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B.

WORDSWORTH BY V S NAIPAUL
Background of B. Wordsworth
B. Wordsworth is a short story published in V. S. Naipaul's collection of short stories, Miguel Street. We are
whisked away to a Trinidad town where the main characters, the narrator boy and the title character, B.
Wordsworth himself, build a friendship and explore and experience life as a poet and an apprentice poet.

Summary
The events that unfold in Naipaul's, B. Wordsworth are shown through the eyes of a young boy, the narrator,
and he is unnamed. B., a stranger, approaches the boy to see the bees in his yard. At first, the boy is quizzical
and asks various details of Wordsworth's life, like what the 'B' in his name stands for, and what B. does for a
living.
It is at this point that we begin to learn B.'s poetic, and possibly fantastical, view on life. He tells the boy that
B. stands for 'Black,' and that he had a brother, 'White,' with whom he shared a heart. Wordsworth says that
he is one of the greatest poets of all time, yet he has never sold a poem. In fact, trying to sell a poem to the
boy's mother was Wordsworth's ticket off the yard. Yet, we know that the boy's and Wordsworth's relationship
will continue to grow: '. . . when B. Wordsworth left, I prayed I would see him again.'
The boy does not have to wait too long because he spots B. Wordsworth on Miguel Street a week later. As
their relationship continues Wordsworth and the boy spend their time together walking, talking, meandering
around the seaboard; living as poets and life explorers. One day, B. shares a story with the boy. It is a story of
two poets, a boy and a girl, and the death of the girl and the unborn baby poet she carried.
B. Wordsworth presents another secret, this one about a poem. This is not just any poem, like the type of
poems he had tried to sell for four cents, but '. . . the greatest poem in the world.' He has been working on it
for five years, one line, one month at a time. The previous month's line: 'The past is deep,' enamoured the boy
so much that he hangs onto the hope for more but there are no more lines. The boy remains optimistic for B.
and his poetry business, yet Wordsworth is not as enthusiastic.
The story begins to trickle to its end just as the boy witnesses Wordsworth slowly nearing his. They have one
last meeting, and B. Wordsworth makes the boy promise not to visit again. In this last meeting, Wordsworth
asks if the boy wants to hear a funny story. The story, not so funny after all, is that Wordsworth says that he
had lied about the girl poet and the baby. He had also lied about writing the greatest poem. And with that, he
sends the boy on his way. The boy is left with a great memory of a great poet and a wonderful friend.

Themes
Life's Beauty
One prominent theme shown throughout is that of beauty and the explanation of life through both a poet's eyes
and an innocent child's eyes. '. . . let us lie on the grass and look up at the sky, and I want you to think how far
those stars are from us.' Such experiences filled the boy with wonder. 'I had never felt so big and great in all
my life. I forgot all my anger and all my tears and all the blows.' B.'s impact on the boy evolves the story. It's
whimsical, it's sweet, and, from the boy's perspective, 'The world became a most exciting place.' It does for
us, too.
Loss and Grief
Another theme we see entwined throughout is that of loss and grief. Throughout their time, the boy witnesses
the weight of life bearing down on the poet's soul, and the sadness of his stories, like that of the girl poet and
the baby poet. The boy recognizes the emotional impact that such an experience had on B., even if he might
not have fully understood the complexity of the situation. 'I looked at B. Wordsworth, and as he told me this
lovely story, he seemed to grow older. I understood his story.'

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At the end of the story, the boy loses his poet friend. After their last meeting, the boy '. . .left the house, and
ran home crying, like a poet, for everything I saw.' When B.'s home is soon replaced with another structure,
and his mango trees gone, the boy feels like it's almost as if B. never existed.
Truth
As the story evolves, we begin to question the truth of B.'s life, and the truth of his stories. While he could
have a brother, named 'White Wordsworth,' this may have also been his alter-ego. maybe he faulted himself
for the loss of mother and child poets. He tells us that such a story was not true. But was it? And interweaved
throughout the story, we observe many secrets between the boy and B. The boy promised never to return after
their last meeting, never tell anyone of the trees, and never disclose information about the greatest poem on
the world. One might never know the truth, but the boy, he holds the secrets.

