Preface to Lyrical Ballads Questions and Answers
by William Wordsworth

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Define what poetry means to Wordsworth. This poet may have certain assumptions about poetry, especially the role of imagination in creating poetry; but the main aspect is to focus on the meaning of poetry for this writer. The definition should come from Wordsworth's "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads.

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In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth labors over the meaning behind poetry and how it relates to humanity at large. He believes that it is intrinsic in poetry to exclude some individuals who have no concept of the experience being described but also that poetry is an art form that takes the intangible thoughts and musings of an author and brings them to life while overlaying them with a sense of imagination and whimsy.

It seems that Wordsworth's own ideas about poetry involve the human experience, and he contemplates this in the preface—discussing how difficult it is to take something from his own mind and put it down in simple language, knowing that it may not be accurately transcribed, and furthermore that it may be even less accurately interpreted and accepted. Nevertheless, he proclaims that the merits of poetry lie in its fanciful and artistic representation of the human mind and shared experience. Poetry, to him, was an encapsulation of life and imagination: beautifying and describing it all at the same time.

In the preface, he discusses poets of old and how they would have each used various different forms of imagery—that Shakespeare and Lucretius are essentially incomparable because of the different human experiences they could not possibly have shared. To Wordsworth, poetry is about the self—the inner workings of one's mind and a person's musings on life itself. He takes the idea of an event or a scene that someone has observed and describes the attempt of poetry to paint a picture with words that describes that event.

However, in his mind, poetry is not only meant to describe an image—like a realistic painting—but to illuminate it: throwing imagination on top of real events and experiences, highlighting what an individual cares for most. In that way, common experiences become deeply personal, and poetry becomes a look into the poet's soul. Because of this, poems can alienate those who do not hold the same views. However, for those who do hold these experiences common, it ties them all the more firmly together.

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