Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The preface to Lyrical Ballads was written to explain the theory of poetry guiding Wordsworth’s composition of the poems. Wordsworth defends the unusual style and subjects of the poems (some of which are actually composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge) as experiments to see how far popular poetry could be used to convey profound feeling.
There are three general reasons guiding the composition of the lyrical ballads. The first is in the choice of subject matter, which is limited to experiences of common life in the country. There, people use a simple language and directly express deep feeling. Their habit of speaking comes from associating feelings with the permanent forms of nature, such as mountains, rivers, and clouds. The challenge for the poet is to make these ordinary experiences interesting to readers; in other words, the poems attempt to take ordinary subjects and treat them in extraordinary ways. Doing so would cause readers to recognize fundamental truths of universal human experience.
The second reason guiding his poems is Wordsworth’s goal of emphasizing the purpose of poetry as art. This purpose is not a moralistic one; indeed, poetry comes from a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” but it is disciplined by remembering those feelings in moods of peaceful meditation. The combination of feeling and meditation produces artful poetry with purpose. Specifically, the lyrical ballads have the purposes of...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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