writer, one of the great British poets of the Romantic era, best known
for his nature poems and sonnets. Wordsworth felt deeply the kinship
between nature and the sould of humankind.
Educated at St. John's College in Cambridge, he took a walking tour
through France and Switzerland, inspiring him to return to France where
he graduated with a B.A. in 1791. For
financial reasons, he returned to Racedown
to settle with his sister, Dorothy.
There he developed a close friendship with Coleridge, traveling
to Germany in 1798 and returned to the Lake District in 1799.
was first published in 1798, "The Ancient Mariner" and "Tintern
Alley." In 1800 his famous
"Preface" was released in which he set forth his romantic
movement. In 1813, he was appointed as revenue collector for Westmoreland
and, in 1843, he was appointed Britain's Poet Laureate by Queen Victoria.
in France, he fell in love with Annette Vallon,
with whom he had a daughter in December 1792.
Wordsworth received an inheritance in 1795 and married Mary Hutchinson,
a childhood friend, in 1802.
died at Rydal Mount and was buried at Grasmere, 4/23/1850.
English poet, b. Cockermouth, Cumberland. One of the great English poets, he
was a leader of the romantic movement in England.
1791 he graduated from Cambridge and traveled abroad. While in France
he fell in love with Annette Vallon, who bore him a daughter, Caroline, in 1792. Although
he did not marry her, it seems to have been circumstance rather than
lack of affection that separated them. Throughout his life he supported
Annette and Caroline as best he could, finally settling a sum of money
on them in 1835.
spirit of the French Revolution had strongly influenced Wordsworth,
and he returned (1792) to England imbued with the principles of Rousseau
and republicanism. In 1793 were published An Evening Walk and Descriptive
Sketches, written in the stylized idiom and vocabulary of the 18th cent.
The outbreak of the Reign of Terror prevented Wordsworth’s return
to France, and after receiving several small legacies, he settled with
his sister Dorothy in Dorsetshire. Wordsworth
was extraordinarily close to his sister. Throughout his life she was
his constant and devoted companion, sharing his poetic vision and helping
him with his work.
Dorsetshire Wordsworth became the intimate
friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, probably under his influence,
a student of David Hartley’s empiricist philosophy. Together the
two poets wrote Lyrical Ballads (1798), in which they sought to use
the language of ordinary people in poetry; it included Wordsworth’s
poem “Tintern Abbey.” The work introduced romanticism into England
and became a manifesto for romantic poets. In 1799 he and his sister
moved to the Lake District of England, where they lived the remainder
of their lives. A second edition of the Lyrical Ballads (1800), which
included a critical essay outlining Wordsworth’s poetic principles,
in particular his ideas about poetic diction and meter, was unmercifully
attacked by critics.
1802 Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, an old school friend; the union
was evidently a happy one, and the couple had four children. The Prelude,
his long autobiographical poem, was completed in 1805, though it was
not published until after his death. His next collection, Poems in Two
Volumes (1807), included the well-known “Ode to Duty,” the
“Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” and a number of famous
Wordsworth’s creative powers diminished. Nonetheless, some notable poems
were produced after this date, including The Excursion (1814), “Laodamia”
(1815), “White Doe of Rylstone” (1815), Memorials
of a Tour of the Continent, 1820 (1822), and “Yarrow Revisited” (1835).
In 1842 Wordsworth was given a civil list pension, and the following
year, having long since put aside radical sympathies, he was named poet
personality and poetry were deeply influenced by his love of nature,
especially by the sights and scenes of the Lake Country, in which he
spent most of his mature life. A profoundly earnest and sincere thinker,
he displayed a high seriousness comparable, at times, to Milton’s
but tempered with tenderness and a love of simplicity.
earlier work shows the poetic beauty of commonplace things and people
as in “Margaret,” “Peter Bell,” “Michael,” and “The Idiot Boy.” His
use of the language of ordinary speech was heavily criticized, but it
helped to rid English poetry of the more artificial conventions of 18th-century
diction. Among his other well-known poems are “Lucy” (“She dwelt among
the untrodden ways”), “The Solitary Reaper,”
“Resolution and Independence,” “Daffodils,” “The Rainbow,” and the sonnet
“The World Is Too Much with Us.”
