The young boy and B. Wordsworth form an unusual but genuine friendship. Each one contributes something to it. The boy finds B. Wordsworth a very interesting character. He has probably never met anyone quite like him. He listens to the poet’s fanciful words without cynicism or judgment, and he learns a lot from him. Since the boy’s father is dead, B. Wordsworth for a while fills a gap in his life. His horizons expand as a result of the friendship of the old man, and the world became a most exciting place. He becomes emotionally attached to B. Wordsworth and cries when their relationship comes to an end. For B. Wordsworth, perhaps the boy is a surrogate son or grandson. He certainly gains a lot from their relationship. He is no doubt delighted to have found someone who takes him seriously and listens to him, since he likes to speak of what he knows and the values he lives by. Probably no one else listens to him. So each fills a need for the other.
B. Wordsworth tells his young friend much about poetry and the poet. A poet must be in touch with nature; he must observe the world closely in an unhurried way. The poet is perceptive and can see what others cannot, about people, places, and life itself. He also feels compassion for all living things. B. Wordsworth tells the boy he ‘‘can watch a small flower like the morning glory and cry,’’ and he adds, ‘‘when you’re a poet you can cry for everything.’’ B. Wordsworth has adopted what he thinks is the correct manner for the poet, and the boy makes this observation about his friend: ‘‘He did everything as though he were doing it for the first time in his life. He did everything as though he were doing some church rite.’’ The poet, then, looks at familiar things as if they are unfamiliar, and he has an attitude of reverence for life. The poet’s task is to reflect on his experiences and write about them in a way that makes them meaningful for everyone, not just himself. Thus B. Wordsworth wants to write a poem that ‘‘will sing to all humanity.’’
B. Wordsworth has large ambitions but little in the way of achievement. He has conceived a goal—to become a great poet—that exceeds whatever small talent he may have. He appears to have done nothing much else in life, and his life might be seen as aimless. He convinces himself that he is writing a great poem, although he knows in his heart (as his later confession to the boy shows) that this is not true. He says that once, when he was twenty years old, ‘‘I felt the power within myself,’’ but that power, whatever it was, never produced anything. He must know that it has gone now and will never return. Seen in this light, his determination to link himself to the great poet William Wordsworth is a comic exaggeration.
Instead of doing something productive, B. Wordsworth sits around watching nature, dreaming his life away. The reality of his situation, behind the illusions he cultivates, is poignantly revealed in the incident when the policeman who has found him and the boy lying on the ground looking up at the stars asks him what he is doing there. B. Wordsworth responds, ‘‘I have been asking myself the same question for forty years.’’ This might be seen as a humorous response that also emphasizes the inquiring nature of the poet’s mind, but it also reveals, perhaps inadvertently, the uncertainty and lack of direction that has characterized B. Wordsworth’s life. The truth is that B. Wordsworth’s life is a failure. He has achieved nothing in his life, which is a story of unrealized potential. In truth, he is a sad, lonely old man, and when he dies he is soon forgotten. It is as if he never existed.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, V. S. Naipaul, Published by Gale Group, 2001.