She dwelt among the untrodden ways

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways

by William Wordsworth

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • William Wordsworth’s poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” is a ballad narrating the story of a maid named Lucy.
  • Lucy lived a lonely life among the untraveled ways. She was as beautiful as a violet and as heavenly as a star. But there was none to praise or love her.
  • Lucy is no more now, but no one knew when she died. Her death made a huge difference to the speaker.

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways – Explanation

Stanza 1

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

The poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” begins with the speaker praising a maid who was not celebrated. She lived on a path near the springs of a place named Dove. It may also refer to the Dove River in England though. The phrase “Untrodden ways” stands for untouched or unknown way. Generally, an untrodden way is away from city, closer to nature. The maid led an isolated life “among the untrodden ways”.

Then the speaker informs us she had no one to praise her. May be her secluded surroundings was responsible. Her surrounding plays an important role for her lonely life. There was “vary few” who loved her.

Stanza 2

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

The speaker compares the maid to nature in the second stanza. She is “a violet by a mossy stone”. Violets are often found in moist and slightly shaded conditions where nobody goes. Here the maid’s isolation is compared to violets. She is unnoticed just as a violet remains half hidden by a mossy stone. Moreover, the speaker compares the maid to a flower for her beauty and chastity. She was very alone despite her beauty and purity.

Again, she is compared to a star. She is “fair as a star”. Stars look beautiful at the night sky. But she is a lone unique star shining brightly in the sky whom nothing else can match. She has heavenly qualities to be comparable to a star.

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!

So far, we were not aware of the maid’s name. In the final stanza, the speaker introduces her. This beautiful maid was Lucy. Her identity was almost unknown like her rarely visited address. It is quite natural that her death was also unknown for her secluded life.

Now Lucy is in her grave. Few people even know when she ceased to exist. She did not receive any attention when she was alive. She was separated from society while alive. But now she is separated from the living world. Her death is an intolerable reality to the speaker. It made a huge difference in the life of the speaker. He can’t explain how much of emotional impact her death had on him.

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways – Into Details

Publication

The poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden ways” was written by William Wordsworth in 1798. This 12-line ballad was first printed in the second edition of “Lyrical Ballads” in 1800. It is one of Wordsworth’s five “Lucy poems”.

Background/context

Wordsworth wrote his best poems during the glorious decade from 1797 to 1807, during the Industrial Revolution in England. Factories rose and the environment became polluted. The subordinate workers started demanding more labour rights at this time. In such turbulent times Wordsworth and his friend Coleridge jointly published “Lyrical Ballads”. That is why many of Wordsworth’s poems from this time express a sense of loss and grief.

The present poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” is also elegiac in tone and conveys the speaker’s grief over Lucy’s death. Now, whether Lucy was a fictitious character or a real one is still a matter of debate. The poet has never revealed the identity of this idealised female character who is seen in the five Lucy Poems. While some scholars believe that Lucy represents the poet’s sister Dorothy, many others opine that she is just a literary device on whom the poet could meditate and reflect.

“Lyrical Ballads” is mostly about nature. Wordsworth wanted to establish harmony between man and nature. In the poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” the poet might also be regretting that we often miss or fail to appreciate the many beautiful aspects of nature that remains hidden to our eyes in an age of industrialization where people are busy with worldly possessions. This theme is well-expressed in Wordsworth’s another poem “The World Is Too Much With Us“.

Setting

The settings of the poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” can be seen in two different ways. The tittle of the poem and the first line suggest that the setting is some “Untrodden ways” – the paths not often visited. Untrodden paths are away from the city, closer to nature. The speaker says Lucy lived and died here. Lucy led a lonely life “Beside the springs of Dove”. Dove river is the main river in the Midlands of England. While this place may refer Lucy’s purity as a clear spring, it can also be an imaginary place created by the poet.

Again, the setting can be the place where the speaker remembers Lucy. It is probable, although not certain, that the poem’s setting is near the Lake District area in northwestern England. The poet Wordsworth spent much of his life here. He is one of the several poets know as “the Lake poets”. The poem shows Wordsworth’s love for English countryside.

Title

Title might be the most important and essential part of a poem as it is the first impression of the poem. Title has the power to captivate its reader’s mind. The poem’s title and opening line “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” says about a maid who lived unknowingly among the untrodden, or rarely used ways. The maid’s uncelebrated, lonely life is described throughout the poem, which we can see in the title also. So, the title here straightforwardly reveals the poem’s subject beforehand and is thus apt.

Form and language

“She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” is a three-stanza poem, each stanza is composed of four lines. The three-quatrain poem is a ballad in its form and content as it tells us a story – a narrative on Lucy’s isolated and obscure life and her unfortunate death. Again, the poem sounds like an elegy for its mournful tone. The final stanza is particularly elegiac because it presents Lucy’s death and the speaker expresses how her death made a deep impact on him.

