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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The first (1798) edition of Lyrical Ballads includes numerous "experiments" by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poems that are actually ballads contain specific characters, while other nature poems rarely do.

The Mariner and the Wedding Guest

The greatest contribution by Coleridge, and the longest poem in the volume, is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It has two primary characters: the Mariner himself and the Wedding Guest. The mariner, a sailor, had called down a curse onto his ship (which was sailing in the Pacific) by shooting an albatross. The other characters are his fellow sailors. The Wedding Guest is the person to whom the Mariner tells his sad story.

Goody Blake and Harry Gill

In the advertisement that appears at the beginning of the first edition, the authors refer to two characters drawn from "a well-authenticated fact which happened in Warwickshire"; these are Goody Blake and Harry Gill in the poem of that title. Harry is a man whose teeth chatter constantly, no matter how warmly he is dressed and even on a sunny day. Goody Blake is a poor, thin, old woman who sneaks onto Harry's property to steal firewood from a hedge growing there. When Harry catches her in the act and grabs her arm, she calls down onto him a curse that he never be warm, and from that day on he never is.

The Mad Mother

Another poem with a central character is "The Mad Mother." She speaks to the baby she is carrying in her arms as they make their way through the woods: "Sweet babe! they say that I am mad." She tells the baby not to fear, as she will guide him through the forest searching for his father, who has abandoned them.

Dorothy Wordsworth

Wordsworth's longest poem in the collection, "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," is not a ballad, and much of it does not include characters. In the last stanza, however, the poet addresses his sister, Dorothy: "May I behold in thee what I was once, / My dear, dear Sister!" He shares with her his hopes that she too can learn the lessons of nature that it has been his privilege to glean from his visits to this beatific place, and that she will remember him in association with them:

Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake.

Dorothy also appears as the addressee in "Lines Written at a Small Distance from My House."

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