Summary of Lucy Gray by William Wordsworth

Lucy Gray by William Wordsworth

One of Wordsworth‘s most well-known poems is “Lucy Gray” (1799). Reading it with my daughter recently—who is fascinated by ghosts and not at all terrified [so far – Ed.]—it struck me that, apart from the obvious theme of child loss, there is a very contemporary form of guilt addressed here. The main terror in this poem, in my opinion, is the father returning to his job as the child runs out into the rain. Where modern parents had mortgages and car bills, Wordsworth’s rural poor most probably had famine nagging them if they slacked off from labour, but Lucy Gray is there wherever there is an adult too busy to pay her enough care.

William Wordsworth(1770- 1850)

Wordsworth, the writer of the poem Lucy Gray; popularly known as the poet of nature was born in the Lake District in northwest England. He was the major English romantic poet who launched the Romantic age in English Literature in 1798 with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads which is a joint work of Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth wrote many of his greatest poems while he stayed with his sister Dorothy close to Coleridge.

According to Wordsworth, poetry is philosophical of all writings. He was given the civil list pension by the government in 1842. He was honoured with the title of poet laureate in 1843 which he held till his death in 1850. The Prelude is considered his masterpiece which was published posthumously. His other famous works are Lines wrote a few miles above Tintern AbbeyOde: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood and Poems in Two Volumes.

Summary of The Poem Lucy Gray

Lucy Gray is a poem published in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads. This poem is written in blank verse imitating the 18th-century ballad form. It is not one of the Lucy poems written by Wordsworth. It relates to the incident of a little girl who went out one evening into the snowstorm and never returned. This poem was written based on a real-life incident heard from his sister Dorothy. The poem, according to Mary Moorman is “the most haunting of all his ballads of childhood”.

The poet has portrayed Lucy Gray as a child of nature. The poem is written lyrically and brings the picture of the valley and the countryside into our minds as we read. Through the poem, the poet tries to convey the message that man’s intervention in nature kills it. The line that says ‘The footmarks … were none’ not only implies the death of Lucy Gray but the symbolic death of nature by man’s encroachment on it. The tragic tone of the poem leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the reader.

In this poem, the poet depicts the life of a lonely girl who lived in a house in a valley with her father and mother. As she did not have friends she spent most of her time playing alone or helping her parents. It is interesting to read in the poem that one may be able to see a fawn or a rabbit while passing through the valley but cannot catch a glance of Lucy Gray.

The poem then progresses by narrating the sad incident of Lucy Gray’s death. Lucy Gray was with her father at home. Her mother had gone to town. Her father asks her to take the lantern and bring home her mother safely before evening as there were signs of an impending storm. She leaves for the town but gets caught in the storm and loses her way. However, her mother reaches home alone and the worried parents search the entire valley for Lucy till night but she is not found.

The next morning they search near a bridge which is not very far away from their house and finally see the small footprints of their daughter. They trace the trail of Lucy’s footsteps which lead them to the middle of a little bridge after which the footprints disappear and they conclude that she must have fallen in the crevice and died. But it is believed that a solitary song is heard in the winds which echo from the mountains. While some think that she died on the day of the storm others say that she lives as part of nature. Towards the end of the poem, he tells us that Lucy exists not in the family but in the arms of nature and sings a solitary song that whistles in the wind.

Lucy Gray, by Romantic poet William Wordsworth, tells of a young girl who gets lost in a blizzard when she is ordered by her father with a lamp to take her mother to town. The two girls searched for him all night but could not find him. As the day passed, the two girls arrived at a bridge where they saw Lucy’s footprints, but they still couldn’t find her. In the final stanza of Lucy Gray, the people around Lucy’s residence believe that Lucy is not dead but is still alive and often they hear Lucy singing again mixed with the sound of the wind blowing. In this poem, Wordsworth tries to explore the circle of life and death. He uses clear symbols in the theme of the poem. For example, the bridge is symbolized as a transition between life and death, it is also said that Lucy’s life has become one with nature. Wordsworth didn’t talk about Lucy’s death instead, he wanted to mix life and death in a movement and never stop.

