About the Author
V.S. Naipaul was born on 17 August 1932. He is one of the distinguished novelists whose books are read with interest all over the world. He enjoys a vast readership in India. Born and educated in Trinidad, he migrated to England where he still resides. His reputation rests on his comic novels set in Trinidad and Tobago. He has more than 30 books, fiction and non-fiction to his credit. His family life has seen many ups and downs. His ‘colonialist’ ideas were resented in Trinidad and he was shunned by the post-colonial intellectual community in his own country. His early work, Miguel Street (1955) – a linked series of character sketches was appreciated for a combination of sarcasm and affection. A House for Mr Biswas got him worldwide fame. He has been honoured with several awards, including the covetous Nobel Prize for Literature. Once he made a cogent observation:
‘Everything of value about me is in my books……… I am the sum of my books…..’
About the Story
The story ‘B.Wordsworth’ focuses on the life of its protagonist, a failed poet, who claims his ‘kinship’ with the famous English poet William Wordsworth. He is B.Wordsworth – Black Wordsworth. The story is set in Trinidad which is undergoing several changes and development after attaining independence.
‘B.Wordsworth’ has been taken from Naipul’s novel Miguel Street. It is the story of B. Wordsworth and his friend, a boy, whom he calls ‘Sonny’ out of love and affection. Wordsworth who comes to watch bees in the boy’s house befriends the boy and says that he is a pot like him. Once the poet takes the boy to his house full of trees. They eat mangoes there. The poet tells the boy about his own love story obliquely and a great poem he is working at. While dying, however, he denies the truth of the both, perhaps in fear that the boy might follow him and suffer. Some may say that he was a tramp. His death comes as a shock to the boy. A year later, when he enters the street where the poet’s house was, the house is nowhere to be seen.
Through this story, the writer wants to convey that poetry has no value in the contemporary world. Poetry is not something that can provide you sustenance. It is a bad profession. The writer also conveys the fact that the world of nature is fast depleting in urban areas.
Boyhood memories : The narrator recalls his boyhood days. He remembers how his house, famous for its hospitality, used to be visited by a number of persons for food and money. Three beggars used to call every day at hospitable houses in Miguel Street. They would get something or the other form his house also. Some other persons also would appear at his door. Once a strange caller came. He called the boy ‘Sonny’ and enquired if he could come inside his yard to watch the bees. He was a tidily dressed man who spoke very good English. The boy’s mother grudgingly let the man come in. The man told ‘Sonny’ that he could watch ants for days. He was fond of watching scorpions, centipedes, etc. He said that he was B.Wordsworth, a poet, and added that he was Black (B. for Black) Wordsworth and White Wordsworth (William Wordsworth) was his brother. He said that like the great poet he could watch a flower and cry. Then he showed a paper on which was written a poem. He wanted to sell it for four cents. The boy’s mother rudely dismissed the offer. Before going, Wordsworth told the boy that he was a poet, too, like him.
The poet’s house : When the poet left, the boy prayed that he would see him again. His wish was fulfilled a week later. He met the poet at the corner of his street. The poet invited the boy to come to his house and eat the mangoes, grown ripe and juicy in his yard. The boy found his one-room but very charming. In its big green yard were a mango and plum tree. The place looked wild. The boy ate about six mangoes and got his shirt stained. When he reached home, he was scolded and beaten by his angry mother. He lost his temper and ran out of the house swearing that he would never come back.
The healing touch : With his nose bleeding and crying, he came to the poet’s house. Wordsworth consoled him and took him for a walk. They came to a race course. On the suggestion of the poet, they lay on the grass and began to watch the stars. The poet told him about the stars. The boy soon forgot his anger and his beating. The poet told him the names of the stars. The boy did not forget the constellation of Orion, the Hunter, and remembered it for life. Then a policeman came and asked them what they were doing. The poet said he had no answer.
A tragic love story : The boy and the poet became friends. One day the boy asked him why he had kept all the bush in the yard. The poet then told him a story (which was actually his own). Once upon a time a boy and a girl, both poets, met, fell in love and married. The girl got pregnant. Unluckily she died with the foetus in her womb. Her husband became very sad, and did not touch anything in the girl’s garden. The garden became bushy and wild. As the poet told the story, he seemed to grow old.
The ‘greatest’ poem : One day the poet confided in the boy that he was writing ‘the greatest poem in the world’. He said he had been working on it for more than five years, and added that he hoped to finish it in about twenty-two years from then. He wrote just one line a month. He said his poem would ‘sing to all humanity”.
