Preface to Lyrical Ballads

by William Wordsworth

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Wordsworth's views on poetry, diction, and language in the "Preface to Lyrical Ballads."

Summary:

Wordsworth's views in the "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" emphasize poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. He advocates for the use of everyday language and simple diction, believing that poetry should be accessible to all. Wordsworth criticizes overly ornate language and argues that true poetry arises from the ordinary experiences of common people.

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

Wordsworth's "Preface" represents a radical break with eighteenth century neoclassical poetry. Such poetry emphasized the deeds of great men and allusions to works of classical antiquity. Instead of that, Wordsworth proposed that poetry focus on depicting the ordinary person—poor, obscure, and laboring—in the most positive light possible (in other words, it should "romanticize" such individuals). While commonplace today, the idea of exalting the everyday person, usually either ignored or represented as a "clown" in literature, was then an unusual concept.

Wordsworth, in his "Preface," also argued in favor of using simple language that would be easily accessible to all people. He conceived of the poet in Miltonic terms, as a person conveying the ways of God to men. Wordsworth envisioned the poet as a type of priest, an intermediary with a special gift of translating or interpreting the divine. This led him to an emphasis on nature, which Wordsworth felt was an expression of the divine force made manifest, and an emphasis on supernatural and folk tales, not much represented at the time in poetry.

The "Preface" also emphasized the importance of the lyrical or emotional. Instead of poems celebrating great events, poetry, in Wordsworth's mind, should primarily be a matter of conveying emotions. He famously said that poetry is:

the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.

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

Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads has been called a manifesto of Romanticism. It thoroughly expounds many of the features and precepts of Romantic verse. These include the following major points:

There is a focus on the everyday, in terms of people and incidents, and the use of common language. Wordsworth says that it was his principal object to "choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men." He goes on to say that he prefers humble or rustic subjects because in such settings "the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity."

Wordsworth spends some time talking about the nature and character of the Poet (a word he routinely capitalizes). He describes the Poet as "a man talking to men" but says he has certain special gifts and abilities—"a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul" than most men. He compares the Poet's art and specialized knowledge with that of lawyers, scientists, and other specialists. While he admits that some of a Poet's art is dependent on technical skill, this is a necessary rather than sufficient condition.

Wordsworth defends poetry, writes of the pleasure of meter, and explains his own decision to write in this particular genre. He offers his own celebrated definition of poetry: "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity."

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

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

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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Name and discuss the features of Romantic poets and poetry which William Wordsworth asserts in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

Much of the basis of Romanticism is brought out in Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads.  For example, when Wordsworth argues that poetry must "choose incidents and situations from common life," this can go very far in being seen in his own work.  In "The Solitary Reaper," the subject is a woman working in a field.  This is rather common and is a real life situation from which universal truths and artistic imagination are explored.  Wordsworth also demands that the language used is one "used by men."  This helps to bring out the idea that the articulation of such experiences is done so in a manner that can be approachable by anyone.  In Byron's "When We Two Parted," the subject of a breakup is done in direct and clear language, lacking any feeling of antiquated English, and rather embracing what individuals articulate and experience in a pure form.  When the strict adherence to "coloring of imagination" is invoked, I tend to think of Colerdige's "Kubla Khan," which explores the supernatural and the realm that lies outside of mortal consciousness.  It is through language that Coleridge accomplishes such a movement of the reader to a world that is "different."  The final demand of a tracing of one's consciousness in these situations in an "interesting" manner can be seen in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."  In this poem, the truths of beauty, truth, and one's place within both domains is evoked in such a manner that there are far more questions than answers.  Naturally, one can find different poems to fit the features asserted in the Preface, but in my mind, these poems stand out as embodying what Wordsworth was seeking to evoke in poetry.