B. Wordsworth as a Mentor
The story is a memory piece and after reading the story the reader realises that Naipaul may be exploring the
theme of mentoring and hero worship. The narrator, a young boy, appears to admire Wordsworth, who is a
strangely exciting person to him. The boy is intrigued by the life that Wordsworth lives and it is a life that is
completely different from the one that he himself lives. His life is controlled by his mother yet when he is with
Wordsworth he feels free.
They meet when a tidily dressed man knocks on the door of the house where the narrator lives with his mother.
He wants to see the bees in their compound. This is a strange request, but his agrees to let him into the yard.
The boy and the man watch the bees together. The man says that he likes watching the bees and asks the boy
if he likes it as well. The boy replies that he never has the time to. The man shakes his head sadly and says
that is what he does, he watches. The boy, curious about the peculiar man, asks various questions. The man
introduces himself as Black Wordsworth. He then says that he can watch a flower like the morning glory and
cry. The boy asks what he cries for. B. Wordsworth replies “when you’re a poet you can cry for everything”.
After this Wordsworth pulls out a printed paper from his pocket. He tells the boy that on this paper the greatest
poem about mothers is written and he will sell it to him for four cents. However, the mother does not want to
buy it. Wordsworth is not bothered by this. The boy asks why he goes around like this and whether he is able
to earn enough this way. Wordsworth says that he meets new people his way. He also expects to meet new
poets. But he has not sold a single copy till now. After Wordsworth leaves the boy wishes that they meet again.
After one week, while the boy is returning from school, they run into each other. Wordsworth admits that he
too was hoping to see him again. He tells the boy that he has the best mango trees in his yard and invites him
to eat them. He lives in Alberto Street in a one-room hut. But it is clear that the boy loves the place – “The
yard seemed all green. There was the big mango tree. There was a coconut tree and there was a plum tree. The
place looked wild, as though it wasn’t in the city at all.”
His mother beats him badly that day. In anger the boy leaves home screaming he will never come back. He
goes to Wordsworth, who, seeing the boy’s bleeding nose, tells him that if he stops crying, they will go for a
walk. They walk down St. Clair Avenue to the Savannah and the race-course. They lie on the green grass.
Wordsworth asks the boy to look up at the stars and think how far they are from them. The boy does so. Never
in his life had he felt so great yet nothing. After some time, a light flashes on their faces; a policeman comes
up to them asking what they are doing. Wordsworth replies that he has been asking himself the same question
for forty years.
One day, when the boy asks him why he allows the bush to grow wild in his yard, Wordsworth tells his
youthful disciple the story of a boy and girl who met each other, fell in love and got married. They were both
poets. He loved words. She loved grass and flowers and trees. They lived happily in a single room, and then
one day the girl poet said to the boy poet that they were going to have another poet in the family. But this poet
was never born, because the girl died, and the young poet died with her. And the girl’s husband was very sad,
and he said he would never touch a thing in the girl’s garden. And so the garden remained, and grew high and
wild. The narrator, even though he was a young boy, understood the deep feelings behind story.

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The man and the boy become friends. Wordsworth makes the boy promise that he will never tell anyone about
him or the fruit trees in his yard. The boy keeps his promise. They go for long walks together. The places are
familiar to the boy, yet it is as if he is visiting them for the first time, seeing them as he does through the eyes
of the poet. “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.” To the boy, “The world became a most exciting place.”
Wordsworth acts as a role model to the narrator. He guides him to the best of his ability through life allowing
him to make mistakes and to learn at the same time. In this way, he has a positive impact on the narrator by
opening his eyes to the beauties of nature. Prior to meeting Wordsworth the boy does not seem to have noticed
or appreciated the beauty of nature. Naipaul seems to be suggesting that nature is often underappreciated, just
as poets are. Wordsworth is an educated man, something that is noticeable by the way that he speaks. He
seems to be disconnected from the day to day world of those around them as all poets are due to their
occupation. But the reality is that a poet may be more connected to the world of nature than the average person.
One day, Wordsworth shares his most precious secret with his youthful friend. The boy becomes excited but
is disappointed when Wordsworth says that he is writing a poem. But his interest comes back when the man
tells him that it is a different sort of poem, it is the greatest poem in the world. He says that he has been
working on it for more than five years, and that he will finish it in about twenty-two years, if he keeps on
writing at his present rate, which is one line a month. But he makes sure it is a good line. The previous month’s
line had been ‘The past is deep.’ Wordsworth hopes to distil the experiences of a whole month into that single
line of poetry, so, in twenty-two years, he will have “written a poem that will sing to all humanity.” This fills
the boy with wonder.
When the two walk along the sea-wall at Docksite one day, and the boy asks the man if he drops a pin in the
water, whether it will float, Wordsworth’s instruction to the narrator to drop the pin in the water is symbolically
important. The narrator expects the pin to float however it is clear to the reader that it will sink. It is possible
that Naipaul by introducing the pin into the story is highlighting the uncertainty that comes with life and the
fact that nobody really knows what will happen. It is as though the narrator is being taught to learn from his
mistakes.
One day the boy goes to meet B. Wordsworth and sees him lying on his sofa, severely ill. Death is written
clearly on his face. Heartbroken, the boy goes up to him. Wordsworth sits up, placing the boy on his knees,
and says that he is going to tell a joke. Then B. Wordsworth says that everything he has ever told the boy
about himself was a lie. He also makes the boy promise that he will never come back again. Crying, the boy
leaves. But it does not seem as if he has suffered a loss of faith.
The end of the story is also interesting as it appears as though the narrator comes of age when Wordsworth
dies. He has lost what some critics might suggest has been his best teacher and he knows that life may never
be the same again. No longer does he have the opportunity to hear the life lessons that Wordsworth might
teach him. Instead there is a sense that the narrator is returning to a life that is not as attractive to him. However,
what is clear to the reader is that the narrator has never forgotten Wordsworth. He may have forgotten some
of the constellations with the exception of Orion but he has never forgotten Wordsworth. The reader is left
suspecting that the narrator’s time with Wordsworth has been time well spent.
The fact that the narrator also notices that Wordsworth’s home has been demolished after he has died and that
the garden is no longer there, having been replaced by concrete, could be Naipaul’s way of highlighting the
importance of nature in a person’s life, how an individual might need to take some time out from life and
enjoy the natural world around them, just as Wordsworth and the narrator manage to do. It is also possible
that by telling the narrator that he is the greatest poet in the world and that the narrator is a poet too,
Wordsworth is attempting to instil confidence into the narrator allowing him to think that anything is possible.

Questions
1. How does the story of B. Wordsworth invoke a mood of sadness and pathos?
2. What is the writer V. S. Naipaul trying to say in his story B. Wordsworth?

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