Study Guide

We Are Seven Stanza 1

By William Wordsworth

Stanza 1

Lines 1-4

——A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death? 

  • The speaker of "We Are Seven" starts out with a seemingly simple and abstract question: what can a child know about death? 
  • This question presumes a sort of innocence on the part of the child. Death is a matter for adults, not little kids.
  • It implies that kids shouldn't know anything about death at all: what can a "simple Child" know about something as complex and mysterious as death?
  • Just to draw up the contrast between the child and death a little more, the speaker describes the child as very vivacious; the child "lightly draws its breath" and "feels its life in every limb." For the speaker, nothing is more lively and vibrant than this child. 
  • But the fact that the poem begins with this question suggests that perhaps that the speaker might be surprised.
  • He (we're just assuming our speaker's a "he" at this point) might find out that a child can know a whole lot about death.
  • This is even suggested in that fantastic rhyme of "breath" and "death" in the second and fourth lines. This deathly rhyme suggests that the two are deeply connected.
  • Before we move on, let's stop and think a bit about rhyme and meter and all that good stuff. The poem is written in a ballad form. The ballad is a really old-school form (way older than Wordsworth, even) that usually involves some sort of storytelling. 
  • The ballad almost always takes the form of a quatrain with an ABAB rhyme scheme, in which the first and third lines of the stanza rhyme, and the second and fourth rhyme as well. 
  • Additionally, the ballad form is usually made up of regularly-metered lines that alternate iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter. Don't sweat the terminology at this point. Just know that ballad meter usually sounds a lot like this: daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM / daDUM daDUM daDUM. If you want to know more about all this technical stuff, we've got it fully covered for you over in the "Form and Meter" section.
  • But for now, it's important to realize that this first stanza is not written in perfect ballad form. There is only one rhyme ("breath" and "death) and the poem doesn't yet feature the basic ballad meter. The beginning of the poem is comparatively prose-y. 
  • You might want to think of the first stanza, then, as kind of a warm-up or intro. The speaker is setting out the main themes of the poem by conjuring up an abstract child (who doesn't even have a gender yet) and asking a question about the abstract child. It's almost like the speaker is clearing his throat in these lines; when the poem continues, we just bet that he'll settle into the familiar ballad form. Let's read on…

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