“Michael” (from the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads) and “The Ruined Cottage (originally composed at about the same time as Lyrical Ballads was planned and composed) share some common...

“Michael” (from the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads) and “The Ruined Cottage (originally composed at about the same time as Lyrical Ballads was planned and composed) share some common themes and techniques with earlier poems.  What are some of the ways in which these poems differ from Wordsworth’s earlier poetry?  Choose just one poem to focus upon.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In terms of technique, Wordsworth's poems "Michael," "The Ruined Cottage" (aka "The Excursion"), as well as others such as "The Prelude" are written in blank verse. In this way, Wordsworth was closer to his program (established in the preface to Lyrical Ballads) of making poetry that more closely resembled common speech. Given that his subjects were to be common people, he wished to create a new poetry that would be poetic but reflect the simple speech of the common people. This was only partially successful, as his poetry was still poetic and in dramatic style at times. But still, the use of blank verse did break from the structure and poetic use of rhyme, sometimes meter as well. In contrast, some of his earlier poems used rhyme and therefore sounded more traditional, more poetic than say "Michael" which is a poem that can be read like a story: like a prose poem. 

"Michael" and "The Ruined Cottage" have similar settings and themes. Among these are abandoned rural dwellings, the solitude of nature, the individual's relationship with nature, and the life of the rural/pastoral family. Nature plays a large role in most of Wordsworth's poetry so there are similarities along the subject of Nature in his earlier and later works. It is therefore easier to show similarities in terms of content than it is to show differences.

However, taking a look at an earlier poem like "Lines Written While Sailing in a Boat at Evening" (written 1789), we see a traditional rhyme and meter. The common theme of the ephemeral beauty of Nature and passing time is similar to that of his later poems. But he does refer to himself as "Bard" and this draws attention to the poet rather than to the subjects of the poem. This also sounds more Shakespearean, not just because the term "Bard" is used, but because Shakespeare wrote about the poet's ability to immortalize beauty with the poem itself. Perhaps, Wordsworth, having read Shakespeare, was channeling this idea of the poet as having the power to immortalize ephemeral beauty. Later, Wordsworth would mourn the passage of time and this mourning would be a prominent theme.

In his later poems, ("Michael," "The Ruined Cottage") Wordsworth focuses more on the subjects and their interaction of nature. This being said, Wordsworth does come back to himself as poet but he, the poet, is a subject in the poem: most notably in "Tintern Abbey" and "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"). Even in these cases, the poems focus more on the subjects in the poem (even if the poet is the subject). But because of the style and reference to "Bard" in this earlier poem, the focus was more on the poet himself. Also, in "Remembrance of Collins" (1789), Wordsworth makes reference to poetry, to poets: "Oh Thames! that other bards may see / As lovely visions by thy side." In these earlier poems, Wordsworth talks about poets; in these later poems, he does not draw much attention to poets. Instead, he draws more attention to the subjects of/in the poem, thereby focusing more on the project stated in the preface to Lyrical Ballads. 

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