Wordsworth's preface to Lyrical Ballads is one of the major theoretical position papers of the Romantic movement. What is Wordsworth's purpose?
Wordsworth viewed Lyrical Ballads (a collection of poems by Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) as a manifesto for a new style of poetry. His preface, which has become at least as famous as the poems itself, laid out his agenda. Fundamentally, Wordsworth claimed that poetry ought to be authentic. He thought that eighteenth century poets had come to focus more on tricks of poetic diction, with the result being that their poetry no longer spoke to the human experience. So Wordsworth argued that poetry should be written in simple language that people actually used, which conveyed more depth of meaning than the artifice of poets:
...such a language...is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves and their art, in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own creation.
Furthermore, poetry should address everyday themes, ones found in nature. With quiet reflection, Wordsworth argued, beauty and sublimity could be found even in ordinary life. It was not so much that poetry should be stripped of its intellectual weight, but that the energy and attention of the poet ought to be turned to finding beauty and the "primary laws of our nature," which were best understood through examples from daily life, expressed in everyday language.