Recommended for Reading

The Song of Death by Twafik Al-Hakim Summary & Exercise

Summary of A Poison Tree [Poem] by William Blake

Fisherman Mourned By His Wife | Summary & Analysis

Three Questions: Summary and Analysis by Leo Tolstoy


In his short poetic work, a poem entitled Lucy Gray, Wordsworth recounts the disappearance of Lucy Gray, a young girl who is sent to town with a lantern to show her mother’s way home safely through the snow.  Wordsworth has love and sympathy for this little girl because she is a source of inspiration for the poet to compose this poem. The poet’s love and sentiments for this little girl is because of the aesthetic elements.

The Oxford Dictionary defines aesthetics as “a set of principles concerned with the appreciation of beauty and a branch of philosophy which deals with the question of beauty and artistic tasks. There are aesthetic elements in the poem Lucy Gray. An object of nature is either seen, heard, felt, touched or tasted for aesthetics. There are five senses which are prerequisites for the enjoyment of beauty: sight (visual), sound (auditory), smell (olfactory), touch (tactile) and taste (gustatory).


In his poem, Lucy Gray, Wordsworth, in showing the helplessness of both child and parent, demonstrates the futility of man’s ceaseless warring against nature and the dominance of primitive forces. At the very outset of the poem, Lucy sets out to show her mother through the snow before a winter storm rolls in.

Her sole mission is to navigate a path through the dark, winter-clogged landscape, only the artificially manifested light of the lantern to illuminate her path. She is forced to subject this primaeval world to a sensible, labelled world of order by the need of her familial unit, which, through their very existence, is at war with the forces of the natural world.

This imposition represents the arrogant, overreaching attempt to pacify the surrounding environment, the brutal, yet unbiased, the force of nature. She leaves early—”the minster-clock has just struck two”—lantern in hand, sure of her success (Line 19). “That, Father! will I gladly do,” she cries, agreeing with giddy self-assurance when asked to head to town, unaware of the looming danger (Line 17). Away from the shelter of civility, the storm falls upon her quickly. Lucy is disoriented and she wanders through the premature snow and quickly becomes lost.

Another aspect of “Lucy Gray” that expresses Wordsworth’s disdain of human interference in nature is the circumstances under which the reader is led to believe Lucy perishes. She does not simply freeze in the wild, overcome by the sheer force of nature. The child is lead astray by the bulky creations of men.

The next morning, the parents track Lucy’s footprints through the snow. They led them across and open fields and to a bridge. Not deep within the churning bowels of nature do Lucy’s tracks disappear but on this man-made creation: “They followed from the snowy bank / Those footmarks, one by one, / Into the middle for the plank; / And further there were none! (Line 53-56).The child meets her end far from the desolate wilds of unadulterated nature but in following the appropriate paths.

After wandering from hill to hill, through the heart of the wilderness, Lucy falls from the bridge. Wordsworth depicts Lucy’s footprints disappearing from the planks of the bridge instead of merely vanishing into the river from the bank. By doing so, Wordsworth shows the disarming foolishness of claiming victory over nature. Had Lucy walked to the edge of the river, she would have acknowledged the adamant natural barrier and turned away but, instead, she was lulled by the structure and order of the bridge and attempts to cross in the midst of a terrible storm.Lucy mocks the barrier of nature, this river, and puts her faith, and safety, in the ordered hands of civilization.

Finally, in the last two stanzas of the poem, Wordsworth soothes his readers with the slim possibility of Lucy’s survival. The girl, however, does not live on in the city confines of a familial unit or the rigorous confines of community. She lives on through nature:

She is a living child;

That you may see sweet Lucy Gray

Upon the lonesome wild. (Line 58-60)

She treks on through nature, content with her plight—in the final lines of the poem, Wordsworth shows that the girl is free, she “never looks behind; / And sings a solitary song / That whistles in the wind.(Line 62-64). In death, the child has become what she, unlike her parents, never showed any fear of. In the first half of the poem, the child is overjoyed to go freely into nature, she is glad to go out alone. Now, the child “sings a solitary song” and lives on through the same natural world others professed as her enemy (Line 59). Instead of showing the grief and sorrow of her family, the models of ordered life and society, Wordsworth leaves the child in nature. The child is let go from the shackles of order and structure—she is free to be nature.


The poet sees a lonely girl at the time of dawn. It is the sense of sight of the solitary child.- line 16 In line 9, the poet says that you may see the young one of a deer playing and jumping. Here he uses the word “spy” which is the optimum of the word “see”. Then he says that you may see the hare upon the green.  You yet may spy the fawn at play, The hare upon the green. – line17 In lines 36 and 40, the poet uses the words “sight” and “saw”. He said that there was no sight of Lucy Gray and then they saw a wooden bridge. But there was neither sound nor sight

And then they saw the bridge of wood. – line18 In line 44, the poet says that the mother of Lucy Gray saw the footprints of Lucy Gray and again used the word “spy”

When in the snow the mother spied

The print of Lucy’s feet. – line 19 In line 60, the poet uses the word “see”.

That you may see sweet Lucy Gray Upon the lonesome wild. – line 20 Similarly, there are a number of visual images in the poem which appeal to the sense of sight, even though the word “see” or “sight” has not been used. These are the optical and spectacular sights which attract the sense of sight and then go deep into the heart of a human being. These beautiful objects of Nature lead to investment in the heart and soul. For example, when the poet uses the word snow in line 16, he says: your mother through the snow.

The word moon has an appeal to the sense of sight as the moon is something attractive and beautiful which is often used as a symbol of beauty. In lines 26-29, he uses the word mountain roe and says that Lucy Gray is happier than the mountain deer and when she walks, she disperses the powdery snow which rises like smoke. It is a beautiful image which has got aesthetic pleasure to provide to the spectators.

Not blither is the mountain roe:

With many a wanton stroke

Her feet disperse the powdery snow,

That rises up like smoke – line 20

From line 46 onward, there are a number of visual images enumerated by the poet when he says that the parents of Lucy Gray came down from the steep hill’s edge, followed the footprints of the child, through the broken hawthorn hedge, by the long stone-wall and then crossed an open field.

In the presentation of Nature, Wordsworth is fascinated by the sound in the objects of nature, just as Shelley was fascinated by the color in the spectacles of nature. The following lines from The Solitary Reaper exhibit the poet’s enthusiasm for sound in nature:

A voice so thrilling never was heard
In springtime from the cuckoo bird
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides. – line 21


In the very first line of the poem, the poet uses the word “heard” in which he says he has often heard about a little child called Lucy gray. It is the sense of sound.  Oft I had heard of Lucy grey – line 22 In line 19 the poet says that the church clock has struck two. Here the poet uses the word struck which appeals to the sense of sound.

The minster clock has struck two – line 23 In line 35, the poet uses the word shouting which appeals to the sense of sound. He describes the miserable condition and the sense of fear of Lucy’s parents because she did not return home. They went out shouting everywhere all that night in search of Lucy Gray.

The parents wretched all that night

Went shouted far and wide – line 24

In line 42, the word cried has been used which again appeals to the sense of sound.
A furlong from their door
They wept-and, turning homeward cried
“In heaven, we shall all meet”; – line 25
In the concluding two lines, the poet uses the words “sings” and whistles” which are the most appealing words to the sense of sound.
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind – line 26 In all of the above lines the entire impact is that of sound.


In line 7 and 11 the poet says that she was the most beautiful child ever born on earth. He uses the word “sweetest” which is a comprehensive term appealing to all senses, especially to the sense of taste.

She dwelt on a wide moor,
-The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray

Will never be seen more. – line 27 Similarly in line 59, the poet says that some people still believe that she is still alive and that you may see the sweet face of Lucy Gray on the wild moor. That you may see the sweet Lucy Gray  Upon the lonesome wild. – line 28 Losing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences everyone must go through. The experience doesn’t end with the loss though, but it begins with the 6th. The loss of a dear person leads those left behind into a downward spiral of emotions and memories. In Lucy Gray, Wordsworth focuses on that loss and the emotions that follow it. By reading the poem one can objectively experience both the grief that Lucy Gray’s death brings on but also her parents’ acceptance of her death.

The poem in brief summary allows us to experience an outsider’s view of the death of Lucy Gray and her parents’ grief. The character narrating the poem tells the story of Lucy, a girl who was sent by her father with a lantern to light the way home, for her mother in town. On her way to town a snow storm hits and Lucy is

never found neither dead nor alive. The fact that a stranger is narrating the story as opposed to one of the parents telling the story, allows the reader to witness the tragedy of Lucy Gray without feeling too tangled up in the parents’ grief.

By having an outsider who is in no way involved in the tragedy tell the story, the writer of the poet William Wordsworth gives the reader an objective point of view on the tragedy as well as room to relate the reader’s own experience to the poem without feeling uncomfortable. Had the poem lacked objectivity the reader would have surely felt uncomfortable and stifled by the emotions of the parents or a parent telling the story of their daughter’s death. As well as that, the objectiveness of the stranger narrating gives the reader almost a communal experience. It is as if the reader was in a small town one day, and a local just happened to tell the story.

The communal aspect as well as the reader is so far removed from the actual event, provides an understanding by the reader of the parents’ grief yet it does not in any way force the reader to feel something. The stranger in the narration of the story, at one point focuses on the parents’ helplessness when their daughter does not come home. The feeling of helplessness is the first emotion they experience as the realization of their daughter’s disappearance and possible death sets in. This helplessness is best expressed in the following lines of the poem:

The parents wretched all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sight nor sound

To serve them for a guide. Line – 33 – 36 Plus the parents feel helpless because no one else besides them is looking for their daughter. It is up to them to find her and if they do not find her alive, it is a failure on their part to keep their child safe and alive. The lines also show the desperation that Lucy’s parents begin to feel as they see that they cannot find her and that the snowy weather lowers any chance in their hearts that she will actually be found alive. It is these feelings of helplessness and desperation that introduced the grief that will follow. The helplessness is best shown the next day in the poem when Lucy’s parents find her footsteps and follow them. The following lines how this helplessness:

They followed from the snowy bank
Those footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank;

And further there were none! – line 53 – 56 The preceding lines of the poem allow the reader to see the build-up of emotional expectations on the parents’ part that their daughter might still be alive. This is of course until the parents discover that the footsteps end and there is no Lucy. A fall from some kind of hope, allows the grieving to begin. Had the parents not found the footsteps and followed them the grieving process would have started later and been more painful with lingering hope.

As for every parent who loses a child, it is hard for Lucy’s parents to let go. The hardest part seems to be the fact that they never even find Lucy. Though the hope of her still being alive is gone, the parents still have no closure because they never found her body. Yet they must do without and find a way to accept her death. The following lines show the parents’ willingness to come to terms with Lucy’s death and let her go, “In heaven, we all shall meet” ( Line 42).

Lucy’s parents do not let her go in a way that they forget her, but they make peace with the fact that someday they will all meet again and be together. They allow themselves to grieve but also to accept that nothing can change the fact that Lucy is dead. What really makes it apparent that Lucy’s parents refuse to let her fade away, is the fact that the stranger is telling the story. The stranger is narrating it as if it was told to him by one of the parents, word by word, to be repeated and spread throughout the town, so in a way Lucy is always kept alive. In words of Wordsworth – Yet some maintain that to this day

She is still a living child;

That you may see sweet Lucy Gray

Upon the lonesome wild. – line 57 – 60

Though Lucy died at such a young age and under such unfortunate circumstances she is still remembered by the town’s people as well as the reader now.


The poem Lucy Gray focuses on a little child –a manifestation of aesthetic elements and features. These aesthetic features appeal to the five senses. It is a great piece of Wordsworth’s creative talent which observes the dimensions of romantic aesthetics. He highlights these dimensions in such a way the scene comes almost in front of the readers.

Beauty – the ability of an object to appeal to the senses and provide emotional satisfaction – is manifest in the poem appealing to the senses of the readers of the poem.


  • Abrams, MH 1971. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
  • Di Yanni, Robert. 1994. Literature Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Pleasant Ville: Pace University.
  • Encyclopedia Americana. Volume 4. International Edition. New York: American Corporation.
  • Hornby, USA 2005. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Jayanti, Rahayu Dwi. 2008. The Analysis of the Love Changes of the King Leontes
  • as the Main Character in the Winter Tale, a Play by Shakespeare. Denpasar: Faculty of Letters, Udayana University.
  • Jones, Edward. H. 1968. Outlines of Literature. New York: The Mac Millan Company.
  • Kenney, William. 1966. How to Analyze Fiction. New York: Monarch Press. Knickerbocker, KL and Willard H. Reninger. 1963. Interpreting Literature. USA: Holt Renehart and Wilson Inc.
  • Nurgiyantoro, Burhan, Prof. Dr. M.Pd. 2005. Theory of Literary Studies. Yogya: Gajah Mada University Press.
  • Smith, Sybille. 1985. Inside Poetry. Pitman Publishing Ltd. : London. Stanford, Judith A. 2006. Responding to Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill. Wellek, Rene and Austen Warren. 1963. Theory of Literature. London: Cox and Wyman Ltd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *