Summary and Analysis of She Dwells Among the Untrodden Ways

The poem is authored by William Wordsworth who had been hailed by popular critical schools to be the usherer of English Romanticism. William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) made his debut as a writer in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. The year 1793 saw the first publication of poems by Wordsworth, in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge Wordsworth published the anthology the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 which was regarded as the manifesto piece of romantic literature. Subsequently, the preface to Lyrical Ballads was elaborated which became the founding stone for the Romantic theory. His poetry according to the poet was made for the common folk and as such was written in a simple language using as far as practicable colloquial diction. Though inspired by the French Revolution’s zest for vigorousness, as he grew old his poems became more and more less vigorous and more philosophically dense.

About the poem She Dwells Among the Untrodden Ways –

It is one of the main ‘Lucy’ poems of William Wordsworth. It was written in 1799 in Germany and published in 1800. It tells the story of Lucy’s growth, perfection and death. It expresses the poet’s admiration for Lucy and his grief over her death.

Lucy was a young unmarried girl. She lived in seclusion. So few people knew her and fewer loved her. At that place she shone like a star. One day she died unpraised or under praised for all her virtues. The thought of the death of Lucy gave the poet a great shock.

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Wordsworth narrates a simple ballad of a simple girl in the most simple words. The theme of the poem apparently is about a girl and her untimely death which is all the more painful due to the fact that a woman of her virtue and goodness has gone unpraised. But if we probe a little deeper we could find that Wordsworth might be talking about the apathy that the materialistic world shows to a person of talent who doesn’t like to show off. Romanticism was a movement that was born against the mechanisation of the society as a result of Industrial Revolution.  Thus through this poem he might be trying to say that in the materialistic world of visual realism the spirit of innocence has little place to survive.

As Wordsworth professed in his Preface he did stick to the most simple of style and diction in order to bring about the feeling of a sense of rustic sentimentality into the hearts and minds of the readers. There is hardly any word that is difficult to comprehend even at the high school level. The rhyming lines actually add the grace to the poem which establishes the poem as a perfect example of romantic expression.

Lucy has been compared with a violet that is half hidden and half visible signifying that her existence was known only to a few people and her being was sweet. Again she is compared with a star which again foregrounds her isolation from the world as a star shines alone in the firmament (though there appears to be a million stars along with a star but all these stars are quite far from each other!) Now, both these metaphors evoke a marvellous picture in front of our mind’s eyes. The simplicity of the image testifies to the romantic simplicity inherent in the poem.

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The passage:

She lived unknown, . . .

. . .    . . .   . . .

. . .  . . .   . . .

The difference to me.

captures the pathos of Wordsworth. The poetic feeling   is full of warmth and intensity. The poetic tone is elegiac although the poet has tried to keep his sorrow in the background. His gloom is genuine and sincere. There is no tinge of artificiality. The imagery consists of three images only. The first represents the image of the Lucy’s cottage and its location. The second image compares her to a violet besides a mossy rock. The third beams the brightness and beauty of Lucy.

The poem is an elegiac lyric of a mournful, personal emotion. The rhythms are rising rhythms characterised by a variety of speech-rhythms. The poem is composed in iambic foot. Here an iambic tetrametre alternates with an iambic trimetre.

The poem is indeed a masterpiece of romantic lyric poetry. While the death of Lucy has a saddening effect upon us, the poem delights us by its music, melody and simplicity. The style of the poem is romantic by the virtue of a free play of imagination, subjectivity and humble theme. The direction is simple, lucid, but refined and dignified.