“A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal”: Wordsworth’s Deathly Tale

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In the latter part of the romantic period, Wordsworth, as a part of his lyrical ballads, wrote “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal.” Although not initially intended, the poem eventually became part of a series labeled as the “Lucy Poems.” The five poems, in some way or another, address loss, separation, and their connection to nature. Recent analyses have yielded interesting results in interpreting the poem. Because of the ambiguity present within the lines, varying interpretations have emerged. As it turns out, “A slumber did my spirit seal” is not just a poem, as most people would have it, of a male speaker lamenting the loss of his love Lucy. Instead what has emerged is a creative narrative about the intertwined lives of three characters, all stemming from the same eight lines of poetic verse.

The first, and most conventional interpretation of “A Slumber,” identify the pronoun ‘She’ in the third line as “Lucy,” who is the subject of the four other poems in the collection. The male speaker (the speaker of a poem must be separate from the poet, in this case Wordsworth) describes how this woman whoever she may be: mother, lover, sister, or friend; has died. The word “slumber” is a euphemism to suggest an easy passing on to the afterlife. The final two lines of the first quatrain point to the tranquility of her death, and the narrator’s consolation that she is beyond the grasp of human mortality.

In the second quatrain, the impact of her death is starting to dawn on the speaker. In the first line, by saying that she has “No motion…no force” (line 5) he is possibly reflecting on how she was in life: a woman in constant movement, one that took part in life, rather than sitting on the sidelines. Now, all of that energy has ceased to ...

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...possibly the Lucy of other interpretations. The woman, or Lucy, is dead. She has “no force” (line 5), and the speaker has left her in a desolate landscape. Her corpse subjected to the harsh elements of the daily course of earth. The third interpretation of the poem is the persona of a sadistic murder that, when placed within the context of the previous two interpretations, the reader experiences the entire narrative.

Works Cited

Caraher, Brian G. Wordsworth’s “Slumber” and the Problematics of Reading. University Park: Penn State University Press, 1991. Print.

Davies, Hugh Sykes. “Another New Poem by Wordsworth.” Essays in Criticism XV(2) (April 1965): 135-161. Web. 18 Sep. 2011.

Wordsworth, William. “A slumber did my spirit seal.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2006. 276-77. Print.
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