What is so 'Romantic' about Wordsworth's poetry?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When we are examining why Wordsworth is deemed as so "Romantic," it should be noted that this refers to the idea of being a force in Romanticism, and not the conventional notion of being a "Romantic."  For Wordsworth, the vaulting of subjective experience and personal emotions as helping to define the essence of human consciousness is what helps to make Wordsworth so much a "Romantic."  There is little else in his framework that helps to define success or the purposeful existence.  The subjective experience and the emotions that accompany it are of vital importance.  This is what helps to define individuals.  In all of his poetry, there is a rejection of anything that does not place primacy on subjective experience and individual emotions in hoping to convey the idea that poetry is "the spontaneous overflow of emotions."

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In 1798 Wordsworth and Coleridge published their "Lyrical Ballads" which heralded the Romantic Movement in English Literature. In his "Preface" to the "Lyrical Ballads" Wordsworth has explained and elaborated his theory of  'Romantic' poetry thus:

"The principal object, then, proposed 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 language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; 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 far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement."

These ideas can be best explained with reference to his famously anthologized lyric "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":

The daffodil is a common flowering plant found growing abundantly in England. Once, Wordsworth and his sister came across a long belt of these beautiflul plants in full bloom when they had gone out for a walk on 15th Aril 1802. Wordsworth later  wrote this  poem in 1804 and first published it in 1807.

Wordsworth in the same  "Preface" to the "Lyrical Ballads" later remarks that,

"I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind."

Both these quotes clearly reveal the poetic qualities inherent in "I Wander'd Lonely as a Cloud."

1. The daffodil is a "common" flower."

2. The laguage used in the poem is very simple, there is nothing of 'poetic diction.'

3. However, the simple language is used very creatively and imaginatively by Wordsworth to cast a magical spell over the entire poem which makes the ordinary daffodills to appear very extradoridnarly beautiful.

4. The poem describes very vividly Wodsworth's spontaneous joy in seeing the daffodils, "A poet could not but be gay/In such a jocund company."

5. The last stanza of the poem, clearly reveals how "emotion recollected in tranquillity," regenerates the same emotion he experienced when he first saw the daffaodils.


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