William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads first appeared in 1798 and was expanded in 1800. The 1800 edition includes new poems and Wordsworth’s now-famous “Preface.” Lyrical Ballads contains some of the early treatments of subjects and themes by Wordsworth and Coleridge that would occupy the bulk of each poet’s oeuvre. These subjects and themes include the relationship between humanity and nature, the psychology of the human heart, the fascination with the supernatural, and the sympathetic presentation of the plight of old hunters, insane mothers, and the victims of England’s various wars abroad.
Lyrical Ballads, especially the 1798 version, has long been regarded as a major influence on the poetry of the Romantic period in England. Many consider its influence to have been not unlike that of Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calendar (1579) on Elizabethan poetry or T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, and Other Observations (1917) on modern poetry. The 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads contains twenty-three poems, most famous among them Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s only major contribution to the volume, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Both poems explore one man’s difficult attempts to understand who he is in relation to the natural world. Other well-known poems from 1798 are lyrical ballads: “Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman,” “The Thorn,” “Goody Blake and Harry Gill,” and “The Idiot Boy.” Poems that are not lyrical ballads include “Tintern Abbey,” “Expostulation and Reply,” and “The Tables Turned.”
The second volume of Lyrical Ballads (1800) comprises new poems—almost all of them by Wordsworth—while the first volume essentially reprints the poems of 1798. Among the well-known works in the second volume is Wordsworth’s great pastoral poem “Michael.” The volume also includes the enigmatic Lucy poems as well as “Hart-Leap Well,” “The Brothers,” “There Was a Boy,” “Nutting,” and “The Old Cumberland Beggar.”
Initially, Lyrical Ballads was seen as a welcome break from eighteenth century poetry, which—dominated by class bias and the concept of poetic diction—was far removed from the language of everyday speech. However, in the 1950’s, examinations of English poetry published in the 1790’s revealed that, in terms of language and subjects, Lyrical Ballads was hardly groundbreaking. Later analyses argued that the collection was a reaction, but not against the poetry of the earlier eighteenth century; the collection was a reaction against the poetry written in the latter half of the eighteenth century—the poetry produced in what is now known as the age of sensibility. The originality of Lyrical Ballads is now believed to...
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