Nature's Role in Wordsworth's Poetry
by J.E. Remy
In 1798, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge anonymously published a collection of poetry quite influential to development of the Romantic Movement in European poetry. The collection, Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems, had an advertisement suggesting the poems “be considered as experiments” determining “how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure” (Abrams 55). When republished by Wordsworth in 1800, a second volume of poems was added and the advertisement expanded. In this new preface, Wordsworth changed face, justifying the poetry not as experimental, but as representative of pure poetic principle. In the third edition, published in 1802, Wordsworth provided a further revised preface discussing the ideals of Romantic literary theory—in response to critics of the earlier editions and poetry of the Enlightenment (Abrams 155). This new type of poetry would be based on the real language of men, avoid poetic diction, focus on emotion and memory, and display a return to nature because “poetry is the image of man and nature” (Wordsworth 165).
In the winter of 1798-99, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and his sister, Dorothy, spent some time in Germany. It was here that Wordsworth wrote several poems about an individual named “Lucy,” part of the second volume of poems later included in Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems. Lucy was never identified, and may be nothing more than imaginary creation or a representation of Wordsworth’s feelings of affection for his sister. These poems—including “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal,” even though it doesn’t specifically mention a name—have been grouped by later editors as the “Lucy poems” (Abrams 170). Examples of his focus on nature can be found by looking at each of these poems.
Lucy creates an element of reminiscence in many of the poems. In ““I Travelled among Unknown Men” [sic],...
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