by Alex Chapman
William Wordsworth endeavors to revolutionize the way poets view their art. He aims to speak directly to the common man, using common language. Wordsworth’s commitment to reaching the ordinary by writing about the ordinary in ordinary language is nothing short of rebellion against “the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers” (148). His rebellious and revolutionary style is true to Romantic conventions. In his “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth introduces his aim to speak to the common life and celebrate imagination; “We Are Seven” exemplifies Wordsworth’s commitment to a radical simplicity in his preface.
In the very first stanza, “We Are Seven” appeals to the innocence of childhood when it asks what a child should know of death. This question sets the stage for the rest of the poem, which engages a little girl who is unshaken by the death of two of her siblings. The speaker, who is understood to be an adult, attempts to reason with this little girl and explain to her that if two of her siblings are dead, then she now only has five in her family. This little girl’s resolution to count her lost siblings in her family’s number illustrates Wordsworth’s celebration of childlike innocence and imagination. A grave, though morbid and solemn, is an aspect of common life; death, unfortunately, touches rich and poor alike. However, Wordsworth treats the graveyard, a place of mourning and lifelessness, as a place of play in the eyes of this little girl. Wordsworth is celebrating what little power death can hold over the beautiful imagination and purity of youth.
Moreover, the form and style of the poem validates Wordsworth’s assertions about the pleasantness of poetry. In “Preface,” he argues that painful subjects “may be endured in metrical composition, especially in rhyme” (153). In “We Are Seven,” the end rhyme of every line is perfectly matched, and the poem reads with a smooth and pleasant flow from line to line and stanza to stanza. His appeal to readers is partly made through his rhyme scheme, as he tackles a potentially dark subject matter with poise and grace. He discusses the reality of death, specifically the mortality of children, with brevity and through a child’s perspective. Therefore, Wordsworth’s fascination with imagination is revealed through the little girl’s lighthearted perspective on the deaths of her brother and sister. She disregards the finality of burying two siblings when she says in reference to her siblings: “I Dwell near them with my mother” (139). Through the eyes of this beautiful young girl, readers see a refreshing, new perspective on an all too familiar subject, with the help of a pleasant rhyme scheme.
Wordsworth addressing such ordinary, unsophisticated subjects as death and children affirms his resolution to discuss only what interests and involves the common man. Moreover, his commitment to plain language is clear in “We Are Seven,” as he is speaking to a child, and therefore, does not use any overly ornate descriptions or phrases. Wordsworth’s claim that he is writing to the common man can be clearly seen and experienced through the simplicity of the subject matter, rhyme scheme, and diction throughout “We Are Seven.”