There Was a Boy
|Islands of Winander|
There was a Boy; ye knew him well, ye cliffs
And islands of Winander! many a time,
At evening, when the earliest stars began
To move along the edges of the hills,
Rising or setting, would he stand alone,
Beneath the trees, or by the glimmering lake;
And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands
Pressed closely palm to palm and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls
That they might answer him.—And they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
Responsive to his call,—with quivering peals,
And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of jocund din! And, when there came a pause
Of silence such as baffled his best skill:
Then, sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain-torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven received
Into the bosom of the steady lake.
This boy was taken from his mates, and died
In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old.
Pre-eminent in beauty is the vale
Where he was born and bred: the churchyard hangs
Upon a slope above the village-school;
And through that churchyard when my way has led
On summer-evenings, I believe that there
A long half-hour together I have stood
Mute—looking at the grave in which he lies!
"There Was a Boy" is a narrative poem in blank verse divided into two stanzas, the first comprised of twenty-five lines, the second of only nine. The story told is haunting, eery, somber, and sad--a poetic tale worthy of Edgar Allan Poe.
The first stanza introduces a boy who loved owls and the natural world that surrounded them. Unseen, the boy would mimic their calls, and the owls would usually answer back. Sometimes, however, the owls would be silent for a while, and in these silences the boy would become one with his natural surroundings, foreshadowing the state that his spirit would take after death. His friends, the owls, themselves the heralds of death, allowed the boy to experience these feelings of peace.
The second stanza reveals that the boy did die at the age of eleven. The narrator, presumably Wordsworth, would at times pass through the churchyard where the boy was buried. The churchyard, being situated high upon a slope, must overlook the place where the boy once communed with the owls. Looking out upon that view in silence, the poet realizes that he looks upon the place where the spirit, if not the body, of the boy lies.