B. Wordsworth

by

V. S. Naipaul

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B. Wordsworth Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Like the several “beggars” who regularly appear at the narrator’s house, a strange man comes into the yard one afternoon and asks if he might watch the bees that populate the palm trees in the yard. Despite his mother’s skepticism, the narrator (a young boy at the time) stays with the man while he watches the bees. The man calls himself a poet and introduces himself as B. Wordsworth, claiming that the “B” stands for “Black Wordsworth” and that he and the “white Wordsworth” (that is, the famous Romantic poet William Wordsworth) are brothers who “share one heart.” B. Wordsworth offers to sell his poetry, but the narrator’s mother has no interest. The narrator wonders if many people buy his poems, and B. Wordsworth admits that he has yet to sell any. Once B. Wordsworth leaves, the narrator hopes to see him again.
It very quickly becomes clear that B. Wordsworth is not just another “beggar”; his real interest is in observing the unusual spectacle of the bees swarming the palm trees in the boy’s front yard. The swarming bees suggest the dynamic life that he himself possesses, a vitality that is reflected in his willingness to engage the boy in conversation. A further difference between B. Wordsworth and the “beggars” is reflected in the feeble attempt he makes to sell the boy his poetry, It is his identification with the poetry itself that is most important. This identification is made clear in his self-professed name—a name that, in its reference to the great English poet, is a powerful marker of identity for him. The age difference between the two is likewise of much less interest to B. Wordsworth than simply the possibility of creating a bond based upon mutual sympathies and worldviews.
Themes
Identity Construction Theme Icon
Art and the Artist’s Life Theme Icon
Unconventional Friendship Theme Icon
The Wonder of Nature Theme Icon
Quotes
The narrator runs into B. Wordsworth a week later when returning home from school. B. Wordsworth invites the narrator to come eat mangoes from the mango tree that grows in his yard. The narrator is struck by how green B. Wordsworth’s yard is and by the variety of trees in it. When the narrator returns home after eating a mango, his mother beats him for not coming home on time. The narrator runs away and returns to B. Wordsworth, who consoles him and takes him for a walk. When it grows dark, B. Wordsworth suggests they lie on the ground and look up at the stars. The narrator is overwhelmed with a sense of his own smallness and the greatness of the stars.
The friendship that begins to develop between B. Wordsworth and the boy is in part that of guide to disciple. The wonder the boy experiences upon seeing B. Wordsworth’s lush yard with its fruit trees and the juicy mango the boy eats are both experiences that open him up to the richness and vitality of life. The life B. Wordsworth represents is a far cry from the narrator’s cramped, abusive home life, and B. Wordsworth is both the tempter leading him out of that life and the guide initiating him into the mysteries that exist in the world outside the boy’s home. B. Wordsworth introduces the boy, for example, to the grand, majestic mysteries of the cosmos, an experience that fills the boy with a sense of his smallness and the universe’s greatness. The stars the boy beholds, that is, reflect a sense of transcendence; a sense of being both intensely part of and lifted out of the world that he inhabits.
Themes
Identity Construction Theme Icon
Art and the Artist’s Life Theme Icon
Unconventional Friendship Theme Icon
The Wonder of Nature Theme Icon
Quotes
The narrator and B. Wordsworth become friends. B. Wordsworth makes the narrator promise not to talk to anyone about him or his fruit trees and, in response to a question the narrator asks about his overgrown yard, he shares a sad story about two young poets who once fell in love, got married, and prepared to have a child—but the wife died while pregnant. After the wife died, the husband decided that he wouldn’t change anything in the garden, which his wife had loved so dearly. The narrator is moved by the story. The two go for long walks together and visit various places around town. The narrator notes that B. Wordsworth does “everything as though he were doing it for the first time” and that, because of this, the world has become a “most exciting place.”
B. Wordsworth’s love of nature and his self-created identity as a poet are reflected in the story he tells the boy about why he keeps his yard overgrown. He tells the boy that he does so in order to keep alive the memory of a “girl poet” and her unborn baby who died—presumably the wife and child of B. Wordsworth himself. That B. Wordsworth takes care not to explicitly identify the two as his own is telling, however, and is perhaps related to the fact that he instructs the boy to not tell anyone about him or his fruit trees. Indeed, B. Wordsworth prefers to live in a semi-secret creative space that exists independently from the superficial world of material reality. He invites the boy to inhabit this space as well, which the boy willingly does. The boy thus experiences right along with B. Wordsworth the excitement and wonder of the world.
