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William Wordsworth was one of the great English Romantic poets (late eighteenth century and early nineteenth) unlike the neo-classical poets (such as Alexander Pope 1688-1744) that preceeded his era for whom rational, formal and conventional subject matter was the order of the day.
English neoclassical writers were mostly untrustingof passion and its unpredictable behaviour.
For Pope, it is necessary to exercise the restraint of reason over passion for people to be morally good. “Restraint” is good; “passion” bad.
Wordsworth was a huge fan of nature and
abstract ideals – imagination in preference to reason, emotion rather that logic and insight over explanations –
which gave this more modern poetry a freer style.
Many of his poems had an almost lyrical quality and some could be defined as lyrics, such as I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (Daffodils)
He was influenced and worked side by side with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and they in turn were influenced by
the philosophies of Kant, Schelling Rousseau and Godwin
and the associational psychology of Locke, Hartley and Hume.
Wordsworth understood that humble life
displays “the primary laws of our nature; chiefly, as far as the manner in which we associate ideas.”
Wordsworth’s poetry moves furtheraway from the traditional neoclassical writers who
valued restraint and discipline
towards a more individual style intrinsicely linked to nature. It was almost unheard of to write about the working classes, 'average' people - who would aspire to that? - and the natural order. Wordsworth, also influence by the French Revolution, therefore helped
to define the attitudes that fostered the spread of democracy, of more humane treatment of the downtrodden, and of respect for nature.
In an effort to introduce his own style Tintern Abbey is composed in blank verse
- unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter It is fluid and natural and uses meter loosely whilst still having regard for it.
Romantic ideology which Wordsworth so appreciated, underlies much of the contemporary environmentalist movement:
the feeling that humans ought to be in harmony with their environment, that nature is beneficent, that people ought to live simply so that the essential part of their human nature may conform to the grand pattern of nature balanced in the whole universe.
The restorative power of Romantic poetry was highlighted by John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography (1873),
and the capacity of Wordsworth to relieve the sterility of a too “scientific” orientation.
The eNotes study guide are a necessary tool in the understanding of this critical period and its differences with a more traditional approach.
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