In Blake's poem, I think that these principles are also evident.  The subject matter of a chimney sweep is one that is common and not something that has to be sought.  The fact that Blake chose this subject matter would be concurrent with the idea that poetry is in the life of the day to day.  The language used to explore both the contrast of the boy's reality and his dreams is also one that can be appropriated by the reader, and there is little in terms of reaching for language outside the grasp of the individual that is present.  The "coloring of imagination" is present in the middle stanzas, when the chimney sweep envisions a life that it outside of their own, an existence that is in contrast to what is.  In this, Blake ends up using both his own and the reader's imagination to bring out what can be in harsh contrast to what is, which is the last stanza's darkness.  Finally, in presenting "difference" through poetry, one can only examine how children find their own youths robbed due to material or social reality.  When Romanticism seeks to bring out childhood in all, what is there to be said when children are denied their own entitlement of childhood?

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What are Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

Wordsworth wants the diction used in poetry to match the diction people use in their actual lives. He says that, in the volume which follows this preface, the reader will but rarely find abstract ideas personified because he wishes to do nothing to "elevate the style" of the poetry or to "raise it above prose." Wordsworth finds great value in common language that anyone can use and understand. He writes, "My purpose was to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men [...]." Moreover, he wants "to keep the Reader in the company of flesh and blood [...]." So we see that he will not use poetic diction, but, rather, he will use the language that people use to speak every day. The diction will be conversational, not elevated, and, in this way, he hopes to reach wider audiences with his work, to inspire greater numbers of people with it (and not just those individuals who have received educations which permit them to understand the loftier expressions used by other poets). He admits that he does sometimes use figurative language, but Wordsworth strives to keep his poems accessible to the average person through their diction.

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What are Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

Essentially, Wordsworth denied that there should be such a thing as a diction specific to poetry. He thought that artifical poetic diction used by many writers obscured the sentiment and feeling that ought to be the focus of poetry. Rather than ornate, basically ornamental language, Wordsworth thought the diction of prose and the diction of poetry should be the same:

It may be safely affirmed, that there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.

Wordsworth went even further, asserting that poetry ought to be written in the "language really spoken by men," which would accentuate the emotive power of the works by giving them more authenticity. In short, he hoped to strip away what he saw as the pretensions and stuffiness of poetry as it had been written by his predecessors, and his views on diction were central to this project.

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What are Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

Wordsworth believed that the proper subject of poetry was "situations from common life," and that poetic language should resemble the language that was "really used by men." His purpose as a poet, therefor, was to present these common situations in an imaginative way, "tracing in them . . . the primary laws of our nature" and to:

follow the fluxes and reflexes of the mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature.

Much of the preface is given over to a defense of these precepts, arguing that the cleverness most readers associate with poetic style is in fact unpoetic and "unnecessary" and that the poet should strive to exclude all but that language which the subject "naturally suggests."

His famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . recollected in tranquility" suggests that the role of the poet is to serve as a kind of conduit for expressing these emotions.

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What are Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads was a manifesto for a new approach to poetry. Arguing that the expression of "essential passions" ought to be the goal of poetry, he sought to do so by choosing subject matter from everyday life, particularly in nature. He thought that country people expressed themselves more plainly, and without artifice, and so he proposed to make their experiences the subject of his poetry. Power and beauty could be found in everyday life if it was subjected to contemplation, and to do so in a more authentic way, he claimed that poets had to use everyday language and diction, not the artificial devices that were employed by many of his predecessors:

...such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, 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...

The point was not necessarily that poetry should be written for "common people," or that its language should be watered down in order to gain broader appeal. It was that powerful emotions were present in everyday life, and that the composition of authentic poetry ought to focus on these emotions rather than classical themes or the use of arcane literary devices to show off the poet's learning and skill. 

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Discuss Wordsworth’s theory of poetry as propounded by him in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads Preface is probably one of the most frequently cited works in the history of English literature. In it, he seeks to establish new principles for evaluating and writing poetry and for judging the aesthetic value of poetic works.