Worsening condition of the poet : One day the boy asked the poet what he did for a living. He said he sang Calypsoes (Caribbean songs on contemporary issues) for some time in a year. One day when the boy came to see him in his house, his condition was so bad that he began to cry. The poet just remarked that the poem was not going well. He was not looking at the boy. The boy could clearly see death on his face.
The poet’s confessions : The poet looked at the boy and asked him to come near. When the boy sat on his knees he said, “Oh, you can see, it too. I always knew you had the poet’s eye.” The boy burst out crying loudly. The poet pulled him to his thin chest .Then he made a shocking confession. He told the boy that the story he had told him about the boy poet and the girl poet was not true. He added that even his talk about poetry and the greatest poem in the world was untrue. He asked the boy never to return to his place. He fell into silence and lay dead. The boy ran home crying, like a poet.
The poet’s house vanishes : A year later the boy walked along Alberto Street where the poet lived. There was no sign of the poet’s house. A two-storey building had replaced it, the trees had been cut down. There was brick and concrete everywhere, as if B.Wordsworth never existed.
Poetry – a source of trouble : One of the themes of this story is that in the modern, materialistic world poetry holds no charm and poets are only looked upon as crazy, abnormal persons, even tramps. Poetry is certainly a bad profession . It is often not saleable. That is why, when the boy in the story asks his mother if she would like to buy ‘a poetry for four cents’, her sharp response is “Tell that blasted man” (the poet) to “haul his tail away from my yard…..” In such circumstances, the poet can do little to survive. B. Wordsworth sings calypsonians in the calypso season to make some money, though that is not sufficient. He is working on an ambitious poem. He tells about it to the boy. Later, he takes a u-turn and denies that he has anything to do with poetry. We feel that he is doing it so in oder to wean the boy from poetry business as he does not want him to suffer like him. He has discovered in the boy the potential to be a poet.
The demise of an old era : The story implicitly states that the good old values such as love, devotion, sincerity, sentimentality , sensitivity etc. have vanished in the new world. The poet, B. Wordsworth , and the boy ‘Sonny’ may or may not be poets but they are certainly endowed with poetic temperament. Both of them are hypersensitive and sentimental. The poet , in particular, spends a lot of time in watching unusual things like bees, ants, scorpions, centipedes, etc. and starts in the sky. The boy Sonny, with the same temperament, begins to imitate him. The poet tells him his own love story indirectly. Later, he calls the story a lie. The death of the poet comes as a big shock to the boy. The boy feels that the poet’s death is the death of his own poetic world. A year later, he finds that the house of the poet is nowhere and that a new big, two-storeyed building has taken its place. Brick and concrete, in place of fruit trees and wild green , indicates the demise of an era in which people loved nature and upheld old human values – an era with which the famous poet, William Wordsworth , is associated.
A character-based story aims at no direct message. It is up to us as readers to arrive at some sort of possible message. We should ponder over the conditions in which sensitive people like B.Wordsworth are a failure. It is the failure of a system, in fact. The individual often fails in the absence of a failed system. Society must ensure such conditions in which fine artists like poets could live with honour and dignity.
Another message hinted at in the story is regarding environment. In the name of development we go on felling trees and raise buildings of brick and concrete. We need to ponder over the consequences . In our modern day world deforestation is a major problem, and a source of many environment-related ills.
The title of the story ‘B. Wordsworth’ is apt and eye-catching. It arouses our interest as to who this B.Wordsworth is, as we have heard only of William Wordsworth, the great Romantic poet. Like the great poet, B. Wordsworth (Black Wordsworth) is also a poet, though a failed one. Throughout the story he is the centre of interest.
The story begins with the reference to the visit of a stranger to a boy’s house. It is the stranger who names the boy ‘Sonny’ out of affection. The purpose of his visit is unusual. He has come to watch ‘bees’. This arouses our interest in the man. The friendship that develops between the man and the boy reveals many things about them. The man is a singer and poet. He possesses all the traits of a poet and calls the famous poet William Wordsworth ‘his brother’. The boy is also a sort of poet – at least the man believes so.
The boy comes to visit the poet’s house. It is at this stage that the boy is told a tragic love story between a boy and a girl, which we understand, is the poet’s own. The boy also learns that the poet is working ono a great poem. Our curiosity about the man increases.
The friendship between the poet and the boy grows further. They begin to spend a lot of time together. The poet tells the boy a tragic love story of a boy poet and a girl poet. The boy understands it rightly to be the poet’s own story. The poet also claims to be writing ‘greatest poem on earth’. The boy shows wonder at the ambitious project.
