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The phrase, made popular by the Preface to the collection of poems, refers to a new kind of ballad (spelled “ballade”), one that did not consist of “three stanzas with recurrent rhymes” (the traditional form of ballads, meant to be sung by balladeers, street and festival performers since the Middle Ages). Wordsworth and Coleridge proposed a new, freer form, still “musical” in their rhythms but with a distinct content, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquility.” This intent connected the narrator with Nature, as in “I wandered lonely as a cloud” or “Oft in the stilly night, ‘ere slumber’s chains have bound me,” and introduced a whole new, non-rational approach to poetry, different from the carefully formed poetry of the Age of Reason in form and content. Both “lyrical” and ballad” have since entered the language as metaphorical terms denoting any mild, musical, or reflective mood or action.
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