Professor Suzanne Stewart
English 370: 00
October 7, 2011
“A Man of Men”: William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth is widely considered one of the most influential English romantic poets. In the preface of his book, Lyrical Ballads, published in 1798, Wordsworth declared that poetry should contain language really used by men. This idea, and many of his others, challenged the old eighteenth-century idea of formal poetry and, therefore, he changed the course of modern poetry (Damrosch, 397). Wordsworth was born of Cockermouth, West Cumberland in England, to John, a prominent aristocrat, and Anne Wordsworth. Following his mother's death in 1778, William and his family began to drift apart, aside from the relationship with his sister Dorothy. William was sent to boarding school in Hawkeshead, and his sister, Dorothy, was sent to live with cousins in Halifax. It was in the rural surroundings of Hawkeshead that William learned his appreciation for nature and the outdoors. Unfortunately, once again, the peacefulness of his life was disturbed by his father's death in 1783. William was sent from relative to relative, all of who thought of him only as a burden (Abrams, 1367). Wordsworth went to college at St. John's College in Cambridge and later wrote that the highlight of those years was the walking tour of France and Switzerland taken with his friend, Robert Jones, which he took during his summer vacation of his third year (Abrams, 1368). He graduated in 1791 when the French revolution was in its third year, but, even though he had showed no prior interest, he quickly supported the Revolution's goals (1368). Moreover, during this time Wordsworth had a love affair with a woman named Annette Vallon, whom would eventually give birth to his first daughter, Caroline. Sadly, due to a lack of funds, Wordsworth was forced to leave France, and although he intended to return and marry Annette, the onset of war between England and France prohibited William to return to France, further causing him and Annette to eventually “drift” apart (1368). In 1793 Wordsworth published his first two volumes of poetry, Descriptive Sketches and An Evening Walk. Written in the traditional manner, the books were not accepted well publicly. However, after the death of a close friend, Wordsworth became the benefactor of a small inheritance, which enabled him to devote himself to his writing (Damrosch, 372). Feeling that he needed a change of scenery, William moved into a cottage with his sister in Racedown. Dorothy's devotion to her brother was a tremendous contribution to his success; she encouraged his writing and looked after their daily life (Abrams, 1368). During this time, Wordsworth would meet the single most influential person in his apprenticeship, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge were ultimately brought together over their shared historical conviction towards the Enlightenment in which they would explore through their poetry (Sisken). This collaboration would encourage Wordsworth in developing his travel narrative philosophy, that he “must tread on shadowy ground, must sink / [d]eep, and ascend aloft” in order to go philosophically where the Enlightenment had been working so hard to go: “into” man” (Sisken). It was when Wordsworth moved to Nether Stowey to be near Coleridge that he began a period of remarkable creativity. Together they published Lyrical Ballads, an anonymously published collection of poems written, for the most part, by Wordsworth, including the illustrious preface. Using the principles that he set in the Preface, Wordsworth focused his poetry on subjects of "humble and rustic life" (Abrams, 1368-1369). In 1802, Wordsworth finally came into his father’s inheritance, and after settling amicably with Annette Vallon, William married childhood friend Mary Hutchinson. By 1807, most of Wordsworth’s best work had been written when he published “Poems in Two Volumes” (Abrams, 1369). In this book of poems William, once again, demonstrated his fantastic ability to create natural or pastoral settings and to add mysticism to ordinary events. Familiar with human psychology, he pointed out the influence of the childhood memories on adult outlooks, this is seen best in the famous quote, "The child is father of the man” (Sisken). Wordsworth continued to write during his later years, but his career is generally viewed as a decline after 1810 (Abrams, 1369). In 1814 he wrote The Excursion and The Poems. “The Sonnets of William Wordsworth”, written in 1838, was accepted well publicly and were compared with those of Shakespeare and Milton (Damrosch, 372). He was given honorary degrees from the University of Durham and Oxford University, and in 1843, he became poet laureate. He retired to Rydal in 1848 and died in 1850 (Sisken). Today he is considered one of the most beloved and influential poet of the Romantic era.
Abrams, Meyer Howard, et al. "William Wordsworth." The Norton anthology of English literature: the major authors. 5th Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987. 1367-1528. Print. Clifford Siskin "Wordsworth, William" The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. David Scott Kastan. Oxford University Press 2005. St. Francis Xavier University. Online. 1 October 2011
Damrosch, David, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. "William Wordsworth." The Longman anthology of British literature: The romantics and their contemporaries. 4th Ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 371-406. Print.