Wordsworth’s Vision on Childhood and the Basic Themes Research Paper
Updated: Dec 23rd, 2019
While deliberating on the perception of childhood, Wordsworth’s poems focus on the power of real action and suffering. In particular, We Are Seven expresses “…the perplexity and obscurity which in childhood attend our notion of death, or rather our utter inability to admit that notion” (Lyrical Ballads xiii).
Therefore, the poet reveals the reluctance of the main heroine to be separated from her brother and sister. The little girl fails to realize that she does not have connection with her siblings any more. Her inability to understand death makes her stay in an imaginative world in which nature interferes to keep the heroine from realizing her isolation.
As a result, the poet uncovers the Romantic view of the reality, as well as impossibility to perceive death as a natural act.
The poem is also endowed with a sociological perspective through personification introduced in language. Thus, the girl is forced to answer questions, as if she is polled by authorities who seek to control the population. Therefore, Blank argues, “[Wordsworth] wants the child to comprehend the ides of loss and his determinative” (122).
However, the girl is not ready to accept this idea and, therefore, her story is about innocence and denial of reality, which is typical of all children from a psychological perspective. From the poet’s viewpoint, the story is more associated with his own experience.
As a result, the poet refers to the representation of the Fall, the metaphor that allows Wordsworth to render the transition between youth and adulthood, reason and emotion, gain and loss, experience and innocence.
There is a sophisticated debate concerning the child’s response to death. In particular, it is difficult to understand whether this notion render’s the girl’s denial or acceptance. In this respect, Blank argues that Wordsworth must uncover his own experience of losing his parents before he grew up (Lyrical Ballads 122).
The notion of death, therefore, is ambiguously represented, particularly in terms of its introduction of emotional development of the heroine. Overall, the poem can be explained as the Wordsworth’s intention “…to articulate his own unresolved thoughts and feelings about death” (Blank 122).
Moreover, We Are Seven points to the poet’s evident separation from his own perception of childhood.
Similar to We Are Seven, the poem Alice Fell: Or, Poverty starts with delivering an expectation of supernatural power. The poet driven by his searching is distracted by a strange sound: “I heard the sound – and more and more It seemed to follow with the chase And still I heard it as before” (Alice Fell: Or, Poverty 13).
However, this chasing has nothing in common with the supernatural because the sound is produced by the orphaned girl’s weeping. The child’s psychological state, predetermined by the destruction of a cloak, is still a mystery and is perceived as a supernatural phenomenon by an author.
In this respect, Aers et al. emphasize, “Alice Fell shows a child teaching the poet about the mysteries of the ‘human heart’ [and] the capacity of strong emotion to attach itself to apparently trivial objects” (59).
Therefore, Alice Fell: or Poverty sheds light on the mysterious, imaginative representation of the world where symbolic and spiritual meanings of the objects prevail over their material value.
The nature of child’s mind creates new dimensions of understanding events, phenomena, and actions surrounding those (Aers et al. 60). More importantly, the poetic works represent Wordsworth’s deviation from the orthodox depiction of children’s portrayal.
Although Wordsworth’s poems under analysis refer to the period of childhood, particularly to the description of emotional and spiritual dimension, the poet still represents it in the opposition to adulthood, which confronts the artificial world fraught with industrial innovation and machines.
The nature of children’s consciousness is pure and innocent, but it still depends largely on adult support and assistance. Therefore, both poems introduce adult narrators who ask children of their grief, concerns, and problems (Aers et al. 60).
In such a manner, the poet stresses the evidence difference between stereotypical thinking of adults and freed and unlimited flows of thoughts among children.
Representation of Poverty and Fragility
Before referring to the poems under analysis, it should be stressed that Wordsworth’s poetry sheds light on his realization of the orthodox theological ideological perspective regarding poverty. However, his poetical works tend to reproach the orthodox Anglican view (Snow 79).
This criticism seems be consistent with the themes covered in We Are All Seven and Alice Fell: Or, Poverty. During this period, Wordsworth questions the conservative perception of the poor, particularly its relation to the sorrows and grief of orphan children suffering from such an attitude.
