Wordsworth: Tintern Abbey And Lyrical Ballads

Wordsworth: Tintern Abbey And Lyrical Ballads

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Born in 1770 at Cockermouth in the heart of the Lakes District in England. William Wordsworth grew up in a rustic society and his beautiful and ageless poetry often reflect this. Wordsworth’s mother died in 1778 and in 1779 he was sent to grammar school in Hawkshead. Wordsworth’s father died in 1783, leaving his uncles as guardians. They tried to guide him towards a career in law or in the church and he was accepted into Cambridge in 1787. Wordsworth was uninspired to work towards a career he had little interest in and subsequently his grades, which bordered on the average, reflected this. Before completing his final term of college Wordsworth went for a walking tour of Europe and finally received his degree in 1791 but had no direct plans for his future. He returned to France in 1791 and stayed a full year, during this time became an enthusiastic advocate of the French Revolution. Money concerns forced him to return to England and he was unable to return to France until 1802 due to war breaking out between the two countries.

In 1795 two things happened that ultimately changed the course of Wordsworth’s life. In August of 1795 a young friend whom Wordsworth had been nursing died of tuberculosis and left him a grant of 900 pounds. His friend had hoped that with this money Wordsworth would be able to devote his life to poetry, and in August of 1795 Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Over the next two years their friendship would grow and in 1797 William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to Alfoxden House, which was only a few miles from Coleridge’s home. The creative partnership between these two young poets would eventuate in the first publishing of Lyrical Ballads.

The publication of Lyrical Ballads represented a turning point for English poetry. It was released anonymously on October 4th, 1798 and the learned old guard of literary England was mostly unaware that a form of “literary revolution” had taken place. Previous ages had considered the aim of poetry to be used as a tool to change people’s behaviour or as a learning mechanism. Wordsworth launched the Romantic Era of poetry and paved the way for many of the romantic poets that came after him. John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley to name but two. Coleridge encouraged Wordsworth to write a preface to Lyrical Ballads. A preface that would explain the work contained within the collection.

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It was this preface that contained theories unlike anything published before.

Wordsworth wrote timeless poems of nature and beauty, but perhaps his most important contribution was that he claimed poetry for the common people. Wordsworth moved away from the elaborate classical form of his predecessors and believed that ordinary life and ordinary people were important enough to have poetry written of them. He believed poets to be ordinary people who lived more intensely than others and cultivated their imagination and expressive powers. “Nothing differing in kind from other men, but only in degrees.” Poetry should be written in a language that is spoken by most people at ordinary times for a poet was but “a man speaking to men.” Poetry should be written about incidents and situations from everyday life. He believed poetry should be creative and have the ability to affect people by absent things as if they were present. Through the use of memory, poetry could recreate events and emotions and although not religious, Wordsworth thought poetry rather than religion was to be given the mission of bringing humanity together. He also strongly believed that childhood experiences affected the adult mind. Wordsworth’s poems started the Romantic era by highlighting feeling and emotion above observing previous customs and characteristics of the pre romantic era. At the time of Wordsworth’s writings the old aristocracies’ power was rapidly declining and a new Middle Class was forming. He wrote in the background of both the French and American Revolutions. The share of power was increasingly falling on the new breed of Middle Class or common people. Wordsworth’s work was aimed at this new common man and not at the swiftly fading aristocracy.

The final form of Lyrical Ballads had been worked out between Wordsworth and Coleridge before publishing however Wordsworth decided to add Tintern Abbey at the end. This concluding poem in Lyrical Ballads in entitled “Lines” with a subtitle of “Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798.” Wordsworth had first seen the ruin of the Abbey some five years before whilst completing a walking tour of southern England. He returned with his sister Dorothy to the same lookout point in 1798 and it is from here that the inspiration for the poem arose.

Apart from being a beautiful and moving poem to read, Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey links in with a number of the key characteristics that he wrote about in his preface. Who amongst us at some time during our lives has not stood and gazed at some marvel or beauty of nature. This type of experience is for everyone not just a privileged few. Wordsworth is writing of an ordinary event that he thought worthy of recording. The poem is not difficult to read and although some words would not now be common place the reader still easily comprehends the language. His ability to describe the scene on which he is looking almost transports the reader there, tying in with his idea that poetry should be creative enough to influence people absent from the scene as if they were there. He almost laments the loss of his youth since last gazing upon this scene and realises that as adults we lose some of the innocent perceptions of childhood. His great love of nature and its beauty shine through in this poem and he realises that even though he now looks upon the scene with a more developed eye than previously, the wonders and charm of nature have not been lost to him.

In 1843 William Wordsworth was named Poet Laureate and throughout his lifetime achieved great fame. He was widely considered one of the greatest and most influential poets who had ever lived. Upon his death in 1850 “Matthew Arnold solemnly announced that “the last poetic voice is dumb.” (Rasnake).
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