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Wordsworth’s “I travelled among unknown men” appears at first to be a tribute to a woman he loved and a poem of patriotism. It is initially unclear how Lucy and England are similar beyond being things that are ultimately important to him. Through further interpretations, it becomes evident that Wordsworth used specific tools such as personification and images of nature to connect the two beyond the reader’s first reaction. After the reader realizes how Lucy and England are tied together, the feelings of loss that Wordsworth’s “melancholy” experience of travel are connected with his feelings towards the death of Lucy as a travel experience and not just a deportation from his life. This poem is in turn not a statement about life and love, but a statement about death as a permanent journey.
In the first two stanzas Wordsworth chooses not to mention Lucy in efforts to put emphasis on the importance of his love and devotion for England. He resolves to have not understood “what love [he] bore to [England]” (4) until he left England to travel to other lands. He describes his travelling adventures as a “melancholy dream” (5) and promises to not “quit [England’s] shore/A second time” (6-7). In making this promise, he is recognizing not only the importance that his travel played in his love for England but also, he is realizing that in his path of travel he is given a second chance; Lucy’s travel away from England is permanent.
Wordsworth also uses tactics of personification throughout the poem. He chooses to personify England and describing feelings of human love and devotion towards it. Personifying England makes it easier for the reader to connect the country to Lucy since it already seems so human. Wordsworth also decides to describe his travels abroad by the people he encountered rather than the landscapes themselves. In doing this, he is conveying to the reader the importance of a personal connection with people in his life. Travelling in a foreign territory “among unknown men” would undoubtedly create feelings of unfamiliarity and a sense of feeling lost until he returned home to England. In these observations the reader must also realize that Lucy herself has traveled in a sense. Once the reader realizes that both Wordsworth and Lucy have left England in their own ways, this poem becomes not a poem declaring timeless love, but a description of what death must be like. This can be interpreted in two ways, depending on the reader’s experience with other Wordsworth poetry.
A reader who is not familiar with other works may interpret that Lucy’s death would be a horrible experience and the departure from her home. Wordsworth left England only temporarily and feels as if his journey was a miserable experience that left him in an altered state of consciousness, much like a “melancholy dream” (5). He is able to return to England and renew his faith and love for it; feelings of happiness are brought back to his life once he returns. Lucy has permanently travelled away from England. She will never be able to return and regain feelings of happiness and hope. The reader is then forced to question if this melancholy altered state Wordsworth temporarily found himself in while traveling is the fate of Lucy permanently because her travels will never bring her back. However, a reader who is more familiar with Wordsworth’s works and his style would know that as a romantic poet, his poetry places emphasis on the natural world, imagination and religion, among other themes. Wordsworth would believe that Heaven is home and Earth is just a temporary stop along a person’s journey of life. He claims that from “trailing clouds of glory do [humans] come/From God, who is our home:/Heaven lies about us in our infancy!” (Ode 64-66) and refers to Heaven as “that imperial palace” (Ode 83). Wordsworth is placing Heaven as the holiest and happiest place that our immortal souls will live. Knowing this, the reader would be able to conclude that Lucy is in fact going home, to Heaven, and will be happier there.
Wordsworth makes the promise to his country: “Nor will I quit thy shore/A second time; for still I seem/To love thee more and more” (6-8). He only realized the importance of England in his life after he had left. When he returned, he felt his love for his country grow everyday and he could relish in the things that he loved most about his country, but only as they were connected to Lucy. This promise may have been made to his country because he was wishful that he could tell Lucy he would never leave her again, or because he had the realization that the miserable life he led temporarily is the misery that Lucy would contain forever.
Wordsworth’s “I travelled among unknown men” appears at first to be a simple love poem but concludes on a much deeper level. He is explaining to the reader the travels that are taken, both temporarily and permanently; it is up to the reader to conclude whether Lucy’s permanent journey away from England to Heaven is a journey to her home or away from it. Wordsworth is connecting his travels and Lucy’s death through the description of his own journey away from England. This poem is much more than a love story; it is a testimony on the life and death experience of mankind.
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