Lucy Gray – and the grace of memory

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Photo at Pixabay

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray:
And, when I crossed the wild,
I chanced to see at break of day
The solitary child.

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wide moor,
The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the fawn at play,
The hare upon the green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

“To-night will be a stormy night –
You to the town must go;
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your mother through the snow.”

“That, Father! will I gladly do:
‘Tis scarcely afternoon –
The minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the moon!”

At this the Father raised his hook,
And snapped a faggot-band;
He plied his work; – and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe:
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse the powdery snow,
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time:
She wandered up and down;
And many a hill did Lucy climb:
But never reached the town.

The wretched parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlooked the moor;
And thence they saw the bridge of wood,
A furlong from their door.

They wept – and, turning homeward, cried,
“In heaven we all shall meet;”
When in the snow the mother spied
The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downwards from the steep hill’s edge
They tracked the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they crossed:
The marks were still the same;
They tracked them on, nor ever lost;
And to the bridge they came.

They followed from the snowy bank
Those footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank;
And further there were none!

Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.

O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

William Wordsworth

1799

Conversation about poetry on a visit to my 84 year old Dad today. Frustrated sometimes by Parkinson’s-induced interruptions to his memory-flow, Dad still recites Lucy Gray. All sixteen stanzas. I’m amazed and grateful. Poetry, for both of us is a great grace.

7 thoughts on “Lucy Gray – and the grace of memory

  1. A sad and beautiful poem. How impressed your father must have been when he first learnt it. I have a similar experience, when at the age of eight I had to learn, by heart, The Gift of Tritemius by John Greenleaf Whittier for an elocution exam. I can remember it word for word today. The theme of it impressed me so much, it encouraged my faith and a respect for poetry. The story of Lucy Gray makes me realise how some things never change. How wonderful that your Father’s “treasure corner” is still undamaged. God Bless him.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. How a poem can lead to one thing after another: first, it’s interesting to compare Whittier’s Tritemius with Mrs Alexander’s There is a green hill far away. These, along with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, are ‘universal’ stories of redemption / metanoia / turning around – that can be understood from within any of the world’s philosophical, poetic and religious traditions. And then, as to Tritemius himself: please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Trithemius. And certainly a fine and testing elocution exercise! Thanks so much for sharing this …

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