As the time passes, the boy finds the poet very ill. He seems to grow older and weaker. One day he asks the boy never to return to him. He says that his story about the boy poet and the girl poet was untrue, and that all his talk about poetry was a lie. He passes away, as he ‘confesses’. His death breaks the bond of friendship with the boy.
Sincerity and selflessness in the friendship of the poet and the boy appeal to us the most. It is perhaps out of his thoughtfulness that the poet dubs himself to be a liar. His purpose seems to wean the boy from treading his path and suffer like him. The boy’s ‘crying’ out at his death reveals the extent of personal loss for him.
The death of B. Wordsworth is suggested as the demise of an era with the reference of the disappearance of his house and all the greenery in it. The rise of a two-storeyed building, and the scene of ‘brick and concrete everywhere’ reveals how the sensitive poetic world is rudely replaced by the world of ‘concrete’ reality where there is no room for any object of nature.
Thus the story is assigned a suitable title.
B.Wordsworth is an intelligent, sincere and sensitive fellow. B in his name stands for Black. He is a sort of poet and mischievously says that White Wordsworth (William Wordsworth) is his brother. But the way he is introduced raises in our mind the question as to whether he is a tramp or a poet.
He claims to be a poet, a failed poet. This seems to be more plausible. B.Wordsworth, like his ‘brother’ William Wordsworth, loves nature. He likes to lie down and watch stars in the sky. He wants the boy to share his love of nature with him. That is why, he takes him out and tries to share his feelings with him. He lives in a small house with a yard having fruit trees. The story he tells the boy seems to be his own. That is why, the narrator’s statement after he has told the story is significant:
I looked at B. Wordsworth , and as he told he this lovely story, he seemed to grow older. I understood his story.
The reaction on the poet’s face clearly shows that it is not a made-up story, as he later says it is. Then as a poet, he might be writing a poem which, like any ambitious poet, he views as the greatest poem in the world.
He is quite wise and intelligent. His denial about his story and poetry seems to be an afterthought. He does not want the boy to follow him and suffer. He has developed an emotional rapport with the boy, he does not want him to be another failed poet. That is why, he asks him to promise that he will never come back to his house.
The last part of the story makes it clear that B. Wordsworth’s demise is, in fact, symbolic of the demise of an era of love of nature, simple living and emotional bonding.
So B. Wordsworth does not seem to be a beggar or a tramp. He is a failed poet. He is a sensitive, sentimental person. He is a lover of nature. His kinship with the boy reveals his humanity.
The Boy (The Narrator)
The boy in the story ‘B. Wordsworth’ is a main character. He is, in fact, the narrator who recalls his boyhood days and his friendship with B. Wordsworth, the poet. Like B. Wordsworth, he , as a boy, is quite sensitive and sentimental. In his innocence, he does not mind letting a stranger come into his house to watch bees. He could have brought B. Wordsworth’s poem if he had got the money.
He shares with the poet his love of nature. He likes to go out in the company of his friend. He carefully watches the fruit trees in the yard of the poet’s house. He cherishes his walks outside. He likes to lie down with the poet and watch stars in the sky. He learns to spot Orion in the sky. His favourite place is the yard of the poet’s house, which is a peaceful green spot.
That is very sentimental becomes clear at many points in the story. When he is badly beaten by his mother he runs out of home swearing that he will never come back. He continues crying even before the poet. When he finds the poet very ill, he feels like crying. He sees signs of death on his face and bursts out crying loudly. When the poet dies, he runs home crying. This act of crying is an act of empathy.
The boy is full of curiosity. The way he asks questions to the poet reveals his desire to know more and more. On his first meeting with the poet he asks his name, his profession, so on and so forth. On his subsequent meetings he takes keen interest in the life of the poet. His questions about his ‘greatest’ poem are provocative :
‘You does write a lot, then?’
‘What was last month’s good line?’
‘It is a beautiful line.’
He is a keen observer. The signs of illness on the poet’s face do not escape his notice. He even sees death on his face on the day he dies. The poet rightly remarks : ‘Oh, you can see it, too. I always knew you had the poet’s eye.’ In the last part of the story, the change in the scene strikes him as something tragic and momentous. The replacement of the greenery with brick and concrete round the place where once stood the poet’s house forces him to think : ‘It was just as though B. Wordsworth had never existed.’
Despite his poor family background, he impresses us with his innate goodness. Unlike his harsh mother, he is soft, polite and sympathetic.
