What is Lyrical Ballads?

A long step forward in the history of romanticism was taken with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 jointly by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was not a conscious movement at all. It was now for the first time that the two friends: William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge emphasized the aims and objectives of the new poetry.

Coleridge pointed out that he would treat of objects and incidents supernatural, but in such a way as to make them look real and convincing. Wordsworth on the other hand, was to deal with subjects taken from ordinary and commonplace life, but so as to cast over them by the magic power of his imagination the charm of novelty. Coleridge would make the unfamiliar, look familiar, and Wordsworth would make the familiar look unfamiliar. In this way he enunciated the theory and methods of the new poetry, gave a new consciousness and purpose to the movement, and thus opened a new chapter in the history of English Romanticism.

The publication of the Lyrical Ballads heralded the dawn of Romanticism in English poetry of the neo-classical age. The first edition of the Lyrical Ballads consisted of twenty three poems. In the ‘preface’, poetry was defined as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, arising from ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity”. The preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads was also prime importance as a manifesto of literary romantic. Here, the two poets affirmed the importance of feeling and imagination of poetic creation and disclaimed conventional literary forms and subjects. Thus, as romantic literature everywhere developed, imagination was praised over reason, emotions over logic, and intuition over science- making way for a vast body of literature of great sensibility and passion. The literature emphasized a new flexibility of form adapted to varying content, encouraged the development of complex and fast moving plots, and allowed mixed genres like tragicomedy, the mingling of the grotesque, the sublime, and freer style. Much of Wordsworth’s easy flow of conversational blank verse has the 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 the kinship between nature and the soul of humankind.

Wordsworth stated that the language of poetry should be a selection of language really used by men: “there neither is nor can be a any essential difference between the language of prose and the metrical composition.” But he followed his theory of poetic diction only in some of his poems and violated it when he composed such splendid poems as “Tintern Abbey” and “Ode on the intimations of Immorality.” Wordsworth differs from all other poets in the stress he puts upon the moral influence of nature. For Wordsworth, 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 live him 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 stand out prominent in Wordsworth in connection with nature: 1. its spiritual life and its ethical influence and 2. the influence nature exerts as a moral teacher on man.

Coleridge was a major influence upon Wordsworth. He shared so much of Coleridge’s earlier ideas about the nature of the mind and imagination, through Coleridge developed very much theoretical psychological concepts after his stay and study in Germany. Wordsworth remained a pantheist, a believer in the ‘ universal mind’ from which an individual mind comes, while Coleridge became more interested in a theory of the imagination that suggests that the power of one image or feeling serves to modify many others; this in turn suggests that thoughts arise in the mind under a stimulus. According to Coleridge all ideas originate from sensation or reflection, and if objects of sensation are one source of ideas, the operation of the mind itself is the other source.

Published on 22 Sep. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma

Related Topics

William Wordsworth: Biography

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Biography