Wordsworth Preface Lyrical Ballads

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SLMtitle.png Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballad

By Dr. Dilip Barad, [[http://www.bhavuni.edu | Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar, Gujarat.

Chapter Outline

1.0 Learning Objectives
1.1. Introduction
1.1.1. The Romantic Revival
1.1.2. Impact of the French Revolution
1.2. Preface to Lyrical Ballad
1.2.1. The Genesis of Preface
1.2.2. Aims of the Preface
1.2.3. Definition of Poetry
1.2.4. Concept of Imagination
1.2.5. Themes and Subject Matter of Poetry
1.2.6. Function of Poetry
1.2.7. Diction of Poetry

1.3. Let’s Sum Up
1.4. Video Resources, References and Further Readings
1.5. Glossary
1.6. Answers to Self Assessment Questions

SLMobj.png Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about:

  • Acquainting the learners with the ethos of Wordsworth’s age;
  • Familiarizing the learners with the Romantic modes of criticism and poetry, and Wordsworth’s contribution to literary criticism;

SLMinto.png Introduction

Much before William Wordsworth started writing,the early Romantic poets like James Thomson (1700-48),Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74),Thomas Chatterton (1752-70),Thomas Gray (1716-71),William Collins-59),William Cowper (1731-1800),George Crabbe (1754-1832),Robert Burns (1759-95), and William Blake (1757-1827) deviated from the neo-classic insistence on rules. However, Wordsworth is perhaps the only romantic poet who made his poetic experiences the locus of his critical discourse. Unlike Coleridge, he was not a theorist. Instead he unravelled before us the workings of the mind of the poet, and therefore, Wordsworth’s literary criticism ceases to be criticism in its most literal sense. It comes out as the matrix where the poet’s mind generates emotions and feelings with that much of intensity and passion required for transmitting them into poetic experience which forms the basis of poetic composition. From this perspective, Wordsworth’s Preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1800 can be seen as a poetic "manifesto," or “statement of revolutionary aims.”

1.1.1.The Romantic Revival

It is a fact that the French Revolution, the Napoleonic words and other social and political events did not initiate the Romantic Movement but enriched its content. The term romantic, however, first appeared in the mid seventeenth century English to describe what Chew and Altick called “the fabulous, the extravagant, the factious, and the unreal.” However, by the mid eighteenth century the term came to describe “pleasing” scenes and situation. What followed next was a prevalence of instincts and emotions over rationalism and common sense. It seems that the term romantic as a literary phenomenon was not perceived in the same vain and with the same degree of intensity in different contexts. This resulted in the use of the term to describe different tendencies at different times in different contexts. The same can be said of the term ‘romanticism’.It refers to a theory, a school of thought, and a matter of technique and so on.The poets and the writers not only sought to emancipate themselves from the fetters of neo-classical rules but also experimented with the old forms, revived some of them which went into the oblivion because the neo-classical writers considered them to be vulgar and undignified. In course of such experimentation with forms, revival of form or creations of new forms, following tendencies were noticed:
• The poet put more emphasis on imagination rather than intellect. They allowed free play of imagination in their poetry. Their free flights of fancy often led them to the strange, unfamiliar and the distant.
• The infatuation for the remote, the exotic and the mysterious enkindled in the romantic poets a love for the medieval. Just as the writers of the eighteenth century turned to classical writers for inspiration, the poets of the romantic revival turned to medieval age for inspiration. “The essential elements of the romantic spirit are curiosity and the love of beauty, and it is as the accidental effect of these qualities only, that it seeks the Middle Ages, because in the overcharged atmosphere of the Middle Ages there are unworked sources of romantic effect, of a strange beauty to be won by strong imagination out of things unlikely or remote.” (Pater, W…..)
• They gave free reign to their emotion and passion. They abhorred classical restraint and obsession with reason.
• Their preoccupation with imagination and emotions made their poetry primarily subjective. This was in contrast with the classical preference for objectivity in poetry. For them poetry was not genuine if it was not personal.
• Poetry became closer to everyday life of common man. The ‘poetic diction’ of the eighteenth century was rejected as artificial and unnatural.
• ”Return to nature” was their motto. They turned away from the artificial urban life and found refuge in the country life and nature. They worshipped nature. Love of nature for them meant love of mankind, humanism and a more world view that encompassed the idea of freedom and equality.

