To comment on William Wordsworth’s evolution as a poet, especially in the context of The Prelude, one might begin by noting that The Prelude was an ongoing work that wasn’t published until after he died in 1850. Three months later, his wife, Mary, arranged for the publication of his long, autobiographical poem.
In 1798, Wordsworth began to work on The Prelude. While Wordsworth was composing his other poems, he was also simultaneously creating The Prelude. This makes the evolution narrative a tad trickier. For instance, as Wordsworth was writing short lyric poems like “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (1802), he was also, in theory, contributing to The Prelude.
This comparison is complicated by the concept of creative power, which is to some extent subjective. With that being said, in comparing The Prelude to his other poems, one could discuss elements like form. Wordsworth's early lyric poems are often formally intricate, in many cases involving rhyme schemes, whereas The Prelude features long, irregular stanzas of blank verse. Some critics and readers could find the early poems' rhymes contrived and limiting, and these readers and critics could favor the informality of The Prelude.
Critics and readers could also find themselves partial to The Prelude due to its deeply personal nature and its scope. The Prelude could be described as his memoir, albeit in poetic form. The poem addresses Wordsworth's childhood, his personal relationships, his time in revolutionary France, and other important events. Given the immense difference in scope and subject matter, it might be unfair to compare his other, individual poems to an extended, life-long work like The Prelude.
However, it’s possible to argue that the formalism of his previous poems and their emphasis on less personal matters make them more estimable. It is worth noting here that Wordsworth's reputation—particularly his reputation among the general reading public—rests largely on the merits of his lyrics poems rather than The Prelude. This is partially due to the frequent anthologization of his lyrics, though some critics argue that they represent his best work as well.