I would single out two central points in Wordsworth's essay as the basis of his overall thesis. First, he says, there must be something significant in the content of poetry for it to be of value, regardless of the actual words used. He quotes a well-known quatrain by Samuel Johnson as an example of poetry by a great writer which is worthless because the "matter" of it, the substance, is meaningless:

I put my hat upon my head
And walked into the Strand,
And there I met another man
Whose hat was in his hand.

I might add, as my own personal view, that Wordsworth is giving an especially insignificant illustration of his point, since no one, including Johnson himself, would have ever thought that these lines rose above the level of a silly ditty. Yet the broader point Wordsworth is making is that to him, much of the poetry of the previous age was of little value because it did not deal with man's inner life or with human passion and instead focused on material things in the outer world. One sees that comic and satiric poetry, which dominated much of the eighteenth century, was not of interest to Wordsworth and was not genuinely poetic, in his evaluation.

The second point in Wordsworth's essay I would focus on is his view of the language appropriate to poetry. So far as possible—with the exception of the normal elements of verse, such as meter and rhyme—the language of poetry should be essentially the same as that of prose. It should approximate the way people actually speak in the real world. Wordsworth regards special "elevated" words and phrases poets have traditionally used—"poetic diction"—as artificial and inappropriate to poetry, and he quotes Thomas Gray's sonnet "On the Death of Richard West" as an example of a poem containing such affectations, as in the opening lines:

In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire.

No one, Wordsworth argues, talks this way, and therefore poets should not write this way either.

Whatever the "truth" of Wordsworth's views, one has to admit that in his own poetry, he did follow his principles. His poetry does sound like people's actual speech, allowing for the elements that Wordsworth himself regards as exceptions, and he does consistently deal with "serious" matters, not the trivial and comical subjects he finds worthless in earlier poets' works. Though Wordsworth was a genuine pathbreaker, along with his collaborator Coleridge, the views he enunciates in the Preface were not fully shared by the Romantic poets of the second generation (e.g., Byron, Shelley, and Keats), or even by Coleridge himself. If anything, a poet such as Keats, one of the greatest of the Romantics, used the same type of "poetic diction" Wordsworth condemns in Gray. But much of the poetry of the nineteenth century does conform to Wordsworth's ideal in this regard—even that of a poet like Byron, who disliked Wordsworth's work but in his own poetry, such as Don Juan, wrote in what is essentially a natural, conversational manner, and yet a fully poetic one.

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Discuss Wordsworth’s theory of poetry as propounded by him in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

Much of Wordsworth's philosophy of poetry is outlined in his Preface.  The idea that poetry should focus on commonplace subjects is something that Wordsworth clung to in his body of poetry.  Wordsworth sought to bring out the powerfully universal qualities in subjects that are very ordinary.  A woman in the field, a set of daffodils, or the conversation between two people in love are ordinary subjects, but ones that allowed Wordsworth to evoke some of the most powerful of images.  In his language and context, the words and choice of words are ones that reflect "language used by men."  Wordsworth wrote in a style that was approachable by common people and in this, Wordsworth sought to democratize poetry and its appreciation.  Finally, in "presenting the usual in an unusual way," Wordsworth was able to bring out the universal from the specific, the objective from the subjective, and in the process, allow his poetry to "see into the life of things" and create a new venue where poetry allows the individual to open new doors of perception.

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What are Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

Wordsworth's theory of poetry as explained in his preface to Lyrical Ballads is based on several propositions. Poetry, Wordsworth argued, ought to arouse strong, profound feelings in the reader. The best way to do this, he thought, was to investigate themes and subjects from everyday life, and in language that was both accessible to readers and purged of artificial devices and "poetic diction." Poetry could thus reveal the power and depth of emotion in everyday life, sentiments that were obscured by many poets who viewed poetry as a means to show off their clever turns of phrase and use of puns. Shorn of these extraneous baggage, and focusing on familiar scenes, poetry could excite the reader's imagination.

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Discuss Wordsworth's theory of poetry as propounded by him in his "Preface to Lyrical Ballads."

William Wordsworth in his “Preface” to the Lyrical Ballads, outlines a theory of poetry that involves a number of different assumptions, including the following:

  • Pleasure in poetry results, in part, from “vivid sensation” and from language that is close to real speech.
  • Good poetry can deal with “incidents and situations from common life,” especially when such “ordinary things” and “presented to the mind in an unusual way.”
  • Effective poetry can deal with the “beautiful and permanent forms of nature,” including the “great and simple affections” of human nature.
  • Wordsworth was deliberately not trying to present the kinds of “personifications of abstract ideas” common in early poetry.
  • Effective poetry can be written when its language is close to the “language of prose.”
  • A poet is

a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endued [that is, “endowed”] with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him . . . .

  • Poets are more likely to be moved by memories of absent things than other people are.
  • Poets have a greater capacity for expressing what they think and feel, especially when relying on their imaginations and memories.
  • The poet,

singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as in our visible friend and hourly companion.

  • Poetry has the ability to unite human beings in shared thoughts and feelings despite superficial differences of language, laws, customs, and geography.
  • In one of the most famous sentences he ever composed, Wordsworth asserts that

poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility . . .

Wordsworth’s theory of poetry has much in common with the theory propounded many centuries earlier in his treatise On the Sublime.  Both men thought of poetry as a kind of lofty, ennobling, almost spiritual force that draws upon and appeals to the best aspects of human nature.

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What are Wordsworth's views on poetic diction in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

I find it interesting that Wordsworth appears so humble in the preface.  The most fascinating part of the preface, for me, is this line.

Several of my Friends are anxious for the success of these Poems, from a belief, that, if the views with which they were composed were indeed realized, a class of Poetry would be produced, well adapted to interest mankind permanently... (see second link)

Wordsworth seems to be suggesting that this new type of poetry will alter the landscape permanently.  Actually, he did, by not just writing the poems but also "defining his ideas of the primary laws of nature, the working of the imagination, the process of association of ideas, and the balance of passion and restraint in human conduct" (see first link).

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Discuss Wordsworth's theory of poetry as propounded by him in his preface?  

Wordsworth's famous quotation about the creation of poetry, states that poetry cannot be created at the moment that the poet encounters it.  Often this encounter is so intense, he feels he must capture it. Alas,  Wordsworth feels that beholding natural beauty stimulates the senses and distorts the perceptions.  This is why in his poem, "Daffodils," he explains that it is only after his encounter with a field of flowers, when he is lying on his couch remembering the experience, that he is able to recreate this image poetically.  In other words, his poem is "recollected in tranquility," not in the heat of sensory perception.

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What is Wordsworth's theory of poetry in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads?

Wordsworth’s theory of poetry represents a radical departure from the standards of neoclassical verse. Neoclassical poets believed, among other things, that poetry should be written about noble, high-born characters. As poems were generally written for an elite, literate audience, it was not thought appropriate to populate poems with ordinary folk. According to the prevailing aesthetic, poems should be written about the more socially prominent members of society.

Wordsworth challenged this notion completely. In his own theory of poetry, as set out comprehensively in the 1802 preface to Lyrical Ballads, he argued for the representation of ordinary people in verse. Wordsworth believed that as poetry was concerned with the spontaneous overflow of feelings, then it was only right and proper that ordinary folk should be represented in poetry. After all, they had emotions and feelings too; they also had, in many cases, a deep connection with the natural world, which for Wordsworth the Romantic was a vital source of poetic inspiration.

Wordsworth also maintained that poetic language should change, sloughing off the ornamental, affected style of Neoclassical verse in favor of a language much closer to how people actually spoke. In fact, Wordsworth boldly proclaimed that there was no essential difference between the language of prose and that of metrical composition. Poetry, no less than prose, consists of a man speaking to other men.

