“We are Seven.”

Fermanagh Herald and Monaghan News.1905. Price One Penny.

April 1st 1905. SEVEN ROSSLEA (Ed. Literary) DRINKERS. Patrick Sweeney, Thomas McAloon, Michael Cassidy, M. McCloskey, Patrick Murray, Charles Rooney, and James McQuaid recited “We are seven” at the Rosslea Petty Sessions on Saturday last. The magistrates were:—Messrs. McLean, R.M., and B. Whitsitt, J.P. They had nothing to do beyond extracting sums ranging from 1s to half-a-crown from the above-named gentlemen, all of whom had been drunk.

“We are Seven” is a poem written by William Wordsworth in 1798 and published in his Lyrical Ballads. It describes a discussion between an adult poetic speaker and a “little cottage girl” about the number of brothers and sisters who dwell with her. The poem turns on the question of whether to count two dead siblings.

 

Wordsworth claimed that the idea for We are Seven came to him while traveling alone across England in October 1793 after becoming separated from his friend, William Calvert. This solitude with nature he claimed encouraged him to reach a deeper understanding where the experience was no longer just for pleasure, as it was in his earlier days, but also hinted at a darker side. Immersed in these feelings, Wordsworth came to Goodrich Castle and met a little girl who would serve as the model for the little girl in We are Seven. Although there is no documentation on what the little girl actually told him during their conversation, she interested Wordsworth to such an extent that he wrote:

    I have only to add that in the spring of 1841 I revisited Goodrich Castle, not having seen that part of the Wye since I met the little Girl there in 1793. It would have given me greater pleasure to have found in the neighbouring hamlet traces of one who had interested me so much; but it was impossible, as unfortunately I did not even know her name.

 

Wordsworth began to write the poem in early 1798 while working on many other poems modelled on the ballad form for a joint poetry collection with Samuel Coleridge. The collection was proposed in March because Wordsworth needed to raise money for a proposed journey to Germany with Coleridge. These poems were included in Lyrical Ballads and A Few Other Poems with a few written by Coleridge. Wordsworth describes the moment of finishing the poem:

 

    My friends will not deem it too trifling to relate that while walking to and fro I composed the last stanza first, having begun with the last line. When it was all but finished, I came in and recited it to Mr. Coleridge and my Sister, and said, ‘A prefatory stanza must be added, and I should sit down to our little tea-meal with greater pleasure if my task were finished.’ I mentioned in substance what I wished to be expressed, and Coleridge immediately threw off the stanza thus:-

 

        ‘A little child, dear brother Jem,’ —

 

    I objected to the rhyme, ‘dear brother Jem,’ as being ludicrous, but we all enjoyed the joke of hitching-in our friend, James T —’s name, who was familiarly called Jem. He was brother of the dramatist, and this reminds me of an anecdote which it may be worthwhile here to notice. The said Jem got a sight of the Lyrical Ballads as it was going through the press at Bristol, during which time I was residing in that city. One evening he came to me with a grave face, and said, ‘Wordsworth, I have seen the volume that Coleridge and you are about to publish. There is one poem in it which I earnestly entreat you will cancel, for, if published, it will make you ever lastingly ridiculous.’ I answered that I felt much obliged by the interest he took in my good name as a writer, and begged to know what was the unfortunate piece he alluded to. He said, ‘It is called “We are seven.”‘ Nay! said I, that shall take its chance, however, and he left me in despair.

 

The collection, including We are Seven, was accepted by Joseph Cottle in May 1798 and was soon after published anonymously.[5] In 1820, the poem was republished as a broadside and titled “The Little Maid and the Gentleman”.

 

Many guidebooks and locals in the city of Conwy, Wales claim Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem after seeing a gravestone in St Mary and All Saints Church. The gravestone is marked “We are Seven.”

 

WE ARE SEVEN

          ——–A SIMPLE Child,

          That lightly draws its breath,

          And feels its life in every limb,

          What should it know of death?

 

          I met a little cottage Girl:

          She was eight years old, she said;

          Her hair was thick with many a curl

          That clustered round her head.

 

          She had a rustic, woodland air,

          And she was wildly clad:                                  

          Her eyes were fair, and very fair;

          –Her beauty made me glad.

 

          “Sisters and brothers, little Maid,

          How many may you be?”

          “How many? Seven in all,” she said

          And wondering looked at me.

 

          “And where are they? I pray you tell.”

          She answered, “Seven are we;

          And two of us at Conway dwell,

          And two are gone to sea.                                 

 

          “Two of us in the church-yard lie,

          My sister and my brother;

          And, in the church-yard cottage, I

          Dwell near them with my mother.”

 

          “You say that two at Conway dwell,

          And two are gone to sea,

          Yet ye are seven!–I pray you tell,

          Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

 

          Then did the little Maid reply,

          “Seven boys and girls are we;                             

          Two of us in the church-yard lie,

          Beneath the church-yard tree.”

 

          “You run about, my little Maid,

          Your limbs they are alive;

          If two are in the church-yard laid,

          Then ye are only five.”

 

          “Their graves are green, they may be seen,”

          The little Maid replied,

          “Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,

          And they are side by side.                                 

 

          “My stockings there I often knit,

          My kerchief there I hem;

          And there upon the ground I sit,

          And sing a song to them.

 

          “And often after sunset, Sir,

          When it is light and fair,

          I take my little porringer,

          And eat my supper there.

 

          “The first that died was sister Jane;

          In bed she moaning lay,                                    

          Till God released her of her pain;

          And then she went away.

 

          “So in the church-yard she was laid;

          And, when the grass was dry,

          Together round her grave we played,

          My brother John and I.

 

          “And when the ground was white with snow,

          And I could run and slide,

          My brother John was forced to go,

          And he lies by her side.”                                 

 

          “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.”

 

          “But they are dead; those two are dead!

          Their spirits are in heaven!”

          ‘Twas throwing words away; for still

          The little Maid would have her will,

          And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

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