The speaker begins this poem by asking what a simple child who is full of life could know about death. He then meets "a little cottage Girl" who is eight years old and has thick curly hair. She is rustic and woodsy, but very beautiful, and she makes the speaker happy. He asks her how many siblings she has, to which she replies that there are seven including her:
--A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
--Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? Seven in all," she said,
And wondering looked at me.
The speaker then asks the child where her brothers and sisters are. She replies "Seven are we," and tells him that two are in a town called Conway, two are at sea, and two lie in the church-yard. She and her mother live near the graves:
"And where are they? I pray you tell."
She answered, "Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
"Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother."
The speaker is confused and asks her how they can be seven, if two are in Conway and two gone to sea. To this, the little girl simply replies, "Seven boys and girls are we; / Two of us in the churchyard lie, / Beneath the churchyard tree." The speaker says that if two are dead, then there are only five left, but the little girl tells him that their green graves are nearby, and that she often goes to sew or eat supper there while singing to her deceased siblings:
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be."
Then did the little maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree."
"You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five."
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
"And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
The little girl then explains that first her sister Jane died from sickness. She and her brother John would play around her grave until he also died. Now he lies next to Jane:
"The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.
"So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side."
The man again asks how many siblings she has now that two are dead. She replies quickly, "O Master! we are seven." The man tries to convince her saying, "But they are dead," but he realizes that his words are wasted. The poem ends with the little girl saying, "Nay, we are seven!"
"How many are you, then," said I,
"If they two are in heaven?"
Quick was the little maid's reply,
"O master! we are seven."
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
"We Are Seven" was written in 1798, when Wordsworth was 28 years old. The poem is composed of sixteen four-line stanzas, and ends with one five-line stanza. Each stanza has an abab rhyming pattern. Wordsworth has noted that he wrote the last line of this poem first, and that his good friend Samuel Coleridge wrote the first few stanzas.
The poem is an interesting conversation between a man and a young girl. It is especially intriguing because the conversation could have been less than five lines, and yet it is 69 lines long. The reason for this is that the man cannot accept that the young girl still feels she is one of seven siblings even after two of her siblings have died, and even though she now lives at home alone with her mother.
The speaker begins the poem with the question of what a child should know of death. Near the beginning it seems as if the little girl understands very little. She seems almost to be in denial about the deaths of her siblings, especially because she continues to spend time with them and sing to them. By the end of the poem, however, the reader is left with the feeling that perhaps the little girl understands more about life and death than the man to whom she is speaking. She refuses to become incapacitated by grief, or to cast the deceased out of her life. Instead she accepts that things change, and continues living as happily as she can.
It has been 6 years since The Conversation started with a seemingly radical idea. Pair journalists, who know how to write and communicate to the general public, with academics who are experts in a specific area, and get them to produce analysis and opinion on a range or important, or simply interesting, topics. Then, allow that story to be republished by anyone, anywhere, for free to help the article reach the widest possible audience. Finally, to each story, add a certificate declaring any potential conflicts of interest that the commenting academic might have, along with evidence of their expertise in that area.
This was the unique proposition that founder Andrew Jaspan, former editor of The Age, developed out of consulting work that he was doing with University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis.
Together with Jack Rejtman, Jaspan developed a plan to raise money from state and federal government and university partners to develop the online site that would be, as Jaspan said, “dedicated to promoting the world of new thinking, ideas and debate”. The initial university and research partners were the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the Australian National University, The University of Western Australia and the University of Technology Sydney, and CSIRO.
An unseen but essential ingredient of The Conversation is the web platform that was custom built by one of Jaspan’s first recruits, web developer Mike Morris. The software that runs The Conversation is as novel as the idea of the site itself and deserves its own story. But the success of the site owes a great deal to the way The Conversation platform allows collaborative editing, publishing and provides a wealth of statistics and data on readership.
The early team was led by Misha Ketchell, who had been working at ABC TV’s Media Watch and before that as editor of Crikey. With editors assigned to a number of different subject areas, they were tasked with recruiting academics to write about certain topics which later turned into allowing anyone with a university or research affiliation to pitch an idea.
This is where I came into the picture being asked by the science and technology editor at the time, Paul Dalgarno, to write an article about the “Battle of the browsers”, a story about how Internet Explorer was losing its dominance on the desktop. That article was read/viewed by 571 people.
Exactly six years later and this is my 400th article, the sum of which have totalled 4.8 million views/reads, a testament more to the reach of The Conversation than my insightful writing and commentary.
The Conversation today is visited by 3.8 million unique visitors a month with 49% of its traffic from Australia and the rest from around the world. Separate sites with their own editorial staff and links into local university and research establishments have now been set up in the UK, USA, France, and Africa, with a version of The Conversation dedicated to global issues.
The republishing however is the real driver behind its full impact. Any site can take an article, copy it, and republish it on their own site. All content is available, for free, under a Creative Commons license. So whilst The Conversation has a monthly audience of 3.7 million users, this reaches 35 million a month through republication.
Through this mechanism, 40,000+ authors are made available to journalists, media sites, and the public, around the world.
The impact on the media landscape has been enormous. Academics who struggled to get their work noticed or even read have suddenly had exposure, to sometimes millions, of readers. Journalists at organisations like the BBC and ABC now routinely scan The Conversation for story ideas or experts to comment on all forms of media, including republishing articles.
Where a journalist would, in the past, have to contact their local university and ask for an expert to comment on a topic, they could now go direct to someone who had been writing about that specific subject. But more importantly, the writing on The Conversation, and the declaration of expertise and conflicts of interest, has set a benchmark for professional journalists to replicate. The Conversation has set clear standards about citing sources and providing links and above all, not pursuing an editorial agenda set by politics or owners.
But it isn’t just journalists who benefited from The Conversation. Academics have had exposure within governments and businesses. Staff in these organisations would never read an academic paper but would read a Conversation article about that research, especially if it had been republished in their favourite news outlet. For many, including myself, it has been far easier, and far more effective, to establish credentials in the public sphere after writing in The Conversation, than publishing in academic journals.
As journalism struggles with the advent of “fake news” and highly partisan reporting, on highly partisan sites, the importance of having analysis and opinion that is referenced, with conflicts of interest declared, and from an expert source has become more important than ever before.
Clearly I have a strong vested interest in The Conversation succeeding. I have benefited personally from being able to write in The Conversation and I work for an organisation that is one of the founding partners of the site. However, I think the writing of the 40,000+ authors with the work of The Conversation staff worldwide, and Andrew Jaspan in particular, stands on its own merit and is there for all readers to form their own, informed, opinions.