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A typical reading of Wordsworth's works would suggest that Wordsworth emphasizes nature in order to convey how understanding man's relationship to nature and natural beauty is exceedingly important. Although Wordsworth most certainly focuses on nature and the beauty of individuals, he includes such images not as the central foci of his poems but rather as a means by which he exemplifies a commentary on the more significant notion of the importance of youth. Oftentimes, characters in Wordsworth's poems are blinded by notions of natural beauty and thus overlook this important theme of youth. Through using specific textual examples in my essay, drawn from Wordsworth's "Anecdote for Fathers," "We are Seven," and "Lucy Gray" I will support the notion that William Wordsworth often employs nature imagery and images of natural beauty as a medium though which he highlights the contrast between youth with adulthood, in order to confer on readers the importance of youth and innocence.
In "Anecdote for Fathers", Wordsworth uses the comparison between two images of nature, "Liswyn farm" and "Kilve," to depict the relationship between a young boy and his father in order to confer on readers the importance of youth, although it appears at first glance that the poem is focusing on nature imagery alone (216). In the poem, the father is trying to ascertain which residence his son prefers over another. It is important to note that Wordsworth devotes the majority of stanzas to describing the two residences in detail: "I thought of Kilve's delightful shoreâ€¦At Kilve's smooth shore by the green seaâ€¦woods and green hills warm" (216). In doing so, Wordsworth allows readers to emphasize with the father's struggle of trying to figure out what aspects of nature his son prefers-thus emphasizing the poem's seemingly central meaning of how nature is important. Wordsworth depicts the father in the poem as being preoccupied with the notion of nature as being of utmost importance; likewise, some readers are convinced that nature is the main focus of Wordsworth's texts. Although Wordsworth frequently employs nature imagery, the poem's main focus is how children, through their seemingly inane musings, provide insight to adults. Using nature imagery as a medium, Wordsworth emphasizes the continual, unresolved questioning with which the father wrestles throughout the majority of the poem. It is not until the poems end where it is made known that the boy prefers Kilve over Liswyn farm not because of anything inherent in the natural beauty of the landscape but because of the simple fact that the latter lacks a weather vane. In the line "Could I but teach the hundredth part/Of what from thee I learn", readers are finally privy to the poems commentary on how adults learn from youth (99). Wordsworth places readers in the same role as the father: one where the myopic view that nature is important is deemphasized in order to give way to the more important idea of how youth confer values, such as patience in this case, on adults.
In addition to employing images of nature, Wordsworth uses images of natural beauty, as in "We are Seven," to depict how a man, Jim, is engrossed by the beauty of a girl in order to elucidate how the myopic views of adults and their preoccupation with natural beauty lead them to neglect the importance of youth. Just as Wordsworth depicted a youth in "Anecdote for Fathers" whom adults misunderstood, so too does he depict the ostensibly inane yet actually profound inner workings of a child's mind. In "We are Seven", Wordsworth's illustrate a child's astoundingly reflective notion that two dead siblings should be counted when asked how many brothers and sisters the child has. Wordsworth again allows readers to feel the same confusion that the narrator feels when he comes into contact with a youth. Here, Wordsworth emphasizes, again, how an adult who is preoccupied with notions of natural beauty, neglect the wiser commentary that children can provide: "She had a rustic, woodland air,/â€¦Her hair was thick with many a curl/â€¦Her beauty made me glad" (213). Instead of focusing on the more important idea of the girl's interpretation of death, Jim focuses on the girl's visage. Both poems provide evidence for Wordsworth's larger, more important parsing of what innocence means. By showing how children operate on a different wavelength as adults in both poems, he makes a commentary on how children's thoughts should not be overlooked. Are children wiser than adults and do they have the power to teach adults? Such a question Wordsworth seeks to affirm throughout his depiction of the youth vis-à-vis adulthood.
Wordsworth exemplifies how children are important figures in the lives of adults, especially in the poem "Lucy Gray", for in it he constructs a melancholy tale of the death of a child by using nature imagery to depict the ensuing havoc that consumed the adults of the town. Like the other two poems, "We are Seven" and "Anecdote for Fathers", Wordsworth centers on the a child figure and relates to readers that child's role vis-à-vis adults. At the outset of the poem "Lucy Gray", Wordsworth contrasts beautiful images of nature with the loss of Lucy: "You yet may spy the Fawn at play,/ The Hare upon the Green;/ But the sweet face of Lucy Gray/ Will never more be seen" (323). Here, some would argue that Wordsworth is pointing out how despite nature's everlasting presence, Lucy will cease to exist. Instead of writing the text in this manner, I argue that by taking into context the entirety of the poem, Wordsworth is making commentary on how although Lucy's "face" will never be seen, her memory will remain preserved. The last stanzas "Yet some maintain that to this day/She is a living Childâ€¦[she] sings a solitary song/That whistles in the wind" emphasize how the memory of Lucy Gray is permanent (325). Wordsworth even depicts the motif of the footprints, which represent Lucy's physical presence, as fleeting: "The footmarks, one by oneâ€¦And further there were none" (324). In these two specific textual instances, Wordsworth again deemphasizes the importance of the natural beauty of Lucy's face in order to show how natural beauty itself is ephemeral. Because this poem relates children to adults, Wordsworth's de-emphasis of natural beauty in this poem should be considered as a lesson being taught to adults-that it is they who should understand that a child's sublime presence supersedes any physicality or nature that accompanies them.
In examining how Wordsworth uses images of nature and natural beauty in these three poems to show his treatment of children vis-à-vis adults, Wordsworth exposes the idea that children have a universal, inner purity that transcends both nature and the conventions of adults. I argue that Wordsworth suggests that this inner purity is analogous to the notion of a soul that is inherent in all children. By showing how adults learn from youth in "Anecdotes for Fathers", how children are wiser than adults in "We are Seven", and, most significantly, how a child's presence remains after they have died in both "We are Seven" and "Lucy Gray", Wordsworth seeks to explore and confer on adults the qualities of patience and faith through the idea that there exists a permanence or an innocence in the souls of children, which is more important than mere nature or physical beauty alone.