Preface to Lyrical Ballads Questions and Answers
by William Wordsworth

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How does Wordsworth describe the language he claims to have selected for his poems? 

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Wordsworth explicitly sets out to write verse in the kind of language used by ordinary people. This was a radical departure from the prevailing Neo-Classical orthodoxy, which held that poetry should be written in elevated language, in keeping with the classical models of verse it sought to emulate.

For Wordsworth, as with the Romantics in general, humankind was conceived of as an organic whole linked together by emotion. In writing poetry he sought to excite that emotion, making his work more truly universal than that of the Neo-Classicists, whose taste for universality was reflected in Platonic ideals that could only be grasped by an educated elite.

What's more, Wordsworth sets out his intention to write about the lives of ordinary people themselves. Once again, this represented a radical break with the Neo-Classicists, who thought such people unworthy subjects of what they considered an elevated art from dealing with universal truth, goodness, and beauty. As far as they were concerned, the lives of the poor, the ordinary country folk such as Wordsworth's leech-gatherer, could tell the discerning reader nothing about what was, in the Platonic sense, ultimately real.

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Wordsworth claims that modern poets have lost sight of what should be the real purpose of all poetry. He thinks that poetry ought to excite the emotions and the imaginations of readers, and that it should convey the profound sentiments that can be seen in everyday life, especially in nature. By focusing on elaborate techniques, obscure allusions, and double entendres, modern poets have obscured these emotions in the interest of showing off their own learning and ability. He thus tells his readers that the poems in Lyrical Ballads, written by himself and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, will be written in language that would be accessible to ordinary people:

The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to chuse [sic] incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men...

In short, poetry needed to be stripped down to its essentials in order to have the greatest effect. The poems in Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth said, would do just that.

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