To talk about the language of the poem, it is really very easy to understand. The poem is written in simple and fluent English. The rhyming lines and careful selection of words create a rhythmic effect.

Meter and Rhyme

Each quatrain of the poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABAB. But as the rhyming words change in each stanza, the full rhyme scheme of poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” can be noted as ABAB CDCD EFEF.

As for the metrical pattern, this 12-line ballad uses iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter lines alternatively in odd and even lines respectively. In fact, this is the typical metrical pattern of a ballad and is called ballad stanza. If you are not already aware, an iamb is a disyllabic metrical foot with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. A tetrameter line has four such feet while a trimeter line has three.

She lived | unknown, | and few | could know
When Lu-| cy ceased | to be;

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways – Themes

Unappreciated Virtue

The speaker in “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” presents Lucy as a virtuous maid ‘whom there were none to praise’. So, he suggests that Lucy had praiseworthy qualities. He even compares her to a violet by a mossy stone. Lucy was an embodiment of beauty and purity just like the flower. She was comparable to a lone brightly shining star in the night sky. But still, there was none to appreciate her virtues.

She lived among the untraveled ways where very few people ever visited. Thus, she was ‘half-hidden from the eye’ just like the violet. She had few people to love her and our speaker is one of them. He knew how beautiful she was and how lonely her life was. Lucy’s unique beauty and purity were seriously under-appreciated during her journey through life. Thus, the poem stands as a lament on behalf of all people who go through life unappreciated.

Death and Loss

Death and loss are the main themes of the poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways”. These elements make the poem elegiac. The inevitable end of life is death. Every living thing has to taste it. In the poem the speaker laments the death of the beautiful maid, Lucy who was “fair as a star”. She received no appreciation for her virtues during her lifetime and now she is totally separated from the living world. Her death made great difference to the speaker’s life. The speaker here creates a great sense of loss which the readers can feel after reading the poem.

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways – Symbols

A Violet

The speaker in Wordsworth’s poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” compares Lucy to a violet.

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!

The violet flower is a symbol for beauty and purity here. Just as a violet grows by a mossy stone and remains half-hidden from the human eye, Lucy also remained lonely and unnoticed despite her virtues.

The Star

When the speaker compares Lucy to a lone shining star in the night sky, here also he suggests the maid’s unmatched beauty and other heavenly qualities.

Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

The word ‘fair’ here suggests beautiful in the archaic sense. Lucy was as fair as a star when only one was shining in the sky. This may suggest that her beauty was quite unique and unmatchable by anyone else. Again, this may be a reference to the planet Venus, the Roman Goddess of love, beauty and sex, indicating Lucy’s beauty and the speaker’s love for her. Moreover, a star is a heavenly body. So, comparing Lucy to a star suggests the maid’s heavenly qualities like chastity and purity.

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways – Literary Devices

Enjambment

When a sentence continues to the next line of a verse without pause, it is called an enjambment. Most of the odd lines in the poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” are enjambments.

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

Caesura

A caesura in poetry is a pause (with a comma, semicolon etc.) in the middle of a line.

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

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

For example, the sound of /ee/ as in —

When Lucy ceased to be;

The sound of /i/ in the line —

But she is in her grave, and, oh,

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
(‘d’, ‘t’ and ‘n’ sounds)

Beside the springs of Dove,
(‘s’ and ‘d’ sounds)

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

Half hidden from the eye! (‘h’ sound)

Is shining in the sky. (‘s’ sound)

Simile

A simile is a direct comparison between two things using ‘as’ or ‘like’.

Fair as a star, when only one

In the second quatrain of the poem, Lucy’s beauty is compared to a star using ‘as’. This is an example of simile.

Metaphor

A metaphor is an indirect or implied comparison between two things where there is a point of similarity.

A violet by a mossy stone

In the first line of the second stanza of  “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways”, Lucy is indirectly compared to a violet flower for her beauty and purity. This is an example of metaphor in the poem.

Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to something which is literally, historically or culturally important.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove;

In the second line of the poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways”, the speaker most probably alludes to the Dove River in England. Again, this might also be an imaginary place.

—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

Again, in the second stanza, the star to which he compares Lucy is a single one shining in the sky. So, this is the first star in the sky and might refer to Venus, Roman Goddess of love, beauty and sex.

Polyptoton

Polyptoton is a figure of speech in which words derived from the same root are repeated.

She lived unknown, and few could know

In the above line, the two highlighted words are originated from the same root ‘know’.

Imagery

Imagery is a literary device where figurative language is used to evoke a sensory experience or create a picture with words for the reader.

Beside the springs of Dove,

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!

In both the above examples from the poem “She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways” we find visual imageries. We can almost see the pictures of those springs and the violet by the mossy stone in our mind’s eye.

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