The Female Vagrant is one of Wordsworth's most political poems. It tells the story two wanderers seeking shelter during a stormy night on Salisbury Plain in England. The woman tells how she came to be destitute and alone: her father had been evicted from his cottage in the Lakes by a wealthy industrialist neighbor, she had married but the advent of war had ruined them and, in a last desperate attempt to support her and their children, he volunteered for the army. He is shipped to fight in the war of the rebel colonialists in 1776 and she follows him. In America, he and their three children all die. She returns to wander Britain desolate, deprived of all home and sick.
The poem is an investigation into the mind of the female wanderer (vagrant). As is Wordsworth's principal object in most of his poetry: "I proposed to myself in these Poems was to chuse incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement."
There are many of the romantic flairs we have come to know of this period. The woman, like Hugo's gypsies, is abandoned but remains steadfast and strong. Only when she has lost everything due to imaginary lines drawn in the sand does she lose her "inner spirit."
This is the code of the romantic. To explore the inner world of human beings, so as to better understand human nature. For Wordsworth, experiencing the French Revolution and all of its upheaval, this was a story that struck his imagination, one night, as he lay exhausted at the stones of Stonehenge.