The following table presents the contrast between the neo-classic and the romantic: 
Romantic Neo-classical
Emphasis on Imagination Emphasis on Intellect
Free Play of Emotions and Passions Restraint and Obsession with Reason
Emphasis on Imagination Emphasis on Intellect
Free Play of Emotions and Passions Restraint and Obsession with Reason
Proximity to the everyday life of common man Remoteness or aloofness from everyday life
Inspiration sought from country life and nature Incidents from urban life prevailed
Primarily Subjective Primarily Objective
Turned to Medieval Age for inspiration Turned to Classical writers for inspiration
1.1.2 Impact of French Revolution

The Romantic Revival is the result of many forces. One of the significant forces that shaped Romantic Revival is the French Revolution (1789–1799). The French Revolution in its bottom line brought a violent end to feudal powers and monarchy and asserted the right and supremacy of the individual free will. The new philosophy of the rights of all men was expressed both in politics and literature. This led to the “Liberalism in Literature.” The political liberalism of French Revolution inspired the liberation, individuality and rejection of prescribed rules in the Romantic Literature. The Romantic poets were inspired by the ideals of equality, fraternity and liberty. They revolted against the tyranny of set formulas, rules and conventions. They asserted the dignity of individual spirit. This new form of philosophy became one of the main guidelines of a new school of Romantic poets, writers and philosophers. Romantic’s search for fresh subject, their belief in nature, their emphasis upon spontaneity and their belief that everyone has a right to express his own idea are the features of individualism which was the prime demand of French Revolution.

SLMsaq.gif Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(1) Choose the correct option:
(i) Romantics emphasized __________
(a) Intellect
(b) Rationality
(c) Imagination
(d) Genius
(ii) Romantic poets loved______
(a) Classicism
(b) Neo-classicism
(c) Medievalism
(d) Puritanism
(iii) Romanticism was a revolt against ________
(a) Puritanism
(b) Classical Rules
(c) Adherence to Neo-classical rules
(d) Intellect in poetry
(iv) Which one of the following is not a feature of Romantic poetry
(a) Subjectivity
(b) Love for nature
(c) Setting in distant location
(d) Humour and wit
(v) Wordsworth can be called the poet of _______
(a) Rhyme
(b) Love
(c) Valour
(d) Nature
(vi) Which one of the following is the reason why Romantics rejected the diction of 18th Century poets
(a) Flexibility
(b) Artificiality
(c) Unnaturalness
(d) Both artificiality and unnaturalness
(vii) Wordsworth is called the worshipper of ________.
(a) Nature
(b) God
(c) Woman
(d) Humanity
(viii) Which one of the following is a feature of Neo-classical poetry?
(a) Adherence to rules
(b) Love for nature
(c) Subjectivity
(d) Rampant in the use of conceits
(ix) Which one of the following is most prevalent in Wordsworth’s poetry?
(a) Urban life
(b) Rustic life
(c) Supernatural elements
(d) Love for woman
(x) Where did Romantic poets turn for their inspiration?
(a) Puritan age
(b) Classical age
(c) Medieval age
(d) Contemporary lives
(xi) Which is/ are the prime source/s that impacted upon the Romanticism?
(a) The American Revolution
(b) The French Revolution
(c) The Publication of Lyrical Ballads
(d) Both (b) and (c).

To check you answers, click

1.2 Preface to the Lyrical Ballad

1.2.1 The Genesis of the Lyrical Ballad

Wordsworth’s ‘Preface to the Lyrical Ballads’ underwent a number of revisions till it had its present form. The Lyrical Ballads was first published in 1798. Wordsworth came to add a short Advertisement to it. He added a more detailed ‘Preface’ to the second edition of the Lyrical Balladsin 1800. It was extended and modified in 1802 edition of the Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth aim in writing the ‘Preface’ was not to give an elaborate account of his theory of poetry or to make a systematic defense of his point-of-view. He wanted to introduce his poems with a prefatorial argument He added the ‘Preface’ because he felt that his poems were different in theme and style, and therefore, he should not present them without an introduction. It is a well observed phenomenon that every new poet struggles to carve a niche. That is what Wordsworth tried to do with the help of the ‘Preface’.

