William Wordsworth - Biography and Works

William Wordsworth, English poet and worshipper of nature and simplicity, was born in the Lake District. He spent some time in France, where he became an enthusiastic republican until disillusioned by the Terror which followed the French Revolution.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Wordsworth started the Romantic Revolution (or Revival) in English poetry (along with his friend Coleridge) with The Lyrical Ballads in 1798. The publication of the Lyrical Ballads (1798), in collaboration with S. T. Coleridge, heralded the dawn of romanticism in English poetry, and smashed the old and artificial, theory of English poetry of the neo-classical age. The first edition of the Lyrical Ballads consisted of twenty three poems, of which nineteen, were from the pen of Wordsworth and the remaining four were composed by Coleridge. In the Preface poetry was defined as 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,' arising from 'emotion recollected in tranquility.' The language of poetry was to be no artificial poetic diction, but a "selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation." It is a matter of frequent comment that Wordsworth is not consistent in the application of his principles and that some of his best poetry violates his theories in elevation of poetic diction, whereas some of his worst seem to result from a too conscious following of his own rules. Romantic poetry is about “anything” that the poet personally felt or experienced deeply. Strong and true emotions are the material of poetry. But, that does not mean that anyone can simply write poetry “in the heat of firsthand emotions or impressions”. It should be “emotions recollected in tranquility”.

As a writer of sonnets, Wordsworth revived the Petrarchan form of sonnet writing. The best sonnets of Wordsworth can stand favorably in comparison with the great sonnets of Milton and Shakespeare. Wordsworth wrote five hundred twenty five sonnets. In his sonnets, his lyrical mood burns clear and strong, and as a result, they rank among the best in English poetry. The influence of Milton is clearly felt, and sonnets have strength, flexibility, and in many cases, a controlled intensity of feeling. Some of them are patriotic, others express his passion for liberty, and yet others such as the famous one “Composed on Westminster Bridge”, deal with nature. All show clearly the beneficial influence on Wordsworth of the restrictions on the sonnet form, whose fourteen lines curbed his tendency toward prolixity. The beautiful sonnets of Wordsworth are “London”, “West Minister Bridge”, “Scorn not the Sonnet”, “The World is Too Much With Us” etc.

Coleridge was a major influence upon Wordsworth. He encouraged Wordsworth's interest in metaphysics and nature. Indeed, it is often claimed that Wordsworth was a pantheist (that is, a believer in Universal Mind which harmonizes all aspects of the universe and to which an individual mind could be tuned) but, in fact, Wordsworth's mystical awareness seems to be of a more subtle nature than this. Wordsworth's collaboration with Coleridge, a man of great intellect, a poet, philosopher and critic, was fruitful.

Wordsworth has often been praised for his descriptions of nature. Wordsworth is the high-priest of Nature as he propounded a new and original philosophy of nature. The love of Nature is to be found in all the English poets, from Chaucer downwards. In Wordsworth's own day both Byron and Shelley were writing poem thoroughly imbued with the love of Nature. But, there is something in Wordsworth's treatment of Nature which differs from the poetry of his predecessors as well as his contemporaries. It may be said that Wordsworth differs from all other poets in the sense that he puts upon the moral influence of Nature. For Wordsworth, Nature is endowed with personality ‘the mighty Being’. He declares that Nature is a teacher whose wisdom we can learn if we wish, and without which any human life is vain and incomplete.

But he rightly claimed that his primary interest was the “mind of man”. In fact, a key section of his poem The Prelude: or Growth of a Poet’s Mind insists that love of nature leads to the love of humanity. His fine poems, including “Michael”, “The Lucy” lyrics, “The Solitary Reaper” and “Resolution and Independence”, dramatize how imagination creates spiritual values out of the memory of sights and sounds in nature. Wordsworth masterpiece is his long autobiographical poem, The Prelude. He wrote it between 1798 and 1805, but he continued to revise it for the rest of his life. The poem was published in 1850, shortly after 1805 and 1850 clearly indicate how his values changed as he aged. In its best passages, The Prelude achieves a remarkable combination of simplicity and grandeur.

Wordsworth wrote most of his best poetry before 1807. But he wrote several important works, notably The Excursion (1814), later. This long poem discusses virtue, education and religious faith. Wordsworth also wrote 523 sonnets, many of which compare with those of William Shakespeare and John Milton. Wordsworth is of the opinion that Nature is endowed with personality – “the mighty Being”. He teaches us that, between man and nature there is mutual consciousness and mystic relationship. It is in the power of Nature to penetrate the man’s spirit, to reveal him to himself, to communicate to him divine instructions, to make him stay into spiritual life and ecstasy. Wordsworth thinks of nature as a mighty presence, before which he stands silent, like a faithful high priest, who waits in solemn expectation for the whisper of enlightenment and wisdom. Two things always stand out prominent in Wordsworth in connection with nature: first its spiritual life and its ethical influence and secondly the influence nature exert as a moral teacher on man.

In 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson and they started living a life of “plain living and high thinking,” and he composed the poems that made him ( after initial hostility) revered as the greatest poet of his time. These poems include “Immortality Ode” (1807), many fine sonnets, and pastoral poems such as “Michael” (1800). Radical in his youth, he became conservative with age. In 1843, he was made poet laureate. His autobiographical poem, The Prelude, was posthumously published in 1850.

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Sharma, K.N. "William Wordsworth - Biography and Works." BachelorandMaster, 20 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/biography/william-wordsworth.html.