WE ARE SEVEN
--------A SIMPLE Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
--Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? Seven in all," she said
And wondering looked at me.
"And where are they? I pray you tell."
She answered, "Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
"Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother."
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven!--I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be."
Then did the little Maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree."
"You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five."
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little Maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
"And often after sunset, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
"The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.
"So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side."
"How many are you, then," said I,
"If they two are in heaven?"
Quick was the little Maid's reply,
"O Master! we are seven."
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
William Wordsworth wrote We Are Seven in 1798, when he was 28 years old. I’ve read that he had the poem’s final line already in mind as he composed those preceding it, while asking his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge to pen the opening stanzas. We Are Seven is a young girl’s explanation of her family, as well as her attempt to keep each member close, despite the departure and death of siblings. As we hear her tell her story, there is less the thought that she misunderstands separation and death, and more that she understands what it is to cope with those. She embraces optimism instead of grief, and relates an assuredness about her bonds. She maintains relationships meaningfully past their supposed loss, and shows how we could do so also, if allowed.
There is in We Are Seven a longing for a sort of immortality, I think. A sense conveyed of relationships that might endure without end, resilient. There is the possibility held out of seeing through the pain of loneliness without rancor. The poem contains a kind of acceptance that is also close to forgiveness. I often think, when I read this poem, that forgetting one another is how we are the most unkind to others.
The focus of We Are Seven is on the little girl and her steadfastness, but I often wonder who the older man is that is so patient and then so pleased with the young lady? Why does her beauty make him “glad”? How is it that he has come to find her in this way? I would suggest that the young lady - "my little Maid" - believes the man in the poem to be her returned father. She is recounting for him not only her strong family connections, which she says are not diminished, but also the history and whereabouts of her siblings. Because here, she thinks, is not only her father but theirs as well. That is why her gaze towards this man is "wondering," I think. She wonders if this is her father come back home, and she makes an effort to relate how she has loved all of her family. She seeks his approval.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile, in the context of my “dad” theory, to mention that William Wordsworth fathered a daughter with a French woman of the name Vallon in 1792. Wordsworth, an Englishman, was separated from both Mme. Vallon and his child by The Reign of Terror, during which period of several years Wordsworth lived away from them in England. In 1798, with his daughter by then several years old, Wordsworth wrote the poem above. In 1802, with the poem completed, Wordsworth finally returned to France and to his daughter. It may also be relevant that William Wordsworth had himself a very distant father, and that although Wordsworth was very close to his sister, he was also separated from her for a period of years early in his adulthood. For me, and maybe I misunderstand, Wordsworth was seeking a sort of redemption with this poem, and a sense of connectedness with his own family that had in a very real sense eluded him. He was holding out a hope (or seven) for that connection.
Tonight is my first night back working again for Daniel Boulud. I began my New York career as a sommelier for him 7 years ago.