B. Wordsworth’’ is set in Miguel Street, a poor area in Port of Spain, Trinidad, during the early 1940s. It is narrated by an unnamed young boy who lives there with his family. He is used to seeing beggars come to the house seeking food. But one afternoon someone rather different turns up. After the boy has returned from school, a strange but well-spoken man arrives and asks if he may watch the bees in the palm trees that stand in the yard. The boy’s mother says it will be all right if the boy keeps a watch on the stranger. The man and the boy spend about an hour watching the bees. It transpires that the man is a poet and his name is B. Wordsworth. The B is short for Black. He claims to be the greatest poet in the world. B. Wordsworth asks the boy about his mother, and then pulls a poem out of his pocket. He says the poem is about mothers and that he will sell it to the boy for four cents. The boy’s mother refuses to buy it and says the man must leave. B. Wordsworth confides in the boy that he has not yet sold a single copy, but he likes to wander around watching things.
A week later the boy meets the poet again at the corner of Miguel Street. The poet says he has a mango tree in his yard and invites the boy to come and eat some of the mangoes. The boy goes to the poet’s hut on Alberto Street and eats about six mangoes. When he returns home, his mother beats him for being gone without permission. He goes back to B. Wordsworth, and the two of them take a walk together. At the racecourse, they lie down and look up at the night sky. B. Wordsworth tells the boy the names of the stars.
The boy and the poet become friends. B. Wordsworth tells the boy not to tell anyone about him, and the boy agrees. He enjoys visiting the man, and he asks him why his yard is unkempt. B. Wordsworth tells him a story about a young couple who were in love and married. They were both poets. The wife became pregnant, but she and the baby died. The sad husband never cultivated their garden again.
They continue to take walks together and visit local points of interest. They go to cafe´s for ice cream. The boy enjoys these trips.
One day, B. Wordsworth announces that he is going to tell the boy a secret. He says he is writing the greatest poem in the world. He has been working on it for five years, writing one line a month. At that rate, he says, it will take him twenty-two years to complete it. He hopes the poem will help humanity.
As the days go by, they continue to walk together and sometimes watch the ships come into the harbor. But B. Wordsworth never confides in the boy any more lines from his poem.
One day, the boy asks his friend how he makes a living, and the poet replies that he sings calypso (a type of music that originated in the Caribbean), and that raises enough. The boy asks him if he will be rich when he finishes his poem, but the poet does not reply. Another day, when the boy visits B. Wordsworth in his hut, the poet looks old and weak. He confesses that he is not having much success writing his poem. The boy thinks the man is dying, and he begins to cry. The poet tries to comfort him. He says he will tell the boy another secret if he agrees to go away and never come back to see him again. The boy agrees. Then B. Wordsworth confides the secret: the story he told about the young couple and the wife who died was not true; also, all his talk about poetry and the greatest poem in the world is not true either. The boy runs home crying.
A year later, the boy goes again to Alberto Street, but he finds that the poet’s hut has been pulled down, replaced by a large building. The trees in the yard have been cut down. There is nothing there to show that B. Wordsworth ever 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.