1.2.2 Aims of the Preface

• The primary object which Wordsworth proposed to propagate through the poems was to select incidents and situations from common life.
• The great innovation was to be in the language. The poetic diction of the eighteenth century, sought to substitute the selection of the language really used by men.The “Advertisement” included in the 1798 edition shows Wordsworth’s concern about the language of poetry. Wordsworth says that the poems in the volume are “experiments” since his chief aim is to see if the conversational language in use among the middle and lower classes of society can be employed expediently and fruitfully to write poems.

1.2.3 Definition of Poetry

Wordsworth’s Conception of Poetry: Passion and Reflection Wordsworth propounded his views on poetry, its nature and functions and the qualification of a true poet in his Preface. So far as the nature of poetry is concerned, Wordsworth is of the opinion that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Poetry has its origin in the internal feelings of the poet. It is a matter of passion, mood and temperament. Poetry cannot be produced by strictly adhering to the rules laid down by the Classicists. It must flow out naturally and smoothly from the soul of the poet. But it must be noted that good poetry, according to Wordsworth, is never an immediate expression of such powerful emotions. A good poet must ponder over them long and deeply. In the words of Wordsworth, “poetry has its origin in emotions recollected in tranquility.”

Process of Poetic Composition

There are four stages which play a very crucial role in converting an experience into a pleasing composition.
Stage One: Observation
First comesobservation or perception of some object, character or incident which sets up powerful emotions in the mind of the poet.
Stage Two: Recollection
Next comes the contemplation or recollection of that emotion in tranquility. It must be noted that at this stage memory comes into play and brings out what had been lying in the unconscious for days, months or years. A similar kind of incident triggers the poet to visit the past experiences stored in the unexplored regions of his mind.
Stage Three: Filtering
The third stage is that of filtering wherein the poet is purged of non-essential elements and thus makes his experience communicable to all men.
Stage Four: Composition
The fourth stage is when the actual composition begins. The poet seeks to convey his emotions through print and turns into a communicator. In the words of Wordsworth he becomes a man speaking to men. What is important to him is not just expressing his joy but sharing it with his readers. The Solitary Reaper by Wordsworth demonstrates this poetic process.

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?--
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;--
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

The Solitary Reaper, William Wordsworth

Feelings started overflowing spontaneously as the poet listened to the song of the Highland girl: “the Vale profound / Is overflowing with the sound.” Removed from the scene he started recollecting his experiences in tranquility and exhuming theme of the song and causes its joyousness. Slowly but gradually this state of mind disappears, and an emotion which is quite similar to the original is generated. It soon turns into feeling and starts resonating and he begins composing his poem with “the music” he feels in his heart “Long after it was heard no more” causes its joyousness.

SLMsaq.gif Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(2)Choose the right option:

(i) How many stages can be marked in poetic composition according to Wordsworth?
(a) Two'
(b) Three'
(c) Four'
(d) Five'
(ii) For Wordsworth , poetry is _________'
(a) Spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.'
(b) Emotions recollected in tranquility'
(c) Both (a) and (b)'
(d) None of them '

To check you answers, click

1.2.4 Concept of Imagination

In the neo-classical literary theory the human mind is regarded as the passive recorder of sense impressions. Imagination is thought to be a mode of memory which brings images from the memory and so represents sense objects not actually present. Secondly, the imagination is thought to be the power which originally links together different impressions to form images of things that do not exist in the sense. For example, the mythological characters are the products of imagination. Hence, the neo-classicists believe that Imagination is a combining power, not a creative one. On the other hand, the Romantics place Imagination to a higher position. For them it is a highly creative faculty. It just rearranges materials but also shapes, orders, modifies and colours sense objects with the minds own light. Imagination integrates different elements to generate a new reality. It’s a faculty that allows the mind to see beyond the material world.

1.2.5 Themes and Subject Matter

Any subject between heaven and earth can be treated poetically and the similar idea is noted by Wordsworth in 1798,

“It is the honourable characteristic of poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind.”

