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Preface to the Lyrical Ballads

    Discuss the work of any poet in relation to their writing about poetry.

    • Assessment: essay
    • Mark: B
    • Year: 2006
    • Wordcount: 1645

    William Wordsworth

    Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads “signalled revolution in literary history” (Wu 2006: 327). The plainness of idiom reflecting “the real language of men” (Wordsworth 1800: 505), controversial subject matter of “low and rustic life” (Wordsworth 1800: 497) and the sharp accounts of an “enlightened perception of nature” leads “ultimately to a kind of non-violent political and social revolution” (Wu 2006: 327). Wordsworth considered the poems as experiments to contemporary taste and decorum and as such he thought his readership in need of guidance.
    The Advertisement (1798) and the Preface (1800) to the Lyrical Ballads offer in a dialogue with its readers an “exposure to possible errors of judgment and feeling” (O’Neill 2001: 127). Both texts can be seen as “defining documents of British romanticism” (Trott a. Perry 2001: 2) because they question the “pre-established codes of decision” (Wordsworth 1798: 331) and attempt to redefine the purpose of poetry as a whole.

    Wordsworth exposes in his writing about poetry the reasons for deriving the subjects of the poems from the ordinary rural life. In his letter to John Wilson (1802: 50-51) he states that “only men who lead the simplest lives most according to nature” have distanced themselves from “wayward and artificial desires, false criticism” and “effeminate habits of thinking and feeling”.Thus, lower class characters close to nature, such as Simon Lee, are chosen to inhabit Wordsworth picturesque landscapes of the Lyrical Ballads.
    Furthermore, Wordsworth is explicitly interested in the experiences of marginal social figures, such as vagrants, idiot boys and mad mothers. Although Wordsworth is aware that his readership might find some of his characters “not of sufficient dignity” (Wordsworth 1798: 331) he portrays their suffering in giving sharp accounts of their poverty, misery and death…

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