B. Wordsworth

by

V. S. Naipaul

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The narrator of “B. Wordsworth,” an unnamed boy, meets an unusual man, B. Wordsworth, who comes to the boy’s house one afternoon and asks to watch the bees that populate the palm trees in the boy’s yard. The man introduces himself as a poet and says that the B. of his name stands for “Black.” He tells the boy that he is the brother of “White Wordsworth,” the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and offers to sell the boy a poem. When the boy’s mother turns him down, he admits that nobody has yet purchased any of his poetry.

When the boy encounters B. Wordsworth again a week later, B. Wordsworth invites the boy to his home to eat mangoes. The boy notes the overgrown yard with several different types of trees growing in it and, after eating a mango, returns home to his irate mother. He runs away and, returning to B. Wordsworth, spends the rest of the day walking about town with him. When darkness falls, B. Wordsworth and the boy lie on their backs and gaze up at the stars, an experience that fills the boy with a sense of wonder about the cosmos and about his own littleness.

The boy continues spending time with B. Wordsworth and on one occasion asks him why he keeps his yard overgrown. B. Wordsworth tells him a story of a woman who died along with her unborn child and says that “the girl’s husband” keeps the yard wild in memory of her. On another occasion he tells the boy that he is working on a project that involves writing a line of poetry each month and that will one day be “the greatest poem in the world.” He shares a line of the poem with the boy, “The past is deep,” but the boy never hears him speak of the poem again.

The boy notices B. Wordsworth growing older and upon visiting him one day sees that he is dying. B. Wordsworth tells the boy that he made up the story about the woman and child and his poetry and tells the boy not to visit again. The boy leaves, crying “for everything I saw.” The boy, a year later, walks by the place where B. Wordsworth’s house used to be and finds a building in its place with “brick and concrete everywhere.” He wonders if B. Wordsworth ever actually existed.