William Wordsworth Poetry: British Analysis
When the volume of poetry called the Lyrical Ballads of 1798 was published in a second edition (1800), William Wordsworth wrote a prose preface for the book that is the single most important statement of Romantic ideology. It provides a useful introduction to his poetry.
Wordsworth’s preface to Lyrical Ballads displays the idea of primitivism as the basis of the Romantic position. Primitivism is the belief that there is some primary, intrinsically good “state of nature” from which adult, educated, civilized humankind has fallen into a false or wicked state of existence. When Jean-Jacques Rousseau began The Social Contract (1762) with the assertion that “Man was born free, and yet we see him everywhere in chains,” he concisely expressed the primitivist point of view. The American and French revolutions were both predicated on Romantic primitivism, the idea that humanity was once naturally free, but that corrupt kings, churches, and social customs held it enslaved. The Romantic typically sees rebellion and breaking free from false restraint to regain a state of nature as highly desirable; Wordsworth’s preface shows him deeply committed to this revolutionary ideology. He says that he is going to take the subjects of his poems from “humble and rustic life” because in that condition humankind is “less under restraint” and the “elementary feelings” of life exist in a state of...
(The entire section is 6751 words.)
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