William Wordworth’s poem ‘We are seven’ is an interesting piece of literature depicting a little maid tallying and affirming the total number of siblings she has in the present time. From the little maid’s responses to the man, it is evident that she has already lost two of her siblings; however, she does not want to acknowledge the fact that they are dead. Wordsworth has a mission of making it clear to the girl that death is an irreversible event in human beings. Nevertheless, the little maid does not seem to share a similar perception regarding death.
First, Wordsworth uses repetition throughout the poem to reinforce the little maid’s insistence that her siblings are not dead. The phrase “Two of us are in the churchyard lie” has been repeated severally by little girl to affirm the fact that she acknowledges the presence of her siblings in their spiritual form. In the little maid’s world, in as much as her brother and sister are physically gone from the world, she can still connect with them. Hence, she tries to show to the man that there is continuity of life in death. This can be seen in her response:
“My stockings there I often knit,
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My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them” (Wordsworth, n.d)
The girl is trying to show that there is still an element of normal life. By singing to her departed brother and sister, she is reinforcing the fact that her brothers and sisters can still listen to her voice. The act of singing can be interpreted as the girl’s defiance to the normal human perception towards death. Despite the effort made by the little maid to explain to the man that they are seven, the man remains adamant by stressing that they are five.
In doing this, the main is trying to pass a point to the little maid that there is nothing like continuity of life after death. He tries to convince the little maid that the actual existence of life is seen through the physical presence of the human being. He tells the little maid:
“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five” (Wordsworth, n.d)
Thus, he wants the little maid to recognize that there is a difference between life and death. In the phrase “your limbs they are alive”, the man is literally showing the girl that she still posses the traits of an active human being who can enjoy all the necessities of life. The man wants the little girls to accept that her brother and sister are departed from the normal existence because they do not posses similar physical traits like her. Note that the man’s response comes right after the girl’s claim that they are seven. In this regard, the little had earlier told him:
“Seven boys and girls we are;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree” (Wordsworth, n.d)
Secondly, the man attempts to ridicule the concept of immortality. To him, humans are mortal beings. Hence, by virtue of this quality, once death sets in, one no longer enjoys the life he or she used to. Using the man’s perspective, once human beings die they join another life in which their association with their present world ceases forever. It is this mindset that guides him to clarify to the little maid regarding the meaning of death. In the sixteenth stanza, the man responds to the little maid:
“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” (Wordsworth, n.d)
Here it is evident that the man attempts to create a living space for them. The space that he creates for them he refers to it as ‘heaven’. Using this reference, the man defines for the little maid’s departed sister and brother a new life in a virtual setting. From a biblical perspective, heaven is the virtual setting where all departed souls converge as they wait for judgment. Thus, the man uses this as a basis to dispute the validity of their existence in the natural world where he is living.
Thirdly, the man wants the girl to see that the aspect of tangibility is missing. To him, the little maid has formulated an interesting puzzle for him to answer, and he is merely doing his best to provide the best solution. By doing this, he is helping the little maid to put the pieces of the jigsaw fit back to where they belong. In essence, he is not ready to share his ‘living space’ with the departed souls because he believes that their place has already been taken. Hence, he does not acknowledge the tangible evidence that the girl is trying to provide him. This can be seen in the following response:
“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!” (Wordsworth, n.d)
In the above phrases, the man is once again reinforcing their new existence, which is in spirit form. This shows his belief that man cannot communicate with the spirit world. On the contrary, this is what the girl is trying to communicate to him. The little maid believes that the death of her siblings does not mark the end of their existence. She sees the man’s view as being misplaced. To some extent, she is justified in her view because of the fact that they came from the same lifeline and that is why she mentions her mother. This can be seen in the following phrases:
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door
And they are side by side” (Wordsworth, n.d)
Thus, using her mother, she wants the man to not only recognize the departed souls, but also to approve the connection that they share through their mother. Unfortunately, she is not successful in convincing the man to see the underlying meaning.
Finally, the man intends to show the difference between perception and reality. He believes that the little maid is misguided in her perception that they are seven. To him, seven represents a historic reference point. He not only sees ridicule, but also sees irony in the little maid’s approach. Irony can be seen in that the only point of contact between the little maid and her siblings is the grave yard. He is probably amazed by the girl’s narrations since their physical meeting place is a grave site, which to him is the residing place for the dead. To further clarify his point, he tells the little girl that their spirits are not even on earth, but in heaven. To him, the only tangible signs remaining at the grave site are probably skeletal remains of the departed souls, which cannot be equated to actual human existence. He feels that the girl is diverting from the society’s norm regarding the dead. Normally, we would not expect them to be counted as part of the living and that is why dead people have a unique designation to their names. In this regard, I believe that the man was partly justified by being adamant to the girl regarding the existence of her dead siblings.