Wordsworth states that subjects are poetic and unpoetic in themselves. A slight incident of village life may be material for poetry, if the poet can make it meaningful. Thus Wordsworth extends the scope of poetry, by bringing within its folds themes chosen from humble and common life. Wordsworth’s aim was to choose incidents and situations from common life, to relate them in a selection of language really used by men. The reason that he gave was that the rustic people were close to nature and hence free from artificiality and vanity.

1.2.6 Function of Poetry

There are two schools of thought holding opposite views with regard to the function of Literature or Art in general. The view of the moralists is that the writer can and does influence the lives and characters of his readers; and therefore it should try to be a good influence. For them art is food or poison. This view is called ‘art for Life’s sake’. The view of the aesthetes is that the function of poetry is to give pleasure to its reader irrespective of the moral ideas. For them art is wine. Only its pleasure-value matters. Among the classicists, Plato hardly falls under the category of ‘Art for Art’ssake’ and believed that the art should be bound to the moral values. Dryden believes, “Delight is the chief, if not the only end of poesy”. Dr. Johnson remarks, “The end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or to endure it”. For most of the Romantics, life was sacred and valued it.For instance Shelly remarked: “Shakespeare, Dante and Milton are philosophers of the very loftiest power”. Keats, the worshipper of beauty, believes that the function of poetry is “that it should be a friend to soothe the cares, and lift the thoughts of men”. Wordsworth too favours the view of Arts for Life’s sake. He emphasized the didactic view of literature when he said, “I am nothing if not a teacher”. Poetry, in the words of Wordsworth, “is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge, the impassioned expression that is in the countenance of all science”. The analysis of this definition gives us the sense that the function of poetry is to ennoble the reader. It is like the torch that leads its readers on the dark path. Poetry is the moral guide that imparts moral lessons but in sugar-coated form so that the learning becomes implied and plausible. Wordsworth’s poems confirm here his own concept of the function of poetry. His poems are full of moral lessons, philosophical truths about life and religion packaged with delight. In Wordsworth’s own words: “… a poetry of revolt against the moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against life; A poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life”.

1.2.7 Diction of Poetry

The term diction refers to the kinds of words, phrases and sentence structures, and sometimes figurative language that constitute any work of literature. In the theory of poetry, the issue of diction tends to become primary because the feelings of the poet are most readily conceived to overflow into words, unlike into plot or characters. The poets in all ages have used a distinctive language, a “poetic diction” which is not correct in ordinary discourse. The neo-classical poetic diction was mainly derived from the classical poets such as Virgil, Spenser, Milton and was based on the principal of decorum. Moreover, prominent features of the eighteenth century poetic diction where archaism, preference for resounding words derived from Latin, a personification of inanimate objects and to avoid what were regarded as low, technical or common place terms by means of substitute phrase that was dignity and decorum. In William Wordsworth’s famed attack on the neo-classical doctrine of a special language for poetry,in his preface to 1800 Lyrical Ballads, he claimed: “There is no difference between language of poetry and language of prose.” He states that the poetic diction of eighteenth century writers as artificial and unnatural. Wordsworth’s prime concern is not only with the single word or the grammatical order of discourse, but with figurative departures from literary discourse. Wordsworth’s chief aim is to show that such deviations are reasonable in poetry only when they match with the imagery and idea which the poet wishes to universalize and that they have in the speech of everyday life. It is obvious that Wordsworth is contradicting Pope’s theory, who claims, “True wit is nature to advantage dressed and true expression consists in giving thoughts their just and appropriate ‘dress’ and ornament. To Wordsworth all such wit is fake, forced adjustment of words and phrase and rhetorical ornament to them stop ‘genuine’ poetry. Wordsworth rejects the idea of language as artificial and metres and figures of speech as embellishments of the language. He justifies its use only when they are naturally suggested by passion unlike ‘supposed ornaments.’In a nutshell, so the natural expression of feeling can not be communicated with the help of a version of the upper class speech, but with the actual speech of “humble and rustic life.”

