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She Dwelt Among The Untrodden Ways: An Analysis

The Poem

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mosy tone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Background and Publication

One of Wordsworth’s “Lucy Poems”, She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways, was written in the year 1798, when Wordsworth was sojourning in Germany. Published in the second edition of “Lyrical Ballads” in 1800, its main idea constitutes the celebration of a maid named Lucy, who is very dear to the poet and whose traits are similar to nature. Whether Lucy actually existed or is a figment of the poet’s imagination, remains a mystery to this day.

Type of Poem Traditional Ballad
Form Sonnet
Rhyme Scheme ABAB, CDCD, EFEF

Summary

Leading a reserved life, Lucy is a beautiful girl whom the poet loves. However, she dies, and this affects the poet profoundly.

Stanza Wise Critical Analysis

Stanza 1

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

The poet begins by narrating how Lucy lived in a remote and secluded place, (“untrodden ways”), and never received much attention, (“none to praise”), or love, (“very few to love”). The expression, “springs of Dove,” may refer to her spontaneity and purity as a clear, sparkling spring; it may also be an imaginary place created by the poet.

Stanza 2

A violet by a mosy tone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

The poet then goes on to elaborate her hidden aspects. Just as a “violet” remains concealed by a “mossy stone,” so too, her simplicity and modesty are unperceived. Her radiance is akin to the aura of a “single star” that shines alone in the sky.

Stanza 3

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Having led a solitary life all along, it is natural that she dies unknown too. But that her death (“she is in her grave”), is an unbearable reality to the poet is brought out explicitly through the expression, “The difference to me!”

The Themes of the Poem

Love

The poet misses Lucy when she dies an untimely death – a fact that becomes clear as he utters, “oh/The difference to me!”

True Beauty Remaining Unexposed

The maid never receives any praise and is loved only by a few, thereby resembling veiled violets. And it is her unrevealed loveliness that makes her all the more mystical and points at the grave truth that many times, virtuous people go unnoticed in their journey of life.

Mood and Tone

The mood at the beginning of the poem is less somber than towards the end when, with the revelation of Lucy’s death, it becomes exceedingly sorrowful. The tone is elegiac throughout.

Literary Devices

Symbols

In line 1, “untrodden ways” suggest the maid’s isolated lifestyle

In line 2, “springs” refer to her vivacity and “Dove” stands for her purity and innocence

Images

In lines 5 to 8, the poet uses the imagery of the violet flower and star to emphasize Lucy’s pure exquisiteness.

Figurative Language

Simile

In line 7, Lucy is compared to a “single star”

Metaphor

In line 5, Lucy’s sheltered charm is compared to that of a violet that is hidden by moss

Alliteration

In line 2, repetition of “s” sound, “Beside the springs”

In line 6, repetition of “h” sound, “half Hidden”

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