Summary and critical analysis of the poem “The Idiot Boy” by William Wordsworth

“The Idiot Boy ” is a poem by William Wordsworth, first published in Lyrical Ballads (1798).

This poem is mainly about the idiot son of a poor countrywoman, Betty Foy. Betty’s friend and neighbor, Susan Galen, seems to be gravely ill and thus is in great need of a doctor. Betty’s husband, however, is not at home; therefore, no one can go for a doctor, except for her retarded son, Johnny. So he is sent off on horseback by night to fetch the doctor. He is so long gone that his mother becomes anxious. So Betty finally decides she has no choice but to go look for her son. Betty looks everywhere for her son. She even wakes up the doctor to find out if Johnny has been there, but the doctor has not seen the boy. So Betty leaves and continues looking for the boy and finds him at last by a waterfall, whither the pony has dered freely through the moonlight, to the boy’s delight. The neighbour recovers and sets out to meet mother and son, and all three are happily reunited.

William Wordsworth’s “The Idiot Boy” contains 453 lines. Each of the five-lined, stanzas features a rime scheme of ABCCB, with the exception of the first stanza, with its six lines and rime scheme of ABCCDB, and the last stanza, consisting of seven lines, with the rime scheme ABCCBDD.

It is a poem illustrating common emotions in a rural setting. This poem, like many in Lyrical Ballads, concerns itself with the psychological insight of the mother, showing her clear concern for the child she values. It shows a mother’s love and cares not only for her child but also for her sick neighbor.

The boy’s description of his adventures, ‘The cocks did crow to-whoo, to-whoo, And the sun did shine so cold’, fittingly illustrates Wordsworth’s intention of giving the charm of novelty to things of everyday’. Wordsworth ably defended his choice of subject matter (which offended many) in a letter to John Wilson, June 1802, attacking the ‘false delicacy’ of his detractors, and praising the natural humanity of the poor: ‘I have indeed, often looked upon the conduct of fathers and mothers of the lower classes of society towards idiots as the great triumph of the human heart.

Also read: Short Summary of “The Prelude” by Wordsworth