Preface to the 'Lyrical Ballads' - Wordsworth

In the ‘Preface to the Lyrical Ballads’, William Wordsworth has revolted against the poetic principles of the eighteenth century saying that the life of a poor man can serve as a fit material for the poetry. The diction should be drawn from everyday speech and he wants to through a colouring of imagination over the simple material chosen for treatment in poetry. His poems like ‘Michael’, ‘The Solitary Reaper’, and ‘To a Highland Girl’ – to name only a few have been written keeping this in mind. Wordsworth has remarked that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. It takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquility.”
If we consider this statement divorcing it from the part that precedes it, it would mean that a poet writes a poem as an immediate reaction to some experience. He expresses this through powerful feelings. A poem would be spontaneous if it comes directly from the pen of the poet without any pre-medication as a song comes from the throat of a bird. But Wordsworth qualifies his statement. He goes on to say that poems can be produced only by a man who has also thought long. Thus, it means that Wordsworth does not rule out contemplation or meditation. According to Wordsworth, our feelings are modified and directed by our thoughts which are indeed the representatives of our past feelings. He himself admits that he has “always looked steadily at his subject.” According to him, the poet is a man of great sensibility whose mentality has been already shaped.
The emotion is contemplated till tranquility gradually disappears and an emotion similar to the one already existed, is gradually produced in mind. At this time, successful poetic composition takes place:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude.
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

Further he says that the process of writing poems has four stages, that is, recollection, contemplation, recrudescence and composition. This is one of the reasons that he has revised, ‘The Prelude’. Actually his emphasis on emotion is a reaction to the eighteenth century poetry, which was intellectual, devoid of any feelings and it had its appeal to the head.
Again, Wordsworth insists that the immediate object of the poet is to give pleasure. The poet’s mind is in a state of enjoyment and the poet’s description of passions ensures an over-balance of pleasure in the mind of the reader. The music of harmonious metrical language, the sense of difficulty, which the poet has received from the works of similar construction and perception of the received language – produce a complex feeling of delight.
The poet has unusual capacity to perceive and feel. To be a great poet, according to Wordsworth, he must have thought long deeply. Thus, he differs from his fellowmen only in degree and not in kind. The poet can feel, think, perceive and imagine. Besides these, he has the capacity to express himself in verse. In ‘Tradition and Individual Talent’ T.S. Eliot has criticized Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and has said “Poetry is neither emotion, nor recollection nor tranquility, nor spontaneity”. It is something like “concentration” or what is called “a deliberate process”.
Will no one tell me what she sings?
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far off things
And battles long ago.

Coming to his view on poetic style (diction), Wordsworth has adopted the language of common people to communicate his ideas. For this purpose, he has chosen the incidents and situations from humble and rustic life. He thinks that the people from rural area convey the feelings in a simple way because they are not under the influence of social vanity of city dwellers. Such language is permanent and philosophic. He criticized the poets who have separated themselves from them. According to him, his very purpose is to imitate and adopt the very language of men. He goes on to say that “there neither is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.” The language of a large portion of every good poem differs from good prose except with reference to metre.
Criticizing this theory, Coleridge maintains that there are certain modes of expression, a construction, and an order of sentences which are in their fit and natural place in a serious prose composition but would be inappropriate to metrical poetry. He goes on to say that in the language of a serious poem, these may be an arrangement of words and sentences; and the use of figure of speech would be inappropriate. He says that when a poet writes in metre, he means to differ from prose. Poetry implies passion. Moreover, Coleridge does not accept Wordsworth’s comment on Gray’s sonnet.
When we come to wordsworth’s own poetic practice, he differs from his own theory of poetic style/diction. His poem like ‘Tintern Abbey’ and ‘Ode to the Intimations of Immortality’ are and illustration in po8int. regarding the poet’s use of metre, he says that metre has its own charm and it adds to the pleasure of poetry. Wordsworth fails to emphasize on the use of metre as metre is the integral part of poetry. Even in free v erse, here is some kind of rhythm though not recognizable.
Even Wordsworth expresses his view on “poets and poetry”. Shelley calls the poets as “unacknowledged legislators of the mankind”; whereas Carlyle refers to poet as a ‘prophet’ and a ‘hero’. According to Wordworth, the poet is “a rock of defence” for human nature. He binds together the vast empire of human society, which is spread over the whole earth and overall time. Wordsworth emphasizes his democratic view and the poet differs from other men not only in kind but only in degree.
In the end we can say that Wordsworth has revolted against the eighteenth century poetic theory and the poetic style, which was prevalent at that time. Besides this, his views on the nature of poetry, role of poet and the choice of subject matter have their own significance. He has tried to practice his views in his poetry and brought his poetry near to life. That is why he is called a literary revolutionary – his ‘Preface to the Lyrical Ballads’ shows his revolutionary ideas in the literary field. The Preface embodies the poetic manifesto of Romanticism.

10 comments:

Kei's Revelation said...

Wordsworth was a lyrical genius. His lines are so fluid. I definitely enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing.

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Casey said...

Thanks for posting this...you may want to double check it for some typos. But otherwise well written and great content.

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