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What is Wordsworth's theory of poetry in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads?

Wordsworth outlined several ideas about poetry in his preface to Lyrical Ballads. First, he believed that nature was the best subject for poetry. Second, he thought that the purpose of poetry was to give voice to the emotion the contemplation of nature aroused in the poet (the "spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions"). Third, he thought that poetic language should be simple and close to the language of everyday people. Fourth, he believed that the moral or spiritual content of poetry should follow naturally from the poetic subject.

This all stands in contrast to the Enlightenment tradition of English poetry, represented by men like Alexander Pope. In that tradition, poetry was seen as a form of public discourse, was often satirical and explicitly political, and could be highly allusive and based on classical themes. Wordsworth sought to make poetry more personal, less intellectual, more connected to the common man, and more emotionally sincere.

As a result, he chose "rustic" subject matter for his poetry because in this topic,

the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language.

It also followed that the best language for poetry is that of the common man, which,

arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets.

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What is Wordsworth's theory of poetry in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads?

In the first statement of the 1802 edition, Wordsworth says the poems in Lyrical Ballads are an experiment of "fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation." So, one of the goals that Wordsworth has with this collection of poems is to use real language. In other words, he wants to make poetry from the language that people actually use. This was an attempt to get away from the formal style of his predecessors, namely the Neoclassical poets such as Alexander Pope. And the "vivid sensation" appeals to the poet's provocation of emotion rather than the more rational style of something like Pope's "An Essay on Man." 

Wordsworth also focused on the common man and this goes along with his focus on real or common language. Now, his poetry is still poetic, so to speak, but it was a shift from poetry as a formal, structured poetics to something more common and emotive. He wanted to explore how ordinary events and feelings could be understood in extraordinary ways. He chose to focus on rural settings and people and to explore their feelings "because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and, from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are more durable; and lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature." Thus, Wordsworth also was enchanted by the emotive and transcendent power of nature. The natural world, the rural lifestyle, and the realness of language and feelings were all inspirational elements for Wordsworth's new theory of poetry. This is why Wordsworth could write a poem about a cloud in which he contemplates nature, his existence, and his role as a poet. 

Since Wordsworth was tapping into "real language" and more common subjects (rendered in imaginative, extraordinary ways), he notes that some of his poems might be as easily read as prose. He is not trying to erase the line between prose and poetry, but he is illustrating how his brand of poetry does utilize a more free, prose style while still presented in poetic verse. And he notes that any subject is more likely to be read in poetic form, " . . . the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once." Such is the accessibility of poetry and such would be the accessibility of Wordsworth's subject matter: common life and language. 

Lastly, Wordsworth's theory about writing poetry is often summed up as writing from the spontaneous overflow of emotion reflected in tranquility. The poet should contemplate the simple things, nature or rural life, but he should allow himself to be emotionally affected by the deep significance of such things: 

I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. 

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How does Wordsworth define poetry in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

In 1802, William Wordsworth tried to explain his views on poetry. He tried to explain how poetry functions and the nature of the craft itself. Wordsworth also attempted to qualify and explain what a true poet is. He did all of this in his "Preface to Lyrical Ballads."

Keep in mind that William Wordsworth is a poet of Romanticism. There are a lot of key characteristics of Romanticism that make it a joy to read; however, it is incredibly important to also remember that the focus of the period was on emotion and the importance of the individual. Wordsworth's definition of poetry is his definition, and he claims that good poetry is the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings."

Notice the emphasis on emotions. To Wordsworth, poetry is all about the internal feelings of the poet. It should not have to follow a set of strict rules, because a poet's emotional state isn't governed by rules. Wordsworth goes on to explain that while the spontaneous overflow of emotions is important, poets also have to spend time wrestling with those emotions, and emotional tranquility is another key.

It [poetry] takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced.