Wordsworth was venerated in the 19th cent., by the early 20th cent.
his reputation had declined. He was criticized for the unevenness of
his poetry, for his rather marked capacity for bathos, and for his transformation
from an open-minded liberal to a cramped conservative. In recent years,
however, Wordsworth has again been recognized as a great English poet—a
profound, original thinker who created a new poetic tradition.
sister, Dorothy Wordsworth,Dorothy Wordsworth, 1771–1855, is known principally
for her poems and for her journals, which have proved invaluable for
later biographies and studies of the poet. These journals, the first
of which was started in 1798, are written in delicate, exquisite diction,
describing the Wordsworth household, friends, and travels. For the last
20 years of her life Dorothy Wordsworth was an invalid, suffering from
an obscure illness that made her prematurely senile.
major English Romantic poet and poet laureate of England (1843-50).
His Lyrical Ballads (1798), written with Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the English Romantic movement.
Wordsworth was born in the Lake District of northern
England, the second of five children of a modestly prosperous estate
manager. He lost his mother when he was 7 and his father when he was
13, upon which the orphan boys were sent off by guardian uncles to a
grammar school at Hawkshead, a village in the heart of the Lake District. At
Hawkshead Wordsworth received an excellent education
in classics, literature, and mathematics, but the chief advantage to
him there was the chance to indulge in the boyhood pleasures of living
and playing in the outdoors. The natural scenery of the English lakes
could terrify as well as nurture, as Wordsworth would later testify
in the line "I grew up fostered alike by beauty and by fear,"
but its generally benign aspect gave the growing boy the confidence
he articulated in one of his first important poems, "Lines Composed
a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey . . . ,"
namely, "that Nature never did betray the heart that loved her."
Wordsworth moved on in 1787 to St. John's College,
Cambridge. Repelled by the competitive pressures there, he elected to
idle his way through the university, persuaded that he "was not
for that hour, nor for that place." The most important thing he
did in his college years was to devote his summer vacation in 1790 to
a long walking tour through revolutionary France. There he was caught
up in the passionate enthusiasm that followed the fall of the Bastille,
and became an ardent republican sympathizer. Upon taking his Cambridge
degree--an undistinguished "pass"--he returned in 1791 to
France, where he formed a passionate attachment to a Frenchwoman, Annette
Vallon. But before their child was born in
December 1792, Wordsworth had to return to England and was cut
off there by the outbreak of war between England and France. He was
not to see his daughter Caroline until she was nine.
The three or four years that followed his return to England were
the darkest of Wordsworth's life. Unprepared for any profession,
rootless, virtually penniless, bitterly hostile to his own country's
opposition to the French, he knocked about London in the company of
radicals like William Godwin and learned to feel a profound sympathy
for the abandoned mothers, beggars, children, vagrants, and victims
of England's wars who began to march through the sombre poems he began
writing at this time. This dark period ended in 1795, when a friend's
legacy made possible Wordsworth's
reunion with his beloved sister Dorothy--the two were never again to
live apart--and their move in 1797 to Alfoxden
House, near Bristol. There Wordsworth became friends with a fellow
poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and they formed a partnership that would
change both poets' lives and alter the course of English poetry.
Their partnership, rooted in one marvelous year (1797-98) in which
they "together wantoned in wild Poesy,"
had two consequences for Wordsworth. First it turned him away
from the long poems on which he had laboured
since his Cambridge days. These included poems of social protest like
Salisbury Plain, loco-descriptive poems such as An Evening
Walk and Descriptive Sketches (published in 1793), and The
Borderers, a blank-verse tragedy exploring the psychology of guilt
(and not published until 1842). Stimulated by Coleridge and under the
healing influences of nature and his sister, Wordsworth began
in 1797-98 to compose the short lyrical and dramatic poems for which
he is best remembered by many readers. Some of these were affectionate
tributes to Dorothy, some were tributes to daffodils, birds, and other
elements of "Nature's holy plan," and some were portraits
of simple rural people intended to illustrate basic truths of human
Many of these short poems were written to a daringly original program
formulated jointly by Wordsworth and Coleridge, and aimed at
breaking the decorum of Neoclassical verse. These poems appeared in
1798 in a slim, anonymously authored volume entitled Lyrical
Ballads, which opened with Coleridge's
long poