Comment on Wordsworth’s use of imagery in the ‘Lucy Poems’.

One is tempted to identify Wordsworth himself as the speaker, for he wrote often of the natural scenery of his native Lake District in England. The speaker’s two objects of love—Lucy and England—are intertwined. Her final gaze on England before her death seals this connection. William Wordsworth uses figurative language and syntax and form throughout the poem to express to the readers the peace and beauty of nature, and to symbolize the adventures that occurred in his mental journey. “Lucy ” poems have always been celebrated for their unique beauty, but most early T ~ commentaries were primarily concerned with a search for the historical Lucy. Only much later did critics treat the poems as a thematic whole or a dramatic sequence which deserved more serious attention.

Despite their variety of interpretations, most recent studies approach these haunting ballads as love poems and conclude that Wordsworth’s ultimate interest in them touches in one way or another upon his major theme of the relationship between man and Nature. While I agree with the main thrust of such arguments, I think that the ballad form still obscures our perception of the thematic similarities the “Lucy ” poems share with other works more generally accepted as characteristic of Wordsworth’s thought. Beneath the seeming simplicity of these ballads is a richness of structure and imagery that can guide us beyond the poet’s stance as lover and the elliptical nature of his story. In particular, we can define more precisely Wordsworth’s view of the “wedding” of man and Nature in these poems by approaching the experience they describe as a dream vision similar to that found in several other Romantic narratives which portray a pattern of imaginative escape and return. Just as Keats’ famous knight searches for the meaning of his dream in L a Belle Dame’s elfin grot, Wordsworth’s lover enters the mysterious world of Lucy’s bower to explore another “fond and wayward” illusion. The “Lucy ” cycle as a whole reenacts the same basic situation: the speaker’s awakening from some sort of “slumber” which has “sealed his spirit” to face “the memory of what has been, / and never more will be.” Although this approach to the poems shifts the focus from Lucy to her effect upon the speaker, it is still necessary to comment on what she symbolizes since it involves a fundamental assumption that underlies my interpretation. In the broadest sense, Lucy provides the poet with a concrete symbol for those “beautiful idealisms” such as immortality and happiness which were the object of the Romantic quest, but she also represents a variation of the Jungian archetype that Lionel Stevenson in his essay on Tennyson called the “high-born maiden,” or the maiden in the tower.2 According to this psychological interpretation, the poet projects through the image of a woman a personification of his anima, his unconscious. Unlike Tennyson’s maidens, however, Lucy is neither imprisoned nor unhappy, and Wordsworth’s attitude is a sympathetic one unclouded by the strong condemnation characteristic of one phase in Tennyson’s development of the symbol. Furthermore, as the subtitle of “Lucy Gray” makes clear, Lucy more precisely embodies solitude rather than the isolation Tennyson explores in his poems on the “Palace of Art” theme.3 Nevertheless, Lucy conforms to the basic pattern as she dwells in a bower-like retreat “among the untrodden ways” and shadows forth an image of the poet’s “soul” that is sublime yet elusive. The analogy with Tennyson’s poems is also helpful because it suggests that looking at the “Lucy ” poems solely as amatory verses or ballads yields as limited and misleading an impression as it would if we brought a similar focus to “The Lady of Shalott.” Hidden away by the poet in her magic ring of solitude, Lucy personifies “light”, the creative imagination, 4 and the story the “lover” unfolds becomes another one of those characteristic Wordsworthian encounters with a solitary upon whom he projects his own inner conflicts. This interpretation is reinforced if we notice that both Lucy and the landscape she inhabits are “wild”, a word that in Wordsworth’s symbolic topography is used to describe both the secluded bower and the limitless vista. “Wild” can suggest both extremes — just as Lucy is both a humble flower and a star set like a diamond in the heavens — since it usually links solitude with Wordsworth’s concepts of the sublime and the imagination.

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