William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was an important poet of the Romantic Age in English literature.
Many people think that The Prelude, an autobiographical poem of his early years is his masterpiece. Wordsworth was England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.
Biography[change | change source]
Early life and education[change | change source]
Wordsworth was born as second of five children in the Lake District. After the death of his mother in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School. In 1783 his father, a lawyer and a solicitor, died. Although many aspects of his boyhood were positive, he remembered times of loneliness and anxiety. It took him many years, and much writing, to recover from the death of his parents.
Wordsworth went to St John's College, Cambridge in 1787. Three years later, in 1790, he visited RevolutionaryFrance and supported the Republican movement, although the Reign of Terror later made him change his mind.(see Prelude book 10) The following year, he graduated from Cambridge.
Relationship with Annette Vallon[change | change source]
In November 1791, Wordsworth returned to France and took a walking tour of Europe that included the Alps and Italy. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their child, Caroline. Because he was poor and there were tensions between Britain and France, he returned alone to England the next year. But he supported Annette Vallon and his daughter as best he could in later life. War between France and Britain prevented him from seeing Annette and Caroline again for several years. It is likely that Wordsworth would have been depressed during the 1790s.
In 1802 Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, visited Annette and Caroline in France.
First publication and Lyrical Ballads[change | change source]
In 1793 Wordsworth published the poetry collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, moved to Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge produced Lyrical Ballads (1798), an important work in the English Romantic movement. The Preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In it, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility." A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805. He wrote a poem about daffodils and the Lake District.
Germany and move to the Lake District[change | change source]
Wordsworth, Dorothy, and Coleridge then traveled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. The main effect on Wordsworth was that he became homesick. But he began to work on the important autobiographical piece The Prelude. He also wrote a number of famous poems, including "the Lucy poems." He and his sister moved back to England, now to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, and this time with the poet Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey came to be known as the "Lake Poets". Through this period, many of his poems speak of death, endurance, separation, and grief.
Marriage[change | change source]
In 1802 he married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson. Dorothy continued to live with the couple.
In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes were published, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood".
Two of his children, Thomas and Catherine, died in 1812. In 1813 his family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside , where he spent the rest of his life.
Major works[change | change source]
- Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798)
- Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (1800)
- Poems, in Two Volumes (1807)
- The Excursion (1814)
- Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822)
- The Prelude (1850, posthumous)
General information and biographical sketches[change | change source]
Wordsworth's works[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
- M. H. Abrams, ed. (2000). The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2A, The Romantic Period (7th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-393-97568-1.
- Stephen Gill, ed. (2000). William Wordsworth: The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. ISBN 0-19-284044-4.
Notes[change | change source]
William Wordsworth is one of the most influential Romantic poets who created a unique style of writing based on ideals of nature and imagination. His poetry was based on Romantic ideas opposed to Realism. Snatches of realism remain very welcome to Romantic sensationalists, especially as an escape from the starched dignities of Classicism. The Romantic reaction was healthy; but, like most reactions, it became extravagant and so unhealthy in its turn. As a Romantic writer, Wordsworth’s style grows more eloquent, more magical in the music of phrase and imagery, more impressive in the frank intensity of his feeling an imagination, in the atmosphere that passion can create. Thesis Wordsworth applies romantic imagination to theme and stylistic devices which help him to unveil unique feelings and settings of his poems.
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In Hart-Leap Well nature herself is explicitly present in the poem; there are numerous comments on what she can, cannot, will, will not do. And there is the assurance, in the last stanza of the poem, that she is the primary teacher here, not the poem nor the poet nor the storyteller. Characters in the poem, like its readers, are taught by Nature--"Taught both by what she shows, and what conceals" (Wordsworth 178). Wordsworth uses Romantic imagination when uses a telling phrase and a crucial idea, that Nature's teaching is done both by revealing and concealing. A poem that teaches in Nature's way must be a mixture of revealing and concealing also. What is actually revealed in the poem is, as usual with Wordsworth, quite straightforward, as long as we stick with only the overt revelations. The poem is actually two short stories. One is the almost casual tale of a traveler who narrates his own adventure and who, like every poetic persona, both is and is not the poet himself (Abrams Meyer 54). The traveler on horseback tells of coming alone and by chance upon a sight which arrests his attention and his movement. The sight is not particularly impressive and could easily be passed without notice:
It chanced that I saw standing in a dell
Three aspens as three corners of a square;
And one, not four yards distant, near a well.