The Boy’s Mother
The boy’s mother in the story is a minor character. She is rough and insensitive, though she is hospitable and charitable. She is perhaps hardened by a prolonged life of poverty, deprivation and hard labour. She is very strict and suspicious. When she is confronted by B. Wordsworth, a neatly dressed person who speaks very good English, she is worried. She feels that such an African person is an outsider. He may be a sort of tramp or spy. That is why, her attitude towards him is quite unfriendly. She asks him, “What you want?” When she learns that the man wants to come in the yard to watch the bees, she grudgingly lets him in. At the same time she tells her son.
‘Stay here and watch him while he watch he bees.’
She is very harsh and heartless. She treats her son very strictly. She often beats him. The boy almost hates her for her behaviour. When he comes back home after a feast of mangoes at the poet’s house, he is badly scolded and thrashed with the words:
‘Where you was? You think you is a man now and
could go all over the place? Go cut a whip for me.’
The boy in a trauma runs out of his house. He swears that he will never come back.
Thus, the mother in the story is unlike a soft mother-figure. She is battered by harsh circumstances. She is a specimen of the post-colonial Trinidad in which the lot of the poor has only worsened. It goes to her credit that she offers food to the needy who often come to their home.
A Complex Story : On the surface level, ‘B. Wordsworth’ seems to be a simple story. But the way the main character, B. Wordsworth has been presented in mysterious terms makes one wonder what to make him. Superficially, he is a beggar and a tramp. He feels like a poet cut could never be one. He sings calypsoes in the calypso season and makes some money. When out of work, he goes about selling poems which are hardly saleable. He tricks the boy, whom he names ‘Sonny’ into his friendship. He tells him a love story and his ‘greatest poem’, which he calls all a lie just before his death.
But there are many clues which tell us that he is not a tramp. His love story is his own. The signs on his face, well-read by the boy, point out the fact that the poet boy in his story is he himself. The untimely death of his wife seems to have left him mentally shattered. The boy’s observation is important:
I looked at B. Wordsworth, and as he told me this lovely
story, he seemed to grow older, I understood his story.
Significantly, before he denies the truth about this story and about his poetry, he asks the boy to vow that he will never come back to see him. We feel that he denies his claims in order to stay the boy from his pernicious influence lest he should suffer like him.
The signs of the New World : V.S. Naipaul brings to our awareness the fast changing scene in the post-colonial Trinidad. There is no visible change in the lot of the poor. The boy’s mother is quite harsh and cruel, battered as she is by a hard life of struggle for survival. B. Wordsworth is a specimen of gentleman who are too sensitive and gentle to live in a competitive world. His love of nature remind us of a fast vanishing era. The concluding part of the story makes it clear that the concrete jungle is fast overpowering the world of nature. This shocks the boy. The poet dies and the boy runs home crying, like a poet. The story does not end here. The ending comes when we are told how the boy, after one year, discovers that the poet’s house has vanished and that the trees there have been pulled down. The world of nature has been supplanted by the concrete jungle. There is thus, unexpected, shocking reversal in the end. The poet’s death and the disappearance of his green world comes as the death of an era with which William Wordsworth is associated.
Setting : The story is set in Trinidad in contemporary times. The setting is important as it explains why characters behave in particular manners and how they are influenced by their culture, history and politics. In Trinidad the black natives live with the whites who once ruled them. Most of the black natives are illiterate, uncouth and rough. They speak broken English. B. Wordsworth, that is, Black Wordsworth who is tidily dressed and who speaks flawless English arouses suspicion and anxiety in the mind of the boy’s mother. The whole atmosphere is unpoetic. Nobody likes the persons like B. Wordsworth who spend a lot of time in watching objects of nature and other ‘wasteful’ pursuits. No wonder, the poet’s humble house is replaced by a two-storey building and the greenery by brick and concrete. The fast pace of development in urban areas in Trinidad is obliquely referred to as a threat to the old world of peace and contentment.
Language : As the perspective of the story is that of a small boy, the language of the story is simple and straightforward. It is devoid of any unnecessary use of figures of speech. The visual images by description are quite clear and appealing. In order to lend authenticity to the story, the writer uses the kind of English used by the natives in their dialogues. The boy and his mother use ungrammatical English, while the poet uses standard English.
I said, “What you does do, mister?”
He got up and said, “I am a poet.”
Point of View : The story is told in the first person by the narrator as a boy. As he is an important part of the action of the story, his point of view makes the story quite authentic. Being a keen observer, he narrates what he observes quite faithfully. The third person point of view would not have been appropriate.