Friday, November 25, 2016

William Wordsworth ~ "Lyrical Writing"

Featured Author ~ William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850) was born in Cockermouth, in West Cumberland, England, the son of an attorney who served as the steward of Lord Lonsdale’s estate.  He took his degree from St. John’s College in Cambridge in 1791.  A year later, Wordsworth received an inheritance sufficient to enable him to devote his time to writing.  He published Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798 in collaboration with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Although the volume was met with tepid professional reviews, Lyrical Ballads sold out within two years, establishing Wordsworth’s reputation as a poet.  In 1843, he was appointed poet laureate.

The following is an excerpt from Preface to Lyrical Ballads, with Pastoral and Other Poems (1802) from Norton’s Anthology of Literature Fifth Edition Volume 2 (1986)


It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an author makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain know habits of association; that he not only thus apprizes the reader that certain classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others will be carefully excluded.  I will not take upon me to determine the exact import of the promise which by the act of writing in verse an author, in the present day, makes to his reader; but I am certain, it will appear to many persons that I have not fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily contracted.

They who have been accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion will, no doubt, frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness; they will look round for poetry and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title.  I hope therefore the reader will not censure me, if I attempt to state what I have proposed to myself to perform.

The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these poems was to choose incidents, and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of the language really used by men; and, at the same time to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously the primary laws of our nature:  chiefly, as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.

I have wished to keep my reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by doing so I shall interest him.  I am, however, well aware that others who pursue a different track may interest him likewise; I do not interfere with their claim.  I only wish to prefer a different claim of my own.

The sum of what I have there said is, that the poet is chiefly distinguished from other men by a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement, and a greater power in expressing such thoughts and feelings as a produced in him in that manner.  But these passions and thoughts and feelings are the general passions and thoughts and feelings of men.


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