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Please analyse Wordsworth's definition of poetry from his Preface to the "Lyrical Ballads." "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As Coleridge and Wordsworth met and walked the countryside together in the late 1790s, they talked excitedly about the theory and meaning of poetry. Both had been political radicals, but with the French Revolution having gone bad and the French and the English heading towards war, the two men turned from radicalism to the importance of a way of living and writing that gave primacy to the emotions. 

Wordsworth, especially, had been shattered by his experiences in France during the revolution, but he still, as he expressed later in his autobiographical poem The Prelude, wanted to stand up for the common man. He thought he could do this by capturing emotional moments that depicted the simple working person in a positive, sympathetic light.

In the preface, Wordsworth famously described the goal of this new kind of poetry, a radical break from the measured, rational Neoclassical poetry of the 18th century in which emotions were downplayed. He wanted, as this quote expresses, to capture the intensity of emotions. But he didn't want his poems simply to be an embarrassing gush of raw feelings: he wanted to express the emotions from a place of tranquility or calm, to ponder them and then recreate them from a distance. Thus, his poems, such as "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" or "The Solitary Reaper" often end with the narrator happily recollecting the deep emotions the poem describes. 


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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This often quoted sentiment from Wordsworth speaks directly to both his beliefs as a poet and a thinker of Romanticism.  The quote speaks to how Wordsworth feels poetry is to be created.  In stark contrast to the Neoclassical period which preceded Romanticism and was driven by wit and a sense of the intellectual, Wordsworth believes poetry as something to be created from the realm of the subjective.  The idea of a "spontaneous overflow" drives home the notion of the affect in both poetry and the creation of it.  While the mind does possess a role in this state of being, the artist must be in a synchronized mode with their consciousness from an affect point of view.  This is enhanced with the idea of recalling this emotional state from a point of recollection in tranquility, implying that the poet or artist cannot engage in this profess of reflection and rumination from a position in traditional and conformist society.

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kausik911 | Student

First, some experience triggers a transcendent moment, an instance of the sublime. The senses are overwhelmed by this experience; the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" leaves an individual incapable of articulating the true nature and beauty of the event. It is only when this emotion is "recollected in tranquility" that the poet can assemble words to do the instance justice. It is necessary for the poet to have a certain personal distance from the event or experience being described that he can compose a poem that conveys to the reader the same experience of sublimity. With this distance the poet can reconstruct the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" the experience caused within himself.