What are the main features of Wordsworth's "The Preface" to Lyrical Ballads?

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

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I think that one of the main features of Wordsworth's Preface is to outline his fundamental beliefs about the nature and construction of poetry.  This consists of analyzing three distinct features to poetic construction that he believes lies at the essence of the Romantic credo.  The subject matter of poetry is one of these features.  Wordsworth suggests that the idea of country life, simplicity in nature, is of vital importance.  It is here where poetry must emphasize its power.  In doing so, Wordsworth believes that poetry speaks to the basic idea of expressing the joy in living, reveling in what is seen every day.  In this, Wordsworth outlines the feature of emotional connection that is a part of the poetic experience.  The belief of poetry being the "spontaneous overflow of emotion" is of critical importance.  Poetry has to be seen as a mode of expression where the emotion of the poet guides the exploration and articulation of the subject matter.  In both of these, Wordsworth feels that poetry will be able to capture the imagination of the reader.  This becomes the third feature of the Preface, suggesting quite clearly that there is an emotional and thoughtful experience within poetry that is meant to unify both realms.  Poetry is the source of unity in a world of fragmentation and division, accomplishing one of the central tenets of Romanticism.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth outlines his main ideas about the nature of poetry and defends his own poetic practices. 

He argues for a poetry grounded in nature and in the lives of ordinary people, especially the peasants, shepherds, and farmers living in rural areas. Unlike the pastoral, Wordsworth's version of the countryside claims to be grounded in the real lives of rural people rather than being an idealized rural backdrop to mythological or courtly tales. 

He argues for the importance of ordinary experience and of finding the sublime in moments of ordinary time rather than in the unusual or extraordinary. He also believes in using ordinary language, grounded in regular speech rather than relying on exotic vocabulary and ornate figures of speech. He emphases the importance of feeling over ideas. He does not, however, reject the literary tradition but rather sees himself as returning to its roots in the common human experience and helping people reconnect with emotions and the ordinary beauties and moments of joy we experience. 

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