William Wordsworth Analysis

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ph_0111201606-Wordsworth.jpg William Wordsworth Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to his poetry, William Wordsworth’s preface to the second edition of his Lyrical Ballads is the single most important manifesto of the Romantic position in English, 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.


William Wordsworth was one of the leading English Romantic poets. Along with William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats, Wordsworth created a major revolution in ideology and poetic style around 1800. The Romantic writers rebelled against the neoclassical position exemplified in the works of Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Although all such broad generalizations should be viewed with suspicion, it is generally said that the neoclassical writers valued restraint and discipline, whereas the Romantic poets favored individual genius and hoped to follow nature freely. Wordsworth’s poetry praises the value of the simple individual, the child, the helpless, the working class, and the natural man. Such sentiments were explosive in the age of the French Revolution, when Wordsworth was young. He helped to define the attitudes that fostered the spread of democracy, of more humane treatment of the downtrodden, and of respect for nature.

Discussion Topics

Explain the effects of William Wordsworth’s blend of first-person singular and first-person plural pronouns in “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”

What poetry, or what type of poetry, was Wordsworth rejecting in his preface to Lyrical Ballads?

Is Wordsworth’s phrase “intimations of immortality” part of a philosophical statement about childhood?

What are the structural features of the Pindaric ode as exemplified by “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”?

Did Wordsworth’s difficulties with The Prelude reflect the differences between his conception of poetry and that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who advised him in this effort?

The Prelude has been called a great religious poem. In what sense is it religious? Would “spiritual” be a better adjective to describe it?


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Barker, Juliet. Wordsworth: A Life. New York: Viking, 2002. This biography traces Wordsworth’s life over eight decades, shedding light on his relationship with his family, his early poetic career, and his politics.

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Wordsworth. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. A collection of critical essays on Wordsworth, with an introduction by Bloom.

Bromwich, David. Disowned by Memory: Wordsworth’s Poetry of the 1790’s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Bromwich connects the accidents of Wordsworth’s life with the originality of his works, tracking the impulses that turned him to poetry after the death of his parents and during his years as an enthusiastic disciple of the French Revolution.

Gill, Stephen. William Wordsworth: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. This first biography of Wordsworth since 1965 makes full use of information that came to light after that time, including the 1977 discovery of Wordsworth’s family letters as well as more recent research on his boyhood in Hawkshead and his radical period in London.

_______, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Wordsworth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. The fifteen essays in this compilation provide excellent introductions to Wordsworth’s works.

Johnston, Kenneth R. The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998. A thoroughgoing reexamination of the poet’s life that places him far more firmly in the tradition of liberal Romanticism than previous twentieth century critics or even his own contemporaries might have thought.

Liu, Yü. Poetics and Politics: The Revolutions of Wordsworth. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. Liu focuses on the poetry of Wordsworth in the late 1790’s and the early 1800’s. In the context of Wordsworth’s crisis of belief, this study shows how his poetic innovations constituted his daring revaluation of his political commitment.

Simpson, David. Wordsworth, Commodification, and Social Concern: The Poetics of Modernity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. A discussion of Wordsworth and his works that looks at how his political and philosophical views affected his writings.

Sisman, Adam. The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge. New York: Viking, 2007. An intimate examination of Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s friendship and its deterioration.

Worthen, John. The Gang: Coleridge, the Hutchinsons, and the Wordsworths in 1802. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Worthen describes the relationships among Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his wife, Sarah; William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy; and the Hutchinson sisters, Mary and Sara.