Wordsworth as poet achieved exactly what he wanted to do: he conveyed not so much his own thoughts or judgments but, he conveyed the inspiration to the process of thought. In The Prelude where he denounces miseducation and specifically denounces "how books mislead us," he expresses his hopes for his own writings, his own books, his determination to make "verse / Deal boldly with substantial things" (Wordsworth 35). In these stirring words, which remain substantially the same from their composition in 1804 to their publication in 1850, he writes:
haply shall I teach,
Inspire; through unadulterated ears
Pour rapture, tenderness, and hope,--my theme (Wordsworth 132).
This approach, based on Romantic imagination, is one that requires that most of virtues, an utter and unshakable faith in the trustworthiness of the human mind and its destiny, a surety that the mind which remains in genuine motion will not for long go astray.
In The Idiot Boy, Wordsworth uses Romantic imagination to unveil surface and settings of the poem. There is the poet's desire to agitate the reader's mind and provoke the reader's imagination by a depiction of "the great and simple affections." There is also his intention to rip out of the hands of "the wealthy Few" their longtime monopoly of books and poetry. There is, further, his desire to lead his readers into enlarged sympathies and purer moral feelings. And there is his aim to do all this in the context of the tradition of the affirmative comedy of feeling (Abrams Meyer 59). But these multiple aims are not only complex but in some ways actually divergent. What can unify them, what the poet in this poem depends on to cement these incongruous elements, is his attention to the theory of language, an attention which is at once profoundly revolutionary in its concern for common speech but also very much a part of the long tradition of poetic concern over the sanctity of the word. in The Idiot Boy, a poem seemingly so different from those great works of English neoclassicism, Wordsworth once again focuses, in his own distinctive way, on both the divine and the human qualities of language, its basis and origin in our nature, and the effects of language on the "gentle agitations of the mind" both within the poem and within the receptive reader (Baugh 71). But this boy of the published poem is not really a different person from Wordsworth, any more than Lucy Gray is. He is Wordsworth's childhood, dead and gone, but not forgotten; contemplated and renewed in contemplation in a way that might otherwise seem quite morbid in a child mooning in a graveyard (Bateson 44). For, says the poet,
through that churchyard when my way has led
On summer evenings, I believe, that there
A long half hour together I have stood
Mute--looking at the grave in which he lies!(Wordsworth 31)
So it is too in the reluctance to decide that Lucy Gray is finally dead, completely and forever lost. They became far more sensitive, more enthusiastic, less hide-bound by rules--in practical criticism the advance is plain; but they tended also to become gushing, bardolatrous, muddle-headed, and mysterious, with a fondness for windy and cloudy theories that we are still plagued with to this day (Baugh 3). Neo-classic criticism doubtless had too much "reality principle"; but their Romantic successors stagger terribly at times from lack of it. There may be no more demanding poet than Wordsworth. The demands he makes, though, are not those of other poets. He does not perplex by an unfamiliar vocabulary nor a complexly involved syntax nor by learned allusions and literary citations in a variety of often very exotic tongues requiring explanatory footnotes exceeding in the space they occupy the poetry they are designed to elucidate (Baugh 31). For regardless of what readers, or Wordsworth himself, may believe about the immortality of the soul and the eternal nature of Man, there is not, except in this sense, any real permanence in childhood. We all may live forever; indeed, many believe we will. But, except in this very limited sense, the child that every adult once was is gone forever
In sum, Romantic imagination is based on a balance between unique settings and theme s of nature and personal imagination of the author, his unique style and stylistic devices. Poetry, it is urged, remains completely free of fact. Different poems are the means of assuming different "emotional attitudes"; and the more the merrier. Each is a different drug, giving a different dream; a new enchanted cigarette in a foggy world where all is smoke. The literary connoisseur can become all things to all gods; literature serves as a sort of combined camel and mirage to carry him across modern life. It is very curious, this latest revival of Romanticism in a mystical setting. Wordsworth uses the balance, the proportion, the control, the power to coordinate, of the great masters; the intelligence and grace of the man of the world; the quiet sympathy a writer needs in order to observe and delineate characters other than his own or shadows of his own--that exaggerated ego which in the Romantics often grows as bloated as an ant-queen among her crawling subjects.
- Abrams Meyer H., ed. English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1975.
- Bateson F. W. Wordsworth: A Re-interpretation. London: Longmans, 1956.
- Baugh Albert C., ed. A Literary History of England. 2nd ed. New York: Appleton, 1967.
- Wordsworth William. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. 1940-49. Ed. Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon,