WILLIAM WORDSWORTH AND THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT

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INTRODUCTION

William Wordsworth is believed to be the father of English Romanticism. Wordsworth’s poetry became popular with the publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798) in collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Wordsworth became a poet laureate in 1843. This unit will capture his life briefly and we shall also be looking at his poetry and its style poetry.

Brief Life History of William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born on 7th April, 1770 in Cocker-Mouth, Cumberland in the Lake District. His father was John Wordsworth, Sir James Lowther’s 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 1789, 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. In 1795 he met Coleridge. Wordsworth’s financial situation became better in 1795 when he received legacy and was able to settle at Racedown, Dorset, with his sister Dorothy, with Coleridge’s encouragement and his close contact with nature, Wordsworth composed his first master–work, “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”.

Wordsworth spent the winter of 1798-99 with his sister and Coleridge in Germany, where he wrote several poems, including the enigmatic ‘Lucy’ poems. After he retuned, he moved to Dove Cottage and in 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson. They cared for Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy for the last years of her life. Wordsworth’s second verse collection appeared in 1807. His central works were produced between 1797 and 1808. In later life Wordsworth abandoned his radical ideas and became a patriotic, conservative public man. In 1843, he succeeded Robert Southey as England’s poet laureate. Wordsworth died on April 23, 1850.

Wordsworth’s Poetry

Wordsworth’s poetry is largely concerned with Nature. His ideas about Nature are radical and philosophical. In his ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’, Wordsworth celebrates and romanticizes nature. The poem begins in the present and refers to Wordsworth’s first visit to Tintern Abbey in 1793: ‘five years have passed; five summer, with the length/of five long winters!’ (11.1-2). The first twenty lines or so suggest the tranquility and harmony that the poet has now achieved in the present. The signs of human activity, the cottages, the pastoral forms, the orchards and the wreaths of smoke, all blend in wit the landscape as human and natural activity coalesce and merge: ‘Green to the very door’ (1. 17).

The opening few lines evoke a calm and meditative mood. Wordsworth now moves from the external landscape to describe his own inner state f consciousness. He describes what he has gained personally since his first visit to the Wye Valley. He had been able to carry the landscape he first saw in his mind and thus has calmed and healed his psyche. The memory of the landscape first glimpsed in 1793 has brought him restoration in his ‘hours of weariness’. This ‘weariness’ is associated rather vaguely by the poet, with the materialism of city or urban life (II. 23–30). More than this, Wordsworth claims that the memory of the landscape has led to a growth in his moral sense. It has made him a better man (II. 30–5). He says that he has also attained a sense of spirituality from the vision he had of the Wye Valley those five years ago.

He describes a state of lightened perception in which he is no longer aware of the physical and material forms of nature but is instead aware of an inner, spiritual force which permeates the natural world and exists within humanity as well. The experience comes through sense but transcends the sense; the physical eye is ‘made quiet by the power of harmony’. At such moments, Wordsworth claims that we achieve spiritual insight and that we see ‘into the life of things’ (11. 33-48); a ‘blessed mood’ in which we lose our sense of self and become aware of a transcendent sense of unity, and of ourselves as a part of that unity. Thus Wordsworth claims he has gained three things since his first visit to the Wye Valley: the smoothening influence that the landscape has had on his mind, making him feel less stressed and alienated; his moral sense has been increased almost unconsciously; and he has received the gift of spirituality.

In “The Solitary Reaper”, the poet enjoins his listener to behold a “Solitary Highland lass” reaping and singing by herself in a field. The poem presents real human music encountered in a beloved, rustic setting. The song of the young girl reaping in the fields is incomprehensible to the speaker, but he appreciates its tone, its expressive beauty, and the mood it creates within him. To an extent, this poem ponders the limitations of language, as it does in the third stanza (“Will no one tell me what she sings?”).

The speaker simply praises the beauty of music and its fluid expressive beauty, the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” that Wordsworth identified as the heart of poetry. By placing this praise and this beauty in a rustic, natural setting, Wordsworth acts on the values of Lyrical Ballads. The poem’s structure is simple and its language is natural and unforced. The final two lines of the poem (“its music in my heart I bore /long after it was heard no more”) return the focus of the poem to the familiar theme of memory, and the soothing effect of beautiful memories on human thoughts and feelings.

In another poem, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, Wordsworth revisits the familiar subjects of nature and memory, this time with a particularly simple musical eloquence. The plot is extremely simple, depicting, the poet’s wondering and his discovery of a field of daffodils by a lake, the memory of which pleases him and comforts him, when he is lonely, bored, or restless. The characterization of the sudden occurrence of a memory – the daffodils “flash upon the inward eye/which is the bliss of solitude” – is psychologically acute, but the poem’s main brilliance lies in the reverse personification of its early stanzas. The speaker is metaphorically compared to a natural object, a “cloud” and the daffodils are continually personified as human beings, dancing and “tossing their heads” in “a crowd, a host”. This technique implies an inherent unity between man and nature making it one of Wordsworth’s most basic and effective methods for instilling in the reader the feeling the poet so often describes himself as experiencing.

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