Themes
Identity Construction Theme Icon
Art and the Artist’s Life Theme Icon
The Wonder of Nature Theme Icon
Living and Dying Theme Icon
Quotes
One day, B. Wordsworth shares that he is working on a project that involves writing one line of poetry a month. He claims that, when finished, it will be “the greatest poem in the world.” He shares the line he wrote the previous month: “The past is deep.” The narrator is “filled with wonder” when B. Wordsworth says that his poem will “sing to all humanity.”
Although B. Wordsworth introduced himself to the boy in the beginning of the story as a poet and even offered to sell the boy a poem, it is only now that he speaks again of his interests as a poet. His project of writing a line of poetry each month—with the goal of creating “the greatest poem in the world”—is a grand scheme that fits with his capacious ability to appreciate the wonder and mystery of the world and of human experience. The one line of poetry that he cites for the boy, “The past is deep,” suggests this broad and all-encompassing interest and likewise reflects an interest in crafting a kind of poetry that possesses deep humanistic qualities.
Themes
Identity Construction Theme Icon
Art and the Artist’s Life Theme Icon
Quotes
Get the entire B. Wordsworth LitChart as a printable PDF.
B. Wordsworth PDF
While out walking along the water one day, the narrator asks B. Wordsworth if he should drop a pin into the water to see what will happen. B. Wordsworth encourages him to do so, and the pin sinks. When the narrator questions him about his poetry, B. Wordsworth gives a dismissive reply—from this point on, he never shares lines from his in-progress poem again.
The boy has by now learned, through the modeling of B. Wordsworth, to look at the world in a spirit of wonder and curiosity. A crucial early moment in his growth was when he looked up at the enormity of the cosmos and experienced his own littleness amidst its greatness. In this instance, he looks downward and, perhaps inspired by an intuition of depth, wonders if a pin that he is holding will sink or float. Although neither the boy nor B. Wordsworth comment on the outcome of this experiment, it is presumably a cause for wonder, nonetheless. That the world is something to be experienced and not necessarily documented is suggested in B. Wordsworth’s dismissive reply to the boy about his poetic project. B. Wordsworth’s poetry, it seems, is a matter of life and living, not of actual writing.
Themes
Art and the Artist’s Life Theme Icon
Unconventional Friendship Theme Icon
The Wonder of Nature Theme Icon
Quotes
The narrator notices that B. Wordsworth is growing older and asks him how he earns money. B. Wordsworth says that he sings calypsos. Later, the narrator visits B. Wordsworth and sees that he is dying. When the narrator bursts into tears, B. Wordsworth says that he will tell one last story and that the narrator must then leave and never return. B. Wordsworth says that the story he told the narrator about the pregnant poet wife who died wasn’t true and that he also made up the story about writing the greatest poem in the world. B. Wordsworth pretends to find this funny, but his voice breaks as he finishes speaking. The narrator leaves the house in tears.
B. Wordsworth, who has taught the boy how to live, now presents the boy with the experience of having to confront death. The final lesson he imparts to the boy is ambiguous, however. That he disavows some of his most poignant identity markers—his grand poetic project and his reason for keeping an overgrown yard—is perhaps meant to communicate the lesson that reality is in large part a matter of one’s own creation. It also calls into question B. Wordsworth’s reliability as a witness of his own life, however. One can’t be certain that B. Wordsworth wasn’t in fact telling the truth and has his own private reasons for claiming otherwise. It is also telling that B. Wordsworth only shares these stories after telling the boy not to return; it is possible that he is in some manner trying to soften the blow of impending death. What is certain, though, is that the boy leaves the house filled with grief and perhaps confusion, a disciple who is suddenly deprived of a clear path forward.
Themes
Identity Construction Theme Icon
Art and the Artist’s Life Theme Icon
Unconventional Friendship Theme Icon
Living and Dying Theme Icon
Quotes
A year later, the narrator walks past the place where B. Wordsworth’s house used to be and discovers that it has been demolished. A two-story building has gone up in its place. 
That it takes the boy a year to pass by B. Wordsworth’s house suggests that he has been actively avoiding it. Surely, the boy could have passed B. Wordsworth’s house any time during the previous year without breaking his vow to not visit again—and based upon his relationship with B. Wordsworth, one might have expected him to. The tone of detachment as he describes what he sees when he does walk past the house is likewise telling. It is as if he now thinks of his time with B. Wordsworth as something of a dream, and of B. Wordsworth as someone who may or may not have been real.
Themes
Identity Construction Theme Icon
Unconventional Friendship Theme Icon
Living and Dying Theme Icon
Quotes