William Wordsworth

(1770-1850)

English poet of the Romantic age.

Took a walking tour of Europe July-October 1790.

Lived in France in 1792. Influenced French Revoluion.

1797: moved to Somerset with sister Dorothy and Coleridge where he wrote most of his important poems.

1843: named Poet Laureate.

 

Romantic/Expressive Literature caused mainly by:

1.      The Industrial Revolutions of the 1750s: A widespread replacement of manual labor by machines as a result of many changes that transformed agricultural economies into industrial ones. This led to the growth of cities as people moved from rural areas into urban communities in search of work.

2.      The French Revolution of 1789-99: Major transformation of the society and political system of France as the Old Regime was replaced with a series of different governments, enhancing the drafting of several bills of rights and constitutions.

 

Lyrical Ballads:

1798 Published first edition anonymously. Started with Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” and ended with Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and contained three more poems by Coleridge, the rest being Wordsworth’s.

1800 Published second edition, with Preface, only Wordsworth’s name appearing on the title page. “Ancient Mariner” moved to become the penultimate poem.

He encourages writers to break free from neoclassical conventions and to find their inspirations in the emotions, experiences, and speech of everyday life, emphasizing that poetry should begin with acts of self-expression and self-exploration.

1802 Published a third edition.

 

Preface to Lyrical Ballads: (1802)

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.” (661)

 

A Poet is “a man speaking to men: a man … endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, … a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in … the Universe, and … create[s] them where he does not find them. (655)

A Poet is “a man … possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who] had also thought long and deeply” (651)

A “Poet is chiefly distinguished from other men by a greater promptness t think and feel without immediate external excitement, and a greater power in expressing such thoughts and feelings  as are produced in him in that manner” (659)

 

Lyrical Ballads explores how pleasure can be imparted by “fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation” (648)

“if the views with which they were composed were indeed realized, a class of Poetry would be produced, well adapted to interest mankind permanently” (649)

 

Purpose of poems in the Ballads (651):

1.      to trace maternal passions.

2.      to accompany the last struggles of a human being.

3.      to show childhood’s perplexity towards death.

4.      to display the strength of fraternal and moral attachments when associated with nature.

5.      to enable reader to receive unordinary impressions from ordinary passions.

Feelings developed in these poems give importance to actions, rather than actions giving importance to feelings (652)

 

Value of poetry in our age: human mind can be excited without the application of gross and violent stimulant, but since uniformity of city life makes men crave extraordinary incidents, then poetry should enlarge this natural capacity of men to appreciate the simple and ordinary. (652)

 

Object of poems is “to chuse incidents and situations from common life, and to … describe them … in a selection of language really used by men; and, … to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and, … to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, … the primary laws of nature” (650)

 

Reasons for choosing low and rustic life as subject of poetry (650):

1.      it provides better soil for passions to mature.

2.      it allows feelings to exist in a simpler state in which they can be contemplated.

3.      it allows passions to endure.

4.      it links passion with beautiful and permanent nature.

 

Reasons for choosing rustic language (650):

1.      rustic men communicate with natural objects from which the best language is derived.

2.      rustic men are not influenced by societal vanities so can convey their feelings in simplicity.

3.      rustic language is more permanent since it derives from repeated experience and regular feelings.

How can a poet fit his language to the passions of the rustic subjects he describes? By “bring[ing] his feelings near to those of the persons whose feelings he describes … [and] to let himself slip into an entire delusion, and even confound and identify his own feelings with theirs” (656)

Why write in verse if verse is not language of rustic men?

1.      because “a very small part of the pleasure given by Poetry depends upon the metre”

2.      the regularity of metre can regulate the irregular excitement that is caused by poetry.