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How is the theme of Childhood presented in The Lyrical Ballads?

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Introduction

How is the theme of Childhood presented in The Lyrical Ballads? The Romantic era ushered in a whole new way in which children were perceived. Romantics did not believe in the "Seen but not heard" attitude towards children. The Romantics often busied themselves trying to understand what made a man, what shaped a person's personality to create the adult. Three poems in The Lyrical Ballads, all by Wordsworth, deal exclusively with the theme of childhood. They are We are Seven, Anecdote for Fathers and The Idiot Boy. A famous quote by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rosseau states that "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". By this he meant that we are all born without any laws or morality and that these are ideals we gain only as we age and get exposed to them by society. This sentiment is reflected in the aforementioned poems, as this belief is one of the reasons children were so celebrated by the Romantic movement, they were untainted by the societal rules forced upon them, and so were a part of nature in a way an adult could not be. ...read more.

Middle

In the poem Wordsworth gives a vivid description of the girl, referring to her as "rustic" and having a "Woodland air", which overtly links her to nature. The fact that the narrator says that her beauty "makes me glad" shows that Wordsworth is indirectly calling the girl, her innocence and nature, which the girl is close to, a wonderful thing which should be celebrated. Both The Idiot Boy and Anecdote for Fathers deal with the imagination. In Anecdote for Fathers the narrator asks his son whether he prefers their home at Kilve or Liswyn Farm. The child clearly has never contemplated this, however as his father originally praises Kilve more than Liswyn Farm, he says that he prefers Kilve, as he believes that is what his father wants to hear. His father however questions his answer, which the child is not prepared for. Looking around in panic he sees a weather vane and responds with "At Klive there was no weather-cock, and that's the reason why". ...read more.

Conclusion

The contrast between the imagination of a child, with an extra layer of innocence due to his mental handicap, and his mother is incredibly stark. While Johnny's imagination has kept him content for hours, Betty's has, in a shorter space of time, made her start to contemplate suicide due to the grief it instilled within her. We then find that Susan has recovered for exactly the same reason that Betty felt such despair, all she was able to think about were horrible ways in which Betty and Johnny could've been hurt and was able to draw strength from her sadness at being unable to help. In the end, when asked what he had been doing for hours, Johnny merely replies "The cocks did crow to-whoo, to-whoo, and the sun did shine so cold". Wordsworth called this response Johnny's "glory", which very accurately sums up the Romantic ideal of childhood and innocence being a thing to cherish, which was one of the messages Wordsworth and Coleridge tried to present with the Lyrical Ballads. ...read more.

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