unaware of the looming danger (17).  Away from the shelter of civility, the storm falls upon her quickly.  Lucy is disoriented and she wonders through the premature snow and quickly becomes lost.

Another aspect of "Lucy Gray" that expresses Wordsworth's disdain of human interference in nature is the circumstances under which the reader is lead to believe Lucy perishes.  She does not simply freeze in the wilds, overcome by the sheer force of nature.  The child is lead astray by the bulky creations of men.  The next morning, the parents track Lucy's footprints through the snow.  They led them across and open field and to a bridge.  Not deep within the churning bowels of nature do Lucy's tracks disappear but on this man-made creation: "They followed from the snowy bank / Those footmarks, one by one, / Into the middle fo the plank; / And further there were none! (53-56).  The child meets her end far from the desolate wilds of unadulterated nature but in following the appropriate path.  After wandering from hill to hill, through the heart of wilderness, Lucy falls from the bridge.  Wordsworth depicts Lucy's footprints disappearing from the planks of the bridge instead of merely vanishing into the river from the bank.  By doing so, Wordsworth shows the disarming foolishness of claiming victory over nature.  Had Lucy walked to edge of the river, she would have acknowledged the adamant natural barrier and turned away but, instead, she was lulled by the structure and order of the bridge and attempts to cross in the midst of a terrible storm.  Lucy mocks the barrier of nature, this river, and puts her faith, and safety, solely in the ordered hands of civilization.

Finally, in the last two stanzas of the poem, Wordsworth soothes his reader with the slim possibility of Lucy's survival.  The girl, however, does not live on in the civil confines of a familial unit or the rigorous confines of community.  She lives on through nature:

        She is a living child;

        That you may see sweet Lucy Gray

        Upon the lonesome wild.  (58-60)

She treks on through nature, content with her plight—in the final lines of the poem, Wordsworth shows that the girl is free, she "never looks behind; / And sings a solitary song / That whistles in the wind. (62-64).  In death the child has become what she, unlike her parents, never showed any fear of.  In the first half of the poem, the child is overjoyed to go freely into nature, she is glad to go out alone.  Now, the child "sings a solitary song" and lives on through the same natural world others professed as her enemy (59).  Instead of showing the grief and sorrow of her family, the models of ordered life and society, Wordsworth leaves the child in nature.  The child is let go from the shackles of order and structure—she is free to be nature.

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