Name and discuss the features of Romantic poets and poetry which William Wordsworth asserts in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Much of the basis of Romanticism is brought out in Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads.  For example, when Wordsworth argues that poetry must "choose incidents and situations from common life," this can go very far in being seen in his own work.  In "The Solitary Reaper," the subject is a woman working in a field.  This is rather common and is a real life situation from which universal truths and artistic imagination are explored.  Wordsworth also demands that the language used is one "used by men."  This helps to bring out the idea that the articulation of such experiences is done so in a manner that can be approachable by anyone.  In Byron's "When We Two Parted," the subject of a breakup is done in direct and clear language, lacking any feeling of antiquated English, and rather embracing what individuals articulate and experience in a pure form.  When the strict adherence to "coloring of imagination" is invoked, I tend to think of Colerdige's "Kubla Khan," which explores the supernatural and the realm that lies outside of mortal consciousness.  It is through language that Coleridge accomplishes such a movement of the reader to a world that is "different."  The final demand of a tracing of one's consciousness in these situations in an "interesting" manner can be seen in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."  In this poem, the truths of beauty, truth, and one's place within both domains is evoked in such a manner that there are far more questions than answers.  Naturally, one can find different poems to fit the features asserted in the Preface, but in my mind, these poems stand out as embodying what Wordsworth was seeking to evoke in poetry.

In Blake's poem, I think that these principles are also evident.  The subject matter of a chimney sweep is one that is common and not something that has to be sought.  The fact that Blake chose this subject matter would be concurrent with the idea that poetry is in the life of the day to day.  The language used to explore both the contrast of the boy's reality and his dreams is also one that can be appropriated by the reader, and there is little in terms of reaching for language outside the grasp of the individual that is present.  The "coloring of imagination" is present in the middle stanzas, when the chimney sweep envisions a life that it outside of their own, an existence that is in contrast to what is.  In this, Blake ends up using both his own and the reader's imagination to bring out what can be in harsh contrast to what is, which is the last stanza's darkness.  Finally, in presenting "difference" through poetry, one can only examine how children find their own youths robbed due to material or social reality.  When Romanticism seeks to bring out childhood in all, what is there to be said when children are denied their own entitlement of childhood?

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