Behold her single in the field
Yon solitary highland lass
Reaping and singing by herself
Stop here or gently pass.
William Wordsworth, in my head, was an incredible storyteller!
The above verse is the entry of his poem, The Solitary Reaper. He talks of a young woman working in the field, and singing her tunes.
What is the difference, then, between Wordsworth and the rest?
Well if you read the top verse again, you will imagine an image in your head. An image as clear as day.
With every passing stanza of the poem, the image transcends into what the poet imagines, and that is the true mark of Wordsworth. He created a movie in your head, with literally just simple phrases used gracefully.
Wordsworth worked with alliterations, metaphors, similes, the likes, and gave us something simply great.
William Wordsworth is a representative poet of the Romantic age in English Literature. The movement which fell away from the classic way of writing poetry, it is important to understand that Romanticism means taking “Liberty”. They (Romantics) broke away from all the rules that existed about language, about structure, which the Neo-Classical writers before them had followed. They felt that poetry should be understandable to the common man, it should be about the common man, a common man should be able to enjoy it, and poetry shouldn't only be something that the rich and highly educated can enjoy over drinks and cigars in their drawing rooms.
Wordsworth along with Coleridge redefined English Literature in 1798 publishing, jointly, “Preface to Lyrical Ballads", the collection of poems has a Prologue which explains their whole idea behind this Romantic Movement and is as important a work of Criticism as any. They were the mouthpiece of this Romantic Age of Poetry, accompanied, of course, later by a no of great poets.
Another great feature of Wordsworth's contribution lies in the fact of his understanding of Nature. He delighted in Nature, its beauty and all that it offers. A lot of his work focuses on Nature and his close relationship with it.
He upturned the pedantry and snobbishness that pervaded the literary circles and made literature accessible. When the Lyrical Ballads was published, the society erupted in both ways, joyous acceptance and blatant rejection.
His contribution to English Literature was this, making literature accessible. A massive, liberal Revolution that contributed in shaping contemporary literature.
You can understand from one of his most famous poems: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’, his ‘daffodil’ poem.
The last stanza states:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
This is the romantic era in a nutshell. Taking natural imagery, and reflecting on it to find our absolute truths.
Throughout Wordsworth’s work nature formed its fundament! All manifestations of nature from the highest fountain to simplest flower- elicit noble, elevated thoughts and passionate emotions of the people who observe these manifestations! Wordsworth repeatedly emphasised on nature having a strong influence on man’s spiritual and moral development!
He believed humanity’s innate empathy and nobility of spirit gets corrupted by artificial social conventions as well as squalor of city life. In contrast, people who spend time with nature retains the purity of the soul.
Wordsworth praised the power of the human mind. Using memory one could overcome difficulty and pain. For instance, the speaker in “lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey” relieves the loneliness with memories of nature while the leech gatherer in “resolution and independence” preserves cheerfully in the face of poverty by the exertion of his own will.
The transformative power of the mind is available to all, regardless of an individual’s class or background. This democratic view emphasises individuality and uniqueness.
Throughout his work, Wordsworth provided for strong support to political, religious, artistic rights of individual including the power of his mind. Wordsworth through lyrical ballads explained the relation between mind and poetry. According to him, poetry is “emotion recollected in tranquillity” or the mind transforms raw emotion of experience into poetry capable of giving pleasure.
William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in the Lake District. His father was John Wordsworth, Sir James Lowther attorney. The magnificent landscape deeply affected Wordsworth's imagination and gave him a love of nature. He lost his mother when he was eight and five years later his father. The domestic problems separated Wordsworth from his beloved and neurotic sister Dorothy, who was a very important person in his life.
With the help of his two uncles, Wordsworth entered a local school and continued his studies at Cambridge University. Wordsworth made his debut as a writer in 1787, when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. In that same year, he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, from where he took his B.A. in 1791.
During a summer vacation in 1790, Wordsworth went on a walking tour through revolutionary France and also travelled to Switzerland. On his second journey in France, Wordsworth had an affair with a French girl, Annette Vallon, a daughter of a barber-surgeon, by whom he had an illegitimate daughter Anne Caroline. The affair was the basis of the poem "Vaudracour and Julia", but otherwise Wordsworth did his best to hide the affair from posterity.
In 1795 he met Coleridge. Wordsworth's financial situation became better in 1795 when he received a legacy and was able to settle at Racedown, Dorset, with his sister Dorothy. Encouraged by Coleridge and stimulated by the close contact with nature, Wordsworth composed his first masterwork, Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." About 1798 he started to write a large and philosophical autobiographical poem, completed in 1805, and published posthumously in 1850 under the title The Prelude.
He was appointed official distributor of stamps for Westmoreland. He moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside, where he spent the rest of his life. In later life, Wordsworth abandoned his radical ideas and became a patriotic, conservative public man.
Famously, Wordsworth had anosmia. As the poet’s nephew wrote in his Memoirs of William Wordsworth, ‘With regard to fragrance, Mr Wordsworth spoke from the testimony of others: he himself had no sense of smell. The single instance of his enjoying such a perception, which is recorded of him in Southey’s life, was, in fact, imaginary. The incident occurred at Racedown, when he was walking with Miss H––, who coming suddenly upon a parterre of sweet flowers, expressed her pleasure at their fragrance, – a pleasure which he caught from her lips, and then fancied to be his own.’
Wordsworth was a keen walker among the Lakes where he lived for much of his life – as was his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth loved the natural world. He would often go on long walks, during which time, he would write down ideas for poems on scraps of paper. He sometimes walked at night. People living in his community thought he might be a spy for the French government because of his odd habits.
It is estimated that Wordsworth walked over 180,000 miles in his lifetime.
Wordsworth best-known poem, often referred to as ‘The Daffodils’ or ‘Daffodils’, but in fact, it had no title and is technically known only by its first line, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’. It didn’t appear in the famous Lyrical Ballads – it was written a few years after that volume had been published.
His poetic career
The Early period:
This period starts before 1791. 'Descriptive Sketches' and 'Evening Walk' are the best-known poems of the period.
The Period of Gloom:
This period is characterized between 1792 and 1797. In this period, his feeling of remorse and his gloom find expression in the unsuccessful tragedy, The Borderer, Guilt and Sorrow' and 'The Ruined Cottage'.
The Glorious Decade:
It falls between 1797 to 1807, the decade in which the poet's powers were at their zenith and in which he produced his best works. The lyrical ballads contained many admirable pieces, such as 'Lines written in Early Spring' Michael, fountain, etc, and ending with the lines written Above Tintern Abbey'.
The Period of Decline:
The period from 1808 to 1850 is poet's period of decline. 'Laodameia', 'Ecclesiastical Sketches', 'Sonnet on the punishment of Death', 'Lines written on the Death of Charles Lamb, ' Effusion on the Death of James Hogg' etc. belonged to this period.
At the end of his life, he earned much fame. The critics were stilled by his laureateship, and his verse became quite popular with the burgeoning middle class. In 1850, the death of his beloved daughter Dora brought a depression from which he could never recover. In the same year on April 23, he took his last breath.
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