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William Wordsworth

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What are the main features of Wordsworth's poetry?

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Some of the main features of Wordsworth's poetry are a spiritual veneration for nature, a dislike for modernity, an interest in the individual and the imagination, a fascination with childhood, and the employment of common language.

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William Wordsworth is one of the Romantic poets, and as such, his work exhibits many of the characteristics of Romantic poetry, including a disdain for the ugliness of modernity, a spiritual reverence for nature, an appreciation for childhood, a focus on the individual and the human mind, and the use of simple, everyday language. Let's look at some examples to illustrate these characteristics.

In “Lines Written in Early Spring,” the speaker sits in a grove and listens to the “thousand blended notes” of the natural world around him, receiving a “thrill of pleasure” from the hopping birds, the “budding twigs,” and the “primrose tufts.” He uses spiritual language to capture his experience; he says that it is “my faith” that each flower “Enjoys the air it breathes,” and he speaks of “Nature's holy plan” and the link between nature and his human soul. Indeed, the natural world provides the speaker with an almost religious experience.

In “The World Is Too Much with Us,” Wordsworth laments the “Getting and spending” of the modern world as well as people's ignorance of the natural world. Modern people are so focused on commerce that they have given their hearts to it and no longer feel beauty. Rather, they waste their powers on the world that is “too much with us.”

The Solitary Reaper” illustrates Wordsworth's strong focus on the individual and the human mind. The poem centers around a young woman in a field who is “Reaping and singing by herself.” She is not aware of the speaker's observation but rather goes about her work, allowing the music of her mind and soul to flow freely, and that music flows in to the mind and soul of the speaker. He carries it away with him as he walks on, appreciating the meeting of hearts that has just happened between himself and this unknown woman.

“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” expounds on the innocence and wonders of childhood, when a person's soul is naturally close to nature. What he once experienced in himself, the speaker now sees in his sister as she walks in the arms of nature with “shooting lights” in her eyes, a “cheerful faith,” and a simple joy that has not yet experienced the cruelty of humans. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” suggests similar ideas, namely that the child's soul remembers its origins and therefore sees them more easily in the world.

In all of these poems, and many others, Wordsworth uses simple, everyday language. He wants to capture the ideas of the common person, and to do that, he must incorporate their speech along with his depth of imagery, symbolism, and emotion. “My Heart Leaps Up” provides a prime example. The poem is both deep in meaning and simple and accessible in language.

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A focus on simple, obscure people, use of everyday language and an emphasis on nature as an antidote to the corrupting influences of society are three main features of Wordsworth's poems in Lyrical Ballads, the book of poetry he produced with William Coleridge that is usually credited as beginning the Romantic movement in England. Wordsworth reacted against Neoclassic poetry, popular in the eighteenth century, which emphasized heroic figures, heroic themes and heroic couplets.

In the poem "Lucy Gray," Wordsworth celebrates the life of an obscure cottage child who disappears one day but whose spirit is later seen by other cottagers dancing on the moors. In "The Solitary Reaper," Wordsworth's narrator becomes transfixed by the haunting song of a peasant woman harvesting grain in the Scottish Highlands. In the Lucy poems (different from "Lucy Gray"), the narrator describes his love for an ordinary cottage-dwelling woman from the English Lake District who dies young.  

Wordsworth uses simple, everyday language in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," in which he describes how he is lifted with joy by the sight of thousands of daffodils waving in the wind by a lake. He has an emotional response to this natural scene and remembers it with great pleasure many times in the wintry months. He uses words like line and bay, glance and dance, that anyone could understand:

They stretched in never-ending line 
Along the margin of a bay: 
Ten thousand saw I at a glance, 
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. 
He also states that nature is worth more than wealth, a recurrent theme in his poems: "What wealth the show to me had brought," he writes of the dancing daffodils.
The theme of nature versus material pursuits also comes out in his poem "The World is Too Much With Us."  The poem repeats the refrain: "getting and spending we lay waste our powers." We are so busy earning money that, Wordsworth says, "little we see in Nature that is ours," a loss the poet laments. 
Simple people, simple language, love of nature: Wordsworth's influence stays with us still. 
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Wordsworth's poems often contain thoughts inspired by natural landscapes. Nature prompted Wordsworth to consider many topics in his poetry, including memory, childhood, and death. He i=often wrote poems inspired by specific places, forgoing titles and merely categorizing the poem based upon these places (such as "Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802")

In "Tintern Abbey" (aka "Lines,Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting he banks of the Wye during a tour. July 13, 1798"), the poet's return to this well-loved place causes him to think upon the way he used to interact with nature as a young boy, then as a young man, with passion, abandon and imagination. He is also reminded of his sister and recalls her fondly and the times they spent there. His observations of the details of the landscape (the sky, the hills, the trees, the Wye River and its banks, and the copses) cause him to ruminate on the connectedness of all aspects of life and the similarities of all living things, the wide circle of life and death, and he concludes that nature's lessons have brought him to a state of thoughtful peace.

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There are some highly distinctive features in Wordsworth's poetry.  In keeping consistent with his believes in Romanticism, there is much in way of emotion or the expansion of moral imagination.  Most Wordsworth poems feature the personal or subjective voice as being the narrative element.  Both of these can be seen in his poem, "The Solitary Reaper," where the speaker, presumably Wordsworth, hears a song sung by a girl working in the field.  He is entranced with this song and while he does not understand nor recoginize the language, he surmises what he thinks the lyrics could mean in that he expresses his thoughts as to how they wander upon hearing the song.  This is a strong element in Wordsworth's poem, a stunning consistency in his work in that there is a praising of the subjective experience and the emotional or moral imagination that goes along with it.

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