3. William Wordsworth

3. William Wordsworth
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1. Biography

William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in Cumberland in the English Lake District. 

He was educated at St. John’s College (Cambridge) and in 1790 he went on a walking tour of France and the Alps. His contact with revolutionary France filled him with enthusiasm for the democratic ideas. 

After that, the brutal war between England and France brough him to the edge of a breakdown. In those years he rediscovered in Dorset the beauty of nature and he recorded his life in ‘Journals’. In the same year, 1795, he was near Coleridge and they produced a collection of poems called Lyrical Ballads(1798). 

The second edition of 1800 contained his famous ‘Preface’ which is the Manifesto of English Romanticism. In 1805 he finished his masterpiece ‘The Prelude’ , a long autobiographical poem in 14 books. 

In 1843 he was made Poet Laureate and he continued to write poems until his death, in 1850, at the age of eighty. 

2. The Manifesto of English Romanticism 

Wordsworth belonged to the first generation of Romantic poets who were characterized by the attempt to theorize about poetry. 

Planning the Lyrical Ballads with Coleridge, they should deal with visionary topics, supernatural and mystery. His strong objection was to elevate language (poetic diction) and state what the subject and the language of poetry should be. 

Even the language should be simple, the objects are mentioned and called by their ordinary names. The poet is a man among men, writing about what interests mankind. 

3. Man and the natural world

Wordsworth is interested in the relationship between the natural world and the human consciousness. His poetry offers an account of the complex interaction between men and nature. 

Wordsworth is the idea that man and nature are inseparable; man exists not outside the natural world but as an active participant in it. 

Nature to Wordsworth means something that includes inanimate and human nature, each is a part of the same whole. It’s a source of pleasure and joy. 

4. The importance of the senses and of memory

Nature also means the world of sense perceptions. Wordsworth exploited all the sensibility of the eye and ear; he could perceive the ‘beauteous form’ of nature and his sounds. 

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According to David Hartley’s philosophy theories, Wordsworth believed that our moral character develops during childhood as the result of our experiences with pain and pleasure. 

Memory is a force in the process of growth of the poet’s mind and moral character and that gives poetry in his life and power. 

5. Recollection in tranquility

All genuine poetry takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility so that re-create the power of memory, the emotion is reproduced and purified in poetic form.

The whole process is described in that sequence: 

  1. Object
  2. Poet
  3. Sensory experience
  4. Emotion 
  5. Memory
  6. Recollection in tranquillity
  7. Kindred emotion
  8. Poem 
  9. Reader
  10.  Emotion

6. The poet’s task and his style

The poet has greater sensibility and the ability to penetrate the heart of things. 

The power of imagination enables him to communicate his knowledge and he shows how to understand feelings. 

He draws attention to the ordinary things of life. Wordsworth used blank verse, though he proved skilful at several verse forms such as sonnets, odes, ballads and lyrics. He used short lines and simple rhymes. 

7. Lyrical Ballads

Lyrical Ballads was written jointly by Wordsworth and Coleridge: the two poets agreed to divide the task of composing the volume. Wordsworth wrote about common events in simple languages and Coleridge wrote about exotic or fantastic nature. 

The Lyrical Ballads is considered the English Romantic Manifesto for it’s famous preface by Wordsworth where all his major ideas are described and explained. 

The choice of ordinary subjects and ordinary language for creating an accessible poetry for all man; the theory of the poet as man that is more affected by what he experiences and is able to communicate his experiences to other men; and how poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” originating from “emotion recollected in tranquility”.

Most of Lyrical Ballads deal with nature that can mean several thing: 

  • nature as the countryside (mountain, lakes, woods are often opposed to the noise and confusion of the town);
  • nature as a source of inspiration (revolutionary way of writing about nature, the description of the relationship between nature and man);
  • and nature as a life-force (where the lake, fields etc. seem to have a life their own). 

He substitutes the great epics of the past with shorter epic tales of simple country folk. The county person for Wordsworth can teach lessons that the wisest philosopher cannot.

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