Featured Poem: We Are Seven by William Wordsworth

This week’s Featured Poem comes from Caroline Adams, Project Worker for Get Into Reading South West, with a wonderfully touching example of how a poem can often have much deeper resonance than its appearance may first suggest…

It seems, on a superficial reading, that this is such a simple poem but, like much of the Wordsworth I have read, it touches on big themes which prompt a strong reaction from the reader. The matter-of-fact way in which the little girl at the centre of the poem talks about her dead siblings has a poignancy which strikes at the heart of modern views of death and grief.

I used it recently in a group . “My little brother died at the age of 4 back in the ’30s and I never got the chance to grieve for him – now I will.” said a member. He went on to explain how his mother had explained the death with platitudes like ” It was for the best,” even though the child had died of an illness which might now be cured with antibiotics. It was never much discussed in the family after that. As a consequence, my group member felt he had never had the chance to properly come to terms with the death . He said he might even attempt to write a poem about the lost brother, and this prompted a discussion about how well we deal with loss now compared with Wordsworth’s era.

As I say – big stuff from such a simple yet lovely poem.

We Are Seven

A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

‘Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?’
‘How many? Seven in all,’ she said,
And wondering looked at me.

‘And where are they? I pray you tell.’
She answered, ‘Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

‘Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.’

‘You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven!—I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.’

Then did the little Maid reply,
‘Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.’

‘You run above, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.’

‘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.

‘My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

‘And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

‘The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

‘So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I

‘And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.’

‘How many are you, then,’ said I,
‘If they two are in heaven?’
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
‘O Master! we are seven.’

‘But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!’
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, ‘Nay, we are seven!’

William Wordsworth

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