William Wordsworth

Biography of William Wordsworth: 
Wordsworth, William (1770-1850), English poet, one of the most accomplished and influential of England’s romantic poet’s whose theories and style created a new tradition in poetry. He is considered one of the foremost English romantic poets; especially as he composed flowing verse on the spirituality of nature and the wonders of human imagination. Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, and educated at Saint John’s College University of Cambridge. He developed a keen love of nature as a youth, and during school vacation periods he frequently visited places noted for their scenic beauty. Although Wordsworth had begun to write poetry while still a school boy, none of his poems were published until 1793 when "An Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches" appeared. These works, although fresh and original in content, reflect the influence of the formal style of 18th Century English poetry. The poems received little notice, and few copies were sold.

In 1797 Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to Alfox Den, Somersetshire, near Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey where he had met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an enthusiastic admirer of his early poetic efforts. The move marked the beginning of a close and enduring friendship between the poets. In the ensuing period, they collaborated on a book of poems entitled "Lyrical Ballad", first published in 1798. This work is generally taken to mark the beginning of the romantic movement in English poetry. Wordsworth wrote almost all the poems in the volume including memorable "Tintern Abbey"; however, Coleridge contributed the famous "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". Representing a revolt against the artificial classicism of contemporary English verse, Lyrical Ballads, was greeted with hostility by most leading critics of the day.

In defense of his unconventional theory of poetry, Wordsworth wrote a "Preface" to the second edition of Ballads, which appeared in 1800 (actual date of publication, 1801). His premise was that the source of poetic truth is the direct experience of the senses. Poetry, he asserted, originates from "emotion recollected in tranquility". Rejecting the contemporary emphasis on form and an intellectual approach that drained poetic writing of strong emotion, he maintains that the scenes and events of everyday life and the speech of ordinary people were the raw material of which poetry could and should be made. Far from conciliating the critics, the "Preface" served only to increase their hostility. Wordsworth, however, was not discouraged, continuing to write poetry that graphically illustrated his principles. Much of Wordsworth's easy flow of conversation blank verse has true lyrical power and grace, and his finest work is permeated by a sense of the human relationship to external nature that is religious in its scope and intensity. To Wordsworth, God was everywhere manifest in the harmony of nature, and he felt deeply kingship between nature and the the soul of humankind.

The tide of critical opinion turned in his favor after 1820, and Wordsworth lived to see his work universally praised. In 1842, he was awarded a government pension, and in the following year he succeeded Southey as poet Laureate. Wordsworth died at Rydal Moune, April 23, 1850 and was buried in the Grasmere Churchyard.

Evaluation of his writings:
The romantic age in English literature was characterized by: the subordination of reason to intuition and passion, the cult of nature much as the word is now understood and not as Pope understood it, the primacy of the individual will over social norms of behavior, the preference to the illusion of immediate experience as opposed to generalized and typical experience, and the interest in what is distant in time and place.

The first important expression of romanticism was in the Lyrical Ballads (1798) of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge who were as young men aroused to creative activity by the French Revolution, but later became disillusioned with what followed it. The poems of Wordsworth in this volume treat ordinary language with a new freshness that imparts a certain radiance to them. This direction characterizes most of the later works of the poet. For Wordsworth, the great theme remained the world of simple, natural things, in the countryside or among people. He reproduced this world with so close and understanding an eye as to add a hitherto unperceived glory to it. His representation of human nature is similarly simple but revealing. It is at its best, as in "Tintern Abbey" when he speaks of the mystical kinship between quiet nature and the human soul and of the spiritual refreshment yielded by humanity's sympathetic contact with the rest of God's creation. Not only is the immediacy of experience in the poetry of Wordsworth opposed to neoclassical notions, but also his poetic style constitutes a rejection of the immediate poetic past. Wordsworth condemned the idea of a specifically poetic language, such as that of neoclassical poetry, and he strove instead for what he considered the more powerful effects of ordinary, everyday language.

Wordsworth's Literary Style:
The preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800), by Wordsworth and Coleridge, was of prime importance as a manifesto of literary Romanticism. Here, the two poets affirmed the importance of feeling and imagination to poetic creation and disclaimed conventional literary form and subjects. Thus, as romantic literature everywhere developed, imagination was praised over reason, emotion over science, making way for a vast body of literature of great sensibility and passion. This literature emphasized a new flexibility of form, adapted to varying content, encouraged the development of couples and fast-moving plots, and allowed mixed genres like the tragic comedy, the mingling of the grotesque, the sublime and freer styles. No longer tolerated, for example, were the fixed classical conversation, such as the famous three unities (time, place, and action) of tragedy. An increasing demand for spontaneity and lyricism-qualities that the adherents of Romanticism found in folk poetry and in medieval romance led to a rejection of regular meters, strict forms, and other conventions of the classical tradition. In English poetry, for example, blank verse largely superseded the rhymed couplet that dominated 18th century poetry.