A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal: The Vicissititudes

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A slumber did my spirit seal is one of the five Lucy poems that William Wordsworth wrote for the Lyrical Ballads. This one is a special one amongst the “Lucy” poems because it is the only poem where the term “Lucy” has not been mentioned. And I think I know the reason for that. I’ll come to that later. First a little bit about the meaning, theme, and analysis of this poem.

As with all the other Lucy poems, this poem too has the melancholic tone with it, describing an event of the poet’s life. Who is Lucy and what relationship she shared with the poet? No one knows. But we do know that both her presence and absence has created an impact on the poet’s life. Here’s the poem for reference: 

A Slumber did my Spirit Seal 

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;

She neither hears nor sees;

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees.

Analysis of the poem 

The poem is made of two quatrains, or stanzas of four lines. The first stanza is about the state of the narrator’s mind, his thoughts, and his condition. The second stanza is about the current state of things and of Lucy, who is absent from the narrator’s life. There is an air of pain, sadness, and most importantly, of vicissitudes.

Let’s look at each stanza and see what it means:

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

Perhaps the most confusing part of the poem is the first line; A slumber did my spirit seal. The use of colloquial language might confuse some readers. It means that his spirit, his thinking was lulled in a slumber. Slumber here does not necessarily mean sleep. It is more akin to a trance-like state, where the narrator was barely aware of the things happening around him.

The trance

The poet was lost in a trance-like state and this made him unaware of the “human fear”. What is this human fear? Here in the poem’s context, it is perhaps the possibility of losing the loved one. The fear that the beautiful and tranquilizing company of that person who is all for you will end one day and become a fleeting memory. 

This slumber made the poet think that the one he loved was unaffected by time. He thought that things ceased to exist, just because he had closed his eyes. The earth moved, the clocks turned and the life that so jovially flowed through the veins of his loved faded, drop by drop she lost it and the poet was unaware of it. Until the slumber was gone and he was jolted by reality.

Cessation of motion 

No motion has she now, no force;

She neither hears nor sees;

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees

The second and last stanza of the poem is about the realization. It is about what happened to Lucy when the poet was lost in his world. But we know that Lucy was very much vulnerable to the earthly years. And this is what happened.

She is motionless without any force, without any senses. All the motion that she has now is from the earth. She is, indeed, affected by earth’s forces. Rolled in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones, and trees.

The lines here indicate that Lucy, the person the poet is referring to as “she” has died and becomes one with the earth. Diurnal means the day and night pattern which we see every day. Lucy has become a part of it. 

The inclusion of earth, trees, nature goes to show Wordsworth’s love for nature. The one he believed to be immortal, untouched by time and its effects has now become a memory itself, residing in nature. 

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Why is there no Lucy term in the poem?

A question that often comes about this poem is “why is there no mention of Lucy”? In all the other four poems, the poet has mentioned the name “Lucy” but not in this one. Why is that? Because Lucy has ceased to exist.

The poem is about the death of Lucy, the end of the series of poems about Lucy. There is no Lucy here, it is just a “she”, a memory of the poet. There is no definitive presence of Lucy anymore. This is why Wordsworth did not mention the name here but merely referred to Lucy as “she”. 

The “she” in this poem is Lucy, the woman for whom the poet has written many poems. But this final poem is about the loss of Lucy. She isn’t anymore, so how can he call her Lucy and expect anyone to know who she was? This is why, Lucy is just a “she”, a person from the poet’s memory. 

Is the poem about the poet’s spirit? 

In another interpretation that seems plausible yet improbable, the whole meaning of “she” is changed. What if the poet is not talking about any woman but his spirit? 

The poem starts with “A slumber did my spirit seal” which means that a trance-like condition, a state of lethargy and ununderstanding took hold of his spirit. So perhaps the poet goes on about his spirit, referring it to as “she”? Perhaps he is just describing his current state? 

His spirit, as he assumed before, was untouchable by the earthly years, meaning that his spirit will always be vigorous. But that was a mistake and now, all he sees is that his spirit is dead, without any force, without any motion. All he does is just wake up and sleep following the diurnal cycle of the earth, like the rocks, stones, and trees.

This explanation is very plausible. And it goes to show how pivotal this “she” is. Change the meaning and the whole meaning of the poem changes. From missing a lost, loved one to a ballad of a broken man’s lost spirit. But if you ask us, we think that the “she” here is Lucy, because it fits the overall meaning well. 

Theme and meaning

The primary theme of the poem is the loss of a loved one, being met with a grief that was unexpected and vicissitudes. The auxiliary theme of the poem can be life, the cycle of life and death, the ephemeral state of mortality, etc. 

For the meaning, it would be safe to assume that Wordsworth ended the “Lucy” saga with this poem, erasing her name and keeping it forever in the narrator’s memory. All we know of her is that once she existed and now she is gone. It is just a painful song of a person realizing what he has lost while he was lost.

Literary devices in the poem

The poem is a lyrical ballad, hence the rhyming pattern here is abab for both quatrains. Here are some other literary devices of the poem.

Alliteration: Alliteration adds a beautiful cadence to the poem and Wordsworth has always used it. In this poem; 

A slumber did my spirit seal

She seemed a thing that could not feel

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course

Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of the vowel sound in the same sentence. The examples in this poem are:

A slumber did my spirit seal

She seemed a thing that could not feel

She neither hears nor sees

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course

Metaphor: The examples of metaphors used in this poem are; Calling tranquility as a sleeping spirit. Calling not being affected by time and aging as the touch of earthly years. The entire second stanza is a metaphor for death and becoming one with the earth, with the universal forces.

Enjambment: Enjambment is used in these lines;

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

This concludes the article about A Slumber did my Spirit Seal by William Wordsworth. It is a beautiful poem about the loss of a loved one and how sudden it is for the people who experience it. Read more articles related to this one while you are here 🙂

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