While Wordsworth's definition is reasonable, Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" presents readers with a very different picture of the poet and poetry writing. In his essay, Poe shows readers how he was able to construct a poem in a very logical format. Components of the poem were logically and intentionally chosen for their overall effect. It's a solid counterargument to Wordsworth's definition.

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What is Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction in the "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

Wordsworth took a unique approach to poetic diction. Essentially, he argued in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads that poetic diction should be no different than that used in prose, or even in everyday speech. He thought that overly florid poetic diction had caused readers to lose sight of the emotional impact of poetry, which he held to be its central purpose. He proposed, then, a return to simple diction, which he thought would enhance the reader's appreciation of the simple, profound feelings that could be conveyed through good poetry:

There will also be found in these volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; as much pains has been taken to avoid it as is ordinarily taken to produce it; this has been done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of men...

This commitment to simple, clear language was of a piece with his belief that the most powerful poetry was that which engaged with simple themes and subject matter. Wordsworth argued that profound insights and feelings could be found in everyday life, and in nature, and were best expressed not by classical allusions and clever puns but through simple diction.

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What is Wordsworth's view on language and diction in the preface to Lyrical Ballads?

In the preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth explains his theory of language and diction. He states that he writes his poems using simple words (language) and diction (style) as a way to react against an overly artificial and ornate style of poetry. He felt this "elevated" style of writing had obscured the genuine, heartfelt emotions he hoped to convey through his poems. As he put it, he wanted, as far as possible, to communicate in the "real language of men" and to avoid "falsehood of description." He wanted to use as

little of what is usually called poetic diction; I have taken as much pains to avoid it as others ordinarily take to produce it.

This aligned with Wordsworth's desire to focus on the common person and common experiences rather than heroic figures or grand events from the past. While poetry had often looked down on ordinary, rural figures, Wordsworth thought those living simple lives close to nature had much to teach others. He also very much wanted to share with people the joys that communion with nature, which he believed put people in touch with the divine, could bring, and tried to use language that was very easily understandable to describe the happiness that could come from looking at a field of daffodils or a butterfly. Simple language, for him, was the best vehicle for conveying these simple but profound pleasures.

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What ideas about poets and poetry does Wordsworth propose in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads?

In his "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads (1802), William Wordsworth lays out many of the ideas often associated with Romanticism in English poetry.  Among those ideas are the following:

  • an emphasis on the "real language" actually spoken by human beings, especially human beings from the lower reaches of society. Wordsworth thus rejects the kind of “poetic” language that had come to seem stale, artificial, and unconvincing.
  • an emphasis on "vivid sensation," or heightened emotion and perception.
  • an emphasis on using poetry to provide "more than common pleasure."
  • an emphasis on "incidents and situations from common life."
  • an emphasis on using “imagination” to “throw a certain coloring over” descriptions of such incidents and situations so that

ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way . . . in order to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them . . . the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.

  • an emphasis on “[l]ow and rustic life,” which often reveals essential human nature more readily than the kinds of lives lived by the allegedly more sophisticated persons of the upper classes.
  • an emphasis on “the essential passions of the heart.”
  • an emphasis on a “plainer and more emphatic language” than is usually found among the highly educated
  • an emphasis on the ways human emotions are “incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.”
  • a rejection of the kinds of “arbitrary and capricious habits of expression” traditionally used in conventional poetry
  • an emphasis on poetry as a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” but also on the poet as a person who has “thought long and deeply”:

For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings . . . .

  • an emphasis on “the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when [it is] agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature.”
  • a rejection of the emphasis on abstract ideas and conventional personifications that had characterized the poetry of the eighteenth century.
  • an emphasis on looking directly and steadily at whatever the poet tries to describe and thus a rejection of “falsehood of description.”
  • an emphasis on a kind of poetic language that resembles the language of common prose.
  • an emphasis on the poet as “a man speaking to men” – that is, as a person who can effectively articulate the kinds of thoughts and feelings experienced by most human beings.

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