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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In the late eighteenth century, the English poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth agreed to collaborate in producing a volume of poems. The men shared affinities in terms of their commitment to poetry, the themes they believed it should address, and their sense of its place in modern life. Their styles and subjects, however, had numerous marked differences that clearly emerge in the individual works. Their goals are laid out in the preface that Wordsworth wrote to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads.

Central to their ambition was the conviction that poetry could play an important role in the life of the common man. The elegant, stilted language that poets generally used before this point reinforced an appearance of elitism, which both men objected to. Instead, they aimed to write in everyday, accessible language. As Wordsworth wrote in the preface to the second edition, "My purpose was to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men."

Both Coleridge and Wordsworth were interested in the power of poetry to transport the reader to a higher plane of awareness. This objective could best be accomplished by providing the reader with apparent connections to the best qualities of the world around them—qualities abundantly found in nature. From the natural, humans would connect to the supernatural; by this, they meant that appreciating the material world provided the path to comprehending the spiritual world. No aspect of life was too rude or humble to be significant; the experiences and emotions of a farmhand were as worthy of notice as that of a god or king.

In practice, Coleridge tends toward supernatural themes and Wordsworth is more concerned with the natural world; they had planned to orient their contributions along those lines. Lyrical Ballads leans heavily toward nature in part because Wordsworth wrote the vast majority of the poems, including all of those added to the second edition.

Several selections from the collection are often considered among the finest poems in the English language and hold lasting fame as quintessential examples of English Romanticism. One of Coleridge's most notable contributions is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which one man's violation of the laws of nature has dire consequences and leads to his spiritual awakening. Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" perfectly encapsulates his attitude toward the powers of nature, which lifts "the heavy and the weary weight / Of all this unintelligible world" and provides the "deep power of joy" that enables humans to "see into the life of things."

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