Preface to Lyrical Ballads Summary

In the preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth explains his theory of poetry. He argues that literary tricks and devices such as personification make it difficult for writers and readers to speak simply and directly about their feelings. He hopes to combat this with his work.

  • Wordsworth outlines three principles guiding the composition of such lyrical ballads. First, the poetry must concern itself primarily with nature and life in the country.

  • Wordsworth's second reason for writing lyrical ballads is that they emphasize the status of poetry as a form of art. He intends to enlighten his readers as to the true depths of human emotion and experience.

  • Wordsworth argues that good poetry doesn't have to be overly complicated or ornamental in order to capture the reader's imagination. Clean, simple lines are best, in his opinion.

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The preface to Lyrical Ballads was written to explain the theory of poetry guiding Wordsworth’s composition of the poems. Wordsworth defends the unusual style and subjects of the poems (some of which are actually composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge) as experiments to see how far popular poetry could be used to convey profound feeling.

There are three general reasons guiding the composition of the lyrical ballads. The first is in the choice of subject matter, which is limited to experiences of common life in the country. There, people use a simple language and directly express deep feeling. Their habit of speaking comes from associating feelings with the permanent forms of nature, such as mountains, rivers, and clouds. The challenge for the poet is to make these ordinary experiences interesting to readers; in other words, the poems attempt to take ordinary subjects and treat them in extraordinary ways. Doing so would cause readers to recognize fundamental truths of universal human experience.

The second reason guiding his poems is Wordsworth’s goal of emphasizing the purpose of poetry as art. This purpose is not a moralistic one; indeed, poetry comes from a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” but it is disciplined by remembering those feelings in moods of peaceful meditation. The combination of feeling and meditation produces artful poetry with purpose. Specifically, the lyrical ballads have the purposes of...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Preface to Lyrical Ballads Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baker, Juliet. Wordsworth: A Life. London: Viking, 2000.

Gill, Simon, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Wordsworth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Hartman, Geoffrey H. Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964-1971.

Heffernan, James A. W. Wordsworth’s Theory of Poetry: The Transforming Imagination. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969.

Jarvis, Simon. Wordsworth’s Philosophic Song. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Johnston, Kenneth R. Wordsworth and “The Recluse.” New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.

Lindenberger, Herbert. On Wordsworth’s “Prelude.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Moorman, Mary. William Wordsworth: A Biography. 2 vols. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1965.

Onorato, Richard J. The Character of The Poet: Wordsworth in “The Prelude.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Perkins, David. Wordsworth and the Poetry of Sincerity. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1964.

Stillinger, Jack. Romantic Complexity: Keats, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Wordsworth, Jonathan. William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1982.