3 pages/≈1650 words
Literature & Language
We Are Seven analysis (Essay Sample)
analysis of the poem We Are Seven source..
Adrian Chiang Professor Name Class Name Date Title William Wordsworth seeks to illustrate the perspective of death and its connotations through a brief exchange between a child and the narrator in his short poem, “We Are Seven”. In the poem, Wordsworth prefaces the issue of how an eight-year-old child interprets their relationship to their family and relatives after death, and questioning whether the quality of death has any sort of existential distinction for the child. In this particular case, a cottage-girl is guided by the narrator’s questions and, through her answers, we come to understand her conception of death and the relationship between that conception and her siblings who have passed. The title of the poem itself cleverly references the child’s response, “We Are Seven” and highlights the central theme of the poem: how do adults and children differentially view death, implying further questions of why these distinctions regarding the quality of death change as we age. The especially striking aspect of Wordsworth’s portrayal of this issue of death manifests in the use of contrast. The narrator holds a much more cynical and pragmatic view of the world relative to the young cottage girl, the stark contrast between the mental landscape and emotions of both these characters during their argument over the existential implications of death show the dramatic impact of age on our perception of life. Primarily, let us consider the perspective of the narrator and the significance of the preface in illustrating his mindset. Upon the reflection of the general idea of a child and an attempt to empathize with the child’s mindset, our narrator writes, “A simple child / That lightly draws its breath / and feels its life in every limb, / What should it know of death?” (Wordsworth lines 1-4). The quality of the narrator’s words imply that this is a statement made in retrospect to his meeting with the cottage girl, and helps to frame the context of the narrative as well as the position of the narrator’s feelings in relation to that meeting. The narrator characterizes the child diction such as “simple”, “lightly drawing its breath”, and as full of life. This characterization gives the impression of the optimistic demeanor of a child as an intrinsic property of that child, implying that adulthood leads to complexities, stress, and burdens that contrast with how a child might “lightly draw” their breaths as they possess none of those responsibilities. Additionally, the natural descriptions with which the poetic persona introduces the cottage girl aids in this image of unadulterated innocence and ignorance of the hardships or realities of life. He writes, “She had a rustic, woodland air, / And she was wildly clay:” (Wordsworth 11-12). These natural descriptions almost appear reminiscent to the nymphs that inhabited the creeks and forests of Greek mythology, and Wordsworth intends to evoke such an image or similar images of such a mythical figure through these attributions of wild, natural traits to the girl. Moreover, after spending time creating this contrasting stage through physical images, Wordsworth drives the direction of the poem into a more metaphysical contrast regarding the nature of death. This metaphysical contrast first comes veiled as a casual conversation between an inquisitive narrator and a young girl whom he keeps company. On the surface, the narrator and the girl seem to talk about how many sisters and brothers she thinks she has. However, notice the sudden shift in the lightheartedness of the conversation when the narrator questions, “If two are in the church-yard laid, / then ye are only five” (Wordsworth lines 34-35). Qualifying that death invalidates a loved one’s existence to an eight-year-old child in a correction of what she considers her members of her family succeeds as a morbid statement, to say the least. Yet, the child is neither offended and treats it as a genuine concern, rationalizing a possible reason: “Their graves are green, they may be seen, / The little Maid replied / Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door, / And they are side by side” (Wordsworth lines 37-40). Notice how the cottage girl appears completely ignorant of the typical and assumed gravity with which the narrator associates with death. She views death without the usual qualities of finality and separation that adults associate it, considering that her dead siblings should definitely be included in the count since she still associates with them normally as if they were alive. In fact, the poem requires the frames the issue from the narrator’s perspective because that represents the only perspective with which this issue of death can be understood, considering the girl’s lack of understanding of the nature of the narrator’s question. The girl cites that her relative proximity to her dead siblings, their recent time of death, and her association with them through daily rituals such as knitting, eating porridge with them, singing to them, and other activities. Ironically, the girl’s innocence to the concept of death comes in her rather vulgar and graphic experience and depictions of both her sister and brother’s death from either severe disease or accidents: “The first that died was sister Jane; / In bed she moaning lay, /…/ And then she went away” (Wordsworth lines 49-52). Note how the girl considers that both her brother and sister have simply gone to another place, rather than stopped existing altogether. These details gradually give shape to how the girl understands death, and the naivety of that understanding is emphasized through its contrast with the narrator’s understanding. Granted that the time of death was recent and the girl describes the details of the death of her sister and brother with little hesitation, the reader should conclude that the girl does not understand death as contradictory to existence, and that she may simply view it as another quality of being alive. A prominent depiction of how alien the narrator’s idea of death seems in relation to the girl’s understanding comes when the narrator becomes slightly frustrated at his utter inability to convince the girl that she only has five siblings left. He attempts to introduce this idea to her when referencing heaven, but explicitly stat...
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