The denial of the orthodox theology and traditional moral stands provides a wider picture on the sources and nature of poverty as represented in the poems.
In the poem Alice Fell: Or, Poverty, the orphan girl weeps over hen broken cloak and accepts a present of a new one from a rich stranger. The cloak, therefore, is both the representation of material versus spiritual values that are differently perceived by a little child and an adult stranger.
In the poem, the narrator also tries to comfort the child by addressing her destination, which he mistakenly associates with her family (Sandy 94). In contrast, We Are Seven portrays an adult’s attempt to reassure that her siblings are dead and the girl should accept this as the only truth.
With regard to the above, the poet focuses on the fragility of the children’s emotional and psychological state and their dependence on other people. The needs for patronage and protection is another important attribute of childhood, as viewed by Wordsworth.
Due to the fact that We Are Seven and Alice Fell: Or Poverty refers to different periods of Wordsworth literary work, the latter also reproduce the theme of childhood that strongly correlates with the poet’s representation of poverty. In particular, Aers et al. state that poverty “…becomes the occasion of tender sentiment rather than indignation” (58).
The closing lines of the poem assume that the charitable act and pity are the main constructs of humanity. Therefore, charity is considered the evident relation between poor and rich, which resolves the misery of the child living in poverty.
Hence, the author introduces the transition from the grief-stricken Alice to the “Proud Creature” as a result of the donation. Moreover, Alice Fell: or Poverty provides an alternative definition of poverty by deviating from the material poverty and focusing on the gap between the rich and the poor created by emotionally elevating experience.
Although Wordsworth’s We Are Seven does not directly relate to the theme of poverty, its connotative meaning is closely associated with the life and destiny of orphan children. In particular, the very fact that children died of the disease points to the deplorable situation in the family.
Besides, the girl is an orphan because her mother is buried with her brother and sister. In addition, the poem also refers to the topic of fragility of infants’ soul and their peculiar attitude toward such notions as loss, death, and despair.
Both poems, therefore, provide an identical approach toward analyzing poverty and fragility of children’s emotional and psychological state, as well as their inability to accept reality as it is.
In Alice Fell: or Poverty, the poet also refers to the fragility and vulnerability of the children’s soul and mind, as well as their peculiar vision and acceptance of the surrounding world.
In particular, the author emphasizes that the period of childhood closely relates to the period of shaping the self. Although Alice Fell: Or, Poverty, does not refer to the concept of maturity, the poet still focuses on the construction of traditional views on self-definition.
By mediating poverty, the author constructs the heroine’s identity and her social and cultural background. Moreover, there is an apparent separation between adults and children in the poetry to emphasize the peculiarity between two groups.
Once again, childhood, as represented in the poetry, is romanticized by Wordsworth and delivered through imaginative dimension to emphasize innocence, sincerity, and inspiration.
Childhood as an Alternative Philosophy of Life
Wordsworth’s poetry is distinguished by plain, simple philosophical representation of the eternal confrontation between the rich and the poor, life and death, soul and body, material and spiritual. Within these perspectives, We Are Seven and Alice Fell: Or, Poverty also rely on these philosophical oppositions (Kumar 232).
While representing the moral dimension of the identified verses, the author focuses on the innate goodness of nature, which justifies the order of things in the world.
According to Kumar, “Wordsworth’s morality has a twofold implications: inspiration…that is to be got from our childhood experiences in the lap of nature, and a sense of obligation to fellow beings” (313).
Inspiration, therefore, is considered the highest moral foundation and the inherent part of natural life that is connected with the childhood concept. According to the poet, childhood experiences are foundational for people’s moral perceptions.
However, these childhood perceptions must be predetermined by nature, “the supreme source of morality, and the best instructor in the science or philosophy of morality” (Kumar 313). In the poem We Are Seven, Wordsworth refers to the nature as the main bridge between life and death: “I sit and sing to them.
An often after sun-set, Sir, When it is light and fair, I take my little porringer, and eat my supper there” (We Are Seven 20).
These lines refer to the girl’s denial of death as a real natural process which separates her from her siblings. Nevertheless, the narrator emphasizes that they are not alive and that the reality accepts the loss of close people.
