The Impact of William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth, the age's great Bard, had a significant impact on his contemporaries. Best known for his beautiful poems on nature, Wordsworth was a poet of reflection on things past. He realized however, that the memory of one's earlier emotional experiences is not an infinite source of poetic material. As Wordsworth grew older, there was an overall decline in his prowess as a poet. Life's inevitable change, with one's changes in monetary and social status, affected Wordsworth as well as his philosophies and political stances, sometimes to the chagrin of his contemporaries. Wordsworth, once a poet of social radicalism, became conservative in his views later in life, which grieved many of his contemporaries. Such poets as Percy Shelley wrote critiques of Wordsworth and his change in allegiances, while others such as Felicia Hemans chose to write tributes of the man's past glory, and his impact on their lives.
In Percy Shelley's poem, "To Wordsworth", Shelley addresses Wordsworth's diminishing connection with his past. As age progresses, memories grow dim along with their ability to inspire new poetry. Shelley does not fault Wordsworth for that. Shelley writes, "Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know /That things depart which never may return
/These common woes I feel."(701 lines 1-5) Shelley is sympathetic to Wordsworth in regards to his declining ability to be inspired by past experience. It is a common experience shared by other poets, as Wordsworth asked himself in "Ode: Imitations of Immortality", "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"(288 lines 56-57)Wordsworth feels something is missing, as Shelley notes, something has "fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn."(701 line 4) Shelley uses Wordsworth's own feelings of loss and sorrow to illustrate how he feels about Wordsworth's turn in politics to conservatism. Disillusioned after the French Revolution, Wordsworth gave up his radicalism. Before, Shelley viewed Wordsworth as a beacon for political and social reform. Having written such poems as "The world is too much with us", Wordsworth voiced his feelings about materialism in the world. Wordsworth writes, "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: /Little we see in Nature that is ours; /We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!"(297-298 lines 2-4) As Wordsworth aged, he came into inheritances which changed his economic status. To Shelley, Wordsworth had become a hypocrite, renouncing his former views as life dictated a different set of needs to Wordsworth. Shelley writes, "In honoured poverty thy voice did weave /Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,- /Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve, /Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be."(702 lines 11-14) Once an open-minded liberal, Shelley now views Wordsworth as a cramped conservative more interested in money than the ideals of the spirit and the human heart.
Felicia Hemans on the other hand wrote a tribute to Wordsworth in her poem, also titled "To Wordsworth". The poem seems to be inspired from her visit with Wordsworth in the Lake District after the death of her mother, as well as Wordsworth's collective works. She describes Wordsworth as a "True bard and holy!"("To Wordsworth" line25), and associates the beauty of nature with Wordsworth's poetry. Wordsworth is the voice of nature, as Hemans writes, "Even such is thy deep song, that seems a part /Of those high scenes, a fountain from their heart."(lines 5-6) She finds the same peace and tranquility in Wordsworth's poems as she does in nature. Hemans writes, "it's calm spirit fitly may be taken /To the still breast, in sunny garden bowers, /Where vernal winds each tree's low tones awaken, /And bud and bell with changes mark the hours."(lines 7-10) During these peaceful times of serenity, Hemans reflects on Wordsworth's writings and poetry. She writes, "There let thy thoughts be with me, while the...
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