Updated: Dec 14, 2019
One element we miss in reading poetry today is context. We often read poems isolated and alone (the poems that is...) They were meant to be read as a totality. Wordsworth and Coleridge carefully selected the poems they would publish and in what order. To fully understand Wordsworth's haunting "Lucy" poems, we must explore them as they were meant to be read, in the context of "Lyrical Ballads."
Lyrical Ballads was initially published in 1798 and it effectually launched the Romantic movement in England. In fact, it had profound effect on all the romantics including the French romantics.
It is impossible for us to understand the magnatitude of the change, unless we think of it in our modern context. Imagine for a moment that the next Marvel movie featured one of the characters, perhaps Captain America or Iron Man, who came out and who spoke in Shakespearean language. For instance:
"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:"
This is a $100 million dollar movie mind you. You'd be shocked. Maybe awed. Maybe curious to learn what the the words meant. However you felt, it would be a radical turn in moviemaking today.
That is the profundity of Lyrical Ballads in 1798. It changed the way poetry was read, written and experienced. it changed the characters worthy of writing about. It changed the themes worthy to explore. it changed the way we look at the world. it left the dusty tomes behind and wrote of high emotion, imagination, wild characters... That is, romance!
This is the context of The Lucy Poems. And I hope you join me in this hour long discussion of the 5 lucy poems as well as the poetry that surrounds them.
A Slumber did my Spirit Seal
By William Wordsworth
A slumber did my spirit seal; I had no human fears: She seemed a thing that could not feel The touch of earthly years. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth's diurnal course, With rocks, and stones, and trees.