A Reader’s Response to “We Are Seven” By William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth often addressed in his poetry themes such as death, life, the way our memories affect our lives, natural piety, the innocence of youth, and the human condition. In his poem “We are seven” he manages to include all these in some way. The poem seems to be a retelling of a conversation between the voice in the poem and a little eight-year-old girl to someone the narrator addresses as “dear brother Jim.” The speaker comes upon a young girl and asks her how many brothers and sisters she has. The little girl replies that they are seven in all and goes on to tell the speaker their various locations, two of which, a brother and a sister, have already died and are buried “twelve steps or more from her mother’s door.” The narrator says that he questioned the girl, saying that they are then five and not seven. But, the little girl is steadfast that they are indeed seven and she knits by their graves and even eats her porridge with them sometimes, and that she sings to them. He tells her that their souls have gone away to heaven so they are no longer seven; they are five. The little girl refuses to give up, urging that “their graves are green, they may be seen,” she tells of memories she has of playing with her late brother and sister and no matter what he says they are seven and the narrator finally gives up.

This poem means a lot to me and it never fails to touch me when I read it. It is not so much the child’s innocence that affects me, though it is certainly a theme in this piece. More it is the idea that her siblings aren’t gone at all; she still has memories of them that she entertains and she even sits and sings to them. Their deaths couldn’t take them away from her and in many ways their spirits live on through the memories of those they touched in life and who they have left behind. Furthermore, it alludes to the idea that they also live on through nature, through the circle of life. The little girl asserts that the grass on their graves is growing healthily under the church-yard tree. This idea struck me very deeply; it gives me new thoughts and joys when I visit the graves of the ones I have lost whom I love. It is a wonderful feeling to sit in the old Sandy Creek graveyard and run my hand along the bushy Bermuda grass growing there and think of my Papa. He was the first person to die that was so close to me and though I learned of death through him when I was young, I learn so much more looking back on it with new ideas.

The child’s innocence in this poem is a perfect example of what age and experience take away from us. In William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience,” the collections of poems are contrasts to each other and illustrate the different points of view we attain as we grow older. How age, being synonymous with experience, slowly takes away our wonder for life and ultimately our optimistic views of the world. The speaker in “We are seven” tried so hard to convince the little girl that she and her siblings numbered only five, and that the other two were no longer here. If the narrator represents the voice of experience, there is an innate urge to dislike him for trying to take away the young girl’s innocence; even though he is merely arguing what he believes to be true. Who is to say he is any more right than the girl, since we all have the same concrete information about the afterlife: nothing. It is sad to think that the little girl in a few years will probably come to believe the narrator’s ideas as well. The point is, just because the narrators opinion may be less naïve, it does not necessarily make it truer or even a better opinion to hold.

One last thing that stands out to me in this poem is that the little girl in it probably has not come to the realization that she one day will also inevitably die. We try so hard to shelter our children for as long as we can until life brings the realizations to them on its own. Could the girl still entertain her current conceptions of death when she does finally come to her own reality? It is harder to believe that you will become the grass and trees and live on through those you affected and your children than it is to believe that death transports your consciousness to heaven. What happens to consciousness and your self-awareness if you only live on through the circle of life? It is difficult for us to grasp what would then be ourselves and impossible to imagine what it is like to not exist as what we know as our “self;” therefore the child understands the way things are because she does not include her own death in her conception, but it is easier for the adult to cope with the idea of dying if death does not remove self as with ascension myths.