Preface to Lyrical Ballads

by William Wordsworth

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Discuss Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads".

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Wordsworth wants the diction used in poetry to match the diction people use in their actual lives. He says that, in the volume which follows this preface, the reader will but rarely find abstract ideas personified because he wishes to do nothing to "elevate the style" of the poetry or to "raise it above prose." Wordsworth finds great value in common language that anyone can use and understand. He writes, "My purpose was to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men [...]." Moreover, he wants "to keep the Reader in the company of flesh and blood [...]." So we see that he will not use poetic diction, but, rather, he will use the language that people use to speak every day. The diction will be conversational, not elevated, and, in this way, he hopes to reach wider audiences with his work, to inspire greater numbers of people with it (and not just those individuals who have received educations which permit them to understand the loftier expressions used by other poets). He admits that he does sometimes use figurative language, but Wordsworth strives to keep his poems accessible to the average person through their diction.

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Essentially, Wordsworth denied that there should be such a thing as a diction specific to poetry. He thought that artifical poetic diction used by many writers obscured the sentiment and feeling that ought to be the focus of poetry. Rather than ornate, basically ornamental language, Wordsworth thought the diction of prose and the diction of poetry should be the same:

It may be safely affirmed, that there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.

Wordsworth went even further, asserting that poetry ought to be written in the "language really spoken by men," which would accentuate the emotive power of the works by giving them more authenticity. In short, he hoped to strip away what he saw as the pretensions and stuffiness of poetry as it had been written by his predecessors, and his views on diction were central to this project.

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