William Wordsworth William Wordsworth World Literature Analysis

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William Wordsworth World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The styles of Wordsworth’s poetry are many, although his most famous experiment in style was to compose “lyrical ballads” in simple language and simple meter to express the universal experience of common people in rural settings. These poems treat common incidents as if they are extraordinary; in other words, the lyrical quality of feeling gives importance to the traditional ballad tale. Sometimes these lyrical ballads are spoken by the poet, as in “Lines Written in Early Spring.” At other times, they are spoken by characters of Wordsworth’s imagination, as in “The Thorn.” Although the emotions of these people are common and universal, the incidents of their experiences are unusual and abnormal or undesirable. Thus, the poems are often treatments of outcasts from society, as in “The Female Vagrant,” or psychologically abnormal people, as in “The Idiot Boy.”

The first edition of the Lyrical Ballads contains poems of family affection and warm cordiality, as in “We Are Seven” and “The Last of the Flock.” It also contains humorous poems, including “Expostulation and Reply” and its companion, “The Tables Turned.” These poems consistently develop a special theme of Wordsworth’s enduring interest, that a special bonding occurs in the close relationship of a child reared close to nature. While the bond must be broken when the child has matured, it should neither be prematurely broken nor denied or repressed by too much emphasis on reason and social formulas. The therapy of recalling childhood’s passions in association with familiar landscapes is developed in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” which is included in the Lyrical Ballads of 1798. This poem should be recalled as an exception to the rule of those poems, since it is a blank-verse monologue, not a rhyming, narrative “lyrical ballad.”

The same notice should be given to the inclusion of the blank-verse narrative of “Michael: A Pastoral Poem” in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads. This poem exemplifies a favorite stylistic approach that Wordsworth held throughout his life: to tell a story of rural people, sometimes shepherds, in strong, unrhymed iambic pentameter. It is the style of “Nutting,” “The Brothers,” and, later, many of the parts of The Excursion, the only section of The Recluse that Wordsworth finished to his satisfaction. The second edition of Lyrical Ballads also contains some poems that are truly lyrical ballads but differ from the tone and subjects of those in the first edition: These are the poems known as the “Lucy” poems, and a group that could be called the “Matthew” poems. The striking feature common to these two groups is a deepening interest in the experience of death, of grieving the deaths of loved ones who can never be replaced in one’s affections.

A similar feature appears to mark many of Wordsworth’s new poems included in his two volumes published in 1807. The great “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” is a major achievement of style in the treatment of a profoundly important theme, whether it is seen as one of growing old, maturity of vision, psychological development, or philosophical transition. Wordsworth made a permanently admirable use of the irregular ode, and he continued to have interest in the ode form, though without such success. He also sustained an interest in the sonnet, mainly in the English or Miltonic version; throughout his career, Wordsworth wrote sonnets and sometimes put them into sequences, as in The River Duddon. While his later poems fail to acquire the force of his earlier ones, Wordsworth’s continuing style is to balance simplicity of natural themes with the discipline of sophisticated art.

“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

First published: 1798 (collected in Lyrical Ballads, 1798)

Type of work: Poem

A speaker revisits a scene first observed five years earlier; differences arise from changes in the...

(The entire section is 3,623 words.)