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Relevant BackgroundSummaryThemesStyle

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways
William Wordsworth [1770-1850]

Relevant Background

  • William Wordsworth grew up in England’s Lake District and spent much of his life there.
  • His parents died while he was young. This caused him to turn to nature early.
  • His poetry reveals his deeply spiritual and emotional response to nature.
  • This poem is one of a group of five poems called ‘The Lucy Poems’.
  • The identity of ‘Lucy’ is a mystery.
  • Lucy may have been Dorothy, the poet’s beloved sister and companion. In that case, this poem imagines the beautiful and solitary life of Dorothy who lived close to nature. It dramatises the poet’s grief at her future death.
  • But Lucy may also represent Peggy Hutchinson, who Wordsworth was in love with. Peggy [or Margaret] was the sister of Wordsworth’s future wife. Peggy died in 1796, three years before he wrote the poem.
  • Lucy may be an imaginary, beautiful woman who lived alone in the countryside and died.
  • In this poem, Wordsworth both praises Lucy’s beauty and mourns her death.


Summary

In the first stanza, Wordsworth describes the isolated, untouched and beautiful place where Lucy lived. He shows that her beauty mainly went un-noticed.

In the second stanza, he compares her shy beauty to a hidden flower. This shows her innocence. He compares her innocence, aloneness and purity to a single star. This is probably Venus, which appears alone after sunset.

In the third stanza, Wordsworth shows that Lucy was unknown and died young. Her death is a cause of deep personal grief to Wordsworth.


Themes

  • Loneliness
    Lucy lived alone in a place that was ‘untrodden’, or not stepped in. She had no support from companions or family: ‘none to praise and very few to love’. She was ‘half-hidden’ and unique, ‘only one’ like the star. She lived ‘alone’ and died without many knowing’.
  • Beauty in Nature
    Wordsworth portrays nature’s beauty in his imagery:
    ‘The untrodden ways
    Beside the springs of Dove’
    Lucy lives in a place whose natural beauty seems sacred, ‘untrodden’.
  • Death
    This poem mourns the death of Lucy, who has ‘ceased to be’. The poet pictures her in ‘her grave’. He is sad and bereaved: ‘oh, the difference to me’.
  • The Beauty of a Woman
    Wordsworth portrays a unique and unknown beautiful woman. She was as ‘fair’ as a star, probably Venus that appears after sunset. She was as beautiful as a flower, ‘violet’, beside a green stone, a ‘mossy stone’. She deserved great praise for her beauty, but she lived alone: ‘A maid whom there were none to praise’.
  • Love
    The word ‘fair’ and the flower comparison reveal love. The final line expresses the poet’s feeling of loss at the death of such a beautiful woman.


Style

Form: Three-stanza lyric, of four lines each with every second line rhyming. The simple, repeated rhyming pattern gives the poem a nursery rhyme quality.
Metaphors: Wordsworth compared Lucy to a ‘violet’ and to a ‘star’.
Diction: The words are simple, familiar words of mainly one syllable. The simple language reflects the simple life of Lucy in the country. He uses one awkward phrase for unspoilt nature: ‘the untrodden ways’.
Punctuation: The use of the exclamation mark twice emphasises the poet’s love and sense of loss.
Tone: There is a mysterious tone throughout. The words ‘she’ and ‘Maid’ provide a sense of mystery. The location ‘untrodden ways’ indicates an unknown and untouched place, which is mysterious. The description in the second stanza has a strong tone of admiration. The tone of the final stanza is mournful. Wordsworth expresses his feelings in a gentle tone throughout.
Atmosphere: Mysterious and lonely: ‘half-hidden’, ‘unknown’, ‘few could know’.
Assonance [vowel only repetition]: Most lines have one or two repeating vowel sounds, like the ‘i’ in ‘Is shining like the sky’. Assonance makes the poem very musical.
Sibilance [repetition of ‘s’ sound]: Note the ‘s’ sounds throughout the poem. They help to create the soft, mysterious and lonesome atmosphere.

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