SLMsaq.gif Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(3)Complete the following sentence by choosing the right option:

(i) For Wordsworth Imagination is_______
(a) Combining power
(b) Creative faculty
(c) Both (a) and (b)
(d) None of them
(iii) What, according to Wordsworth, should be the subject of poetry?
(a) Situation from everyday life
(b) Life of rural and rustic people
(c) Situation from urban life
(d) Both (a) and (b)
(iv) Why does Wordsworth consider rustic people suitable for the subject of poetry?
(a) Because they are close to nature
(b) Because they are free from vanity and artificiality
(c) Both (a) and (b)
(d) None of them
(v) What, according to Wordsworth, is a suitable language for poetry?
(a) Language of common man,
(b) Language of God
(c) Both (a) and (b)
(d) None of them
(vi) Who said, “Delight is the chief, if not the only end of poesy”?
(a) Dryden
(b) Shelley
(c) Keats
(d) Wordsworth
(vii) What according to Wordsworth is the prime function of poetry?
(a) To ennoble the reader
(b) To please the reader
(c) Both (a) and (b)
(d) None of them

To check you answers, click

1.3. Let’s sum up

M.H.Abrams once said, “The first critic of Wordsworth’s poetry is Wordsworth himself.” Wordsworth’s Preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads,which expresses the spirit of Romanticism in his words, is a critical document that puts stress on the relationship between poet and poetry rather than on the relationship between poetry and reader. He defines poetry in terms of the author’s creative activity. So, he discusses the idea of poetry after discussing the idea of poet. For him, a poet is affected more than others by imagining things not immediately present to his perceptions. The definition given by Wordsworth refers to this process of poetic composition emphasizing the roles played by memory and contemplation. Wordsworth, while defining poetry, goes beyond the Aristotelian concept of poetry as an imitation of an action. The Preface also contains his views on poetic diction. He attacks the hackneyed verbal conventions of eighteenth century poetry and opines that the conversational language should be used to compose poems.It would not be wrong to say that Wordsworth contradicts himself because at the stage of contemplation a poet chooses words very carefully, therefore it is not possible to use the language “really used by men.” In spite of such criticism, the ‘Preface’ remains one of the most significant critical documents in the history of English Criticism. It has been a source from which the next generation critics have derived ideas and exploited them to the fullest.

1.4 Video Resources and Reading List

(a) Short Video Lessons

1. Romanticism and Classicism | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads
2. Poetic Creed | Daffodils | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads
3. Poet | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads
4. Poetic Diction | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads
5. Summing UP | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads

(b) Reading List
Abrams, M. H., A Glossary of Literary Terms,Cengage Learning India Pvt. Ltd.,Akash Press., 2005, ISBN – 13: 978 – 81 – 315 – 0324 – 9, ISBN - 10: 81-315-0324-0, Print.

Abrams, M. H., The Mirror and the Lamp, romantic theory and the critical tradition, 1953, OUP, ISBN – 13 – 978 – 0 – 19 – 501471 – 6. Print.

Abrams, M. H. ed., Wordsworth: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1972. Print.

Cuddon, J. A., Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Penguin Books, 1977, ISBN – 0 – 140 – 51363 – 9. Print.

Hill, John Spencer,.The Romantic Imagination, A Selection of Critical Essays, 1977, The Macmillan Press Limited, ISBN – 0 333 21234 7 (hc), 0 33 21235 5 (pbk), Print.

Jones, Alun R., Tydeman, William., ed. Wordsworth: Lyrical Ballads, Macmillan Publication. 1984, Print.

Jovanovich, Harcourt Brace., Critical TheorySince Plato, ed. By Adams, Hazard, Uni. Of California, Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich Publisher, 1971, ISBN – 0 – 15 – 516142 – 3. Print.

Romanticism and Classicism | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Directed by Dilip Barad, Department of English, MKBU, 2012. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBiZALdl73E.

Poetic Creed | Daffodils | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Directed by Dilip Barad, Department of English, MKBU, 2012. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvCiqJ2L6Xw.

Poet | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Directed by Dilip Barad, Department of English, MKBU, 2012. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G4qbdTlAa0.

Poetic Diction | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Directed by Dilip Barad, Department of English, MKBU, 2012. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajxDUfFjHb0.

Summing UP | William Wordsworth | Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Directed by Dilip Barad, Department of English, MKBU, 2012. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQkL7ucOTvE.

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