Wordsworth’s prioritization of nature is closely associated with his childhood experience. In particular, the author believed that the utmost perception of nature was possible only during childhood, when our experience was not affected by rationality that is typical of adulthood (Rehder 211).
Children’s emotions are controlled by pure passion and are not inhibited by reason that distracts individuals from understanding their actual nature of feelings.
In this respect, the poem Alice Fell: or Poverty focuses on the transparent meaning of natural laws that guide human actions. In particular, the poet stresses, “Her very heart, her grief grew strong; and all was for her tattered cloak” (Alice Fell: or Poverty 15).
The little girl Alice Fell expresses her pure emotions and impart the cloak with spiritual significance.
While analyzing his poem We Are Seven, Wordsworth makes a philosophical reference to its content and focuses on “…moral attachment when early associated with the great and beautiful objects of nature” (xiii).
Within the context of moral philosophy, the poem refers to the opposite views of the girl and the speaker on such concepts as counting, death, and time. So, the author introduces an inner battle between adult and child within one person which hampers the transition from the imaginative world to reality.
The confrontation provokes psychological tension in the novel, as well as emphasizes the author’s strong attachment to the story described in the poem.
Although Wordsworth associated nature with goodness and morale, he still accepted the possibility of representing nature in the context of violence, aggression, and ugliness. However, these references do not dominate over the positive attributes of nature represented in his poetry.
According to Hartman, “the tempo of industrialization seemed to Wordsworth to encourage a rootless and abstract kind of existence, a man-made nature alienating us from Nature” (18). Such a perspective shows the evidence confrontation between natural origins and artificial intelligence.
In addition, the childhood way of thinking stands in the rigid opposition with adulthood and, as a result, Wordsworth’s poems reflect on the possibility of children to enter an alternative reality in which individuals and nature are more connected with each other.
At the same time, the poet assumes that children’s consciousness is foundation to further emotional and psychological development in future.
In conclusion, Wordsworth creates his unique view on childhood in such poems as We Are Seven and Alice Fell: or Poverty through mediating such concepts as fragility, poverty, and philosophy of life.
To begin with, the poem discusses the concept of vulnerability and fragility of children’s mind due to their close connection with nature of morale. Close connection with nature also justifies children’s transparency and purity because the poet associates nature with positive attributes that confronts aggression, violence, and ugliness.
Moreover, Wordsworth’s vision of childhood is reflected through negative representation of adulthood that is more associated with rationalized approach to perceiving various concepts. Their strong attachment to material worlds prevents them from understanding the utmost moral principles.
Further, the theme of poverty interferes with the main ideas of both poems and relates to the childhood as a tool of mediating poverty. Finally, the philosophical perspective refers to the author’s representation of ambivalence of such concepts as soul and body, the rich and the poor, death and life.
Aers, David, Cook Jon, and David Punter. Romanticism and Ideology: Studies in English Writing 1765-1830. London: Routledge, 1981. Print.
Blank, Kim. Wordsworth and Feeling: The Poetry of an Adult Child. US: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1995. Print.
Hartman, Geoffrey. The Unremarkable Wordsworth. US: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.
Kumar, Sarkar Sunil. A Companion to William Wordsworth. US: Atlantic Publishers & Dist, 2003. Print.
Rehder, Robert. Wordsworth and the Beginnings of Modern Poetry. US: Taylor & Francis. 1981. Print.
Sandy, Mark. Romantic Presences in the Twentieth Century. US: Ashgate Publishing. 2012. Print.
Snow, Heidi, J. The Impact of Contemporary Theological Attitudes towards Poverty on William Wordsworth’s Writing. US: Proquest, 2008. Print.
Wordsworth William. “Alice Fell: Or, Poverty”. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Ed. William Wordsworth. UK: Edward Moxon. 1827. 13-15. Print.
Wordsworth, William. “We Are Seven”. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Ed. William Wordsworth. UK: Edward Moxon. 1827. 19-22. Print.
Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads: With Pastoral and Other Poems. London: Biggs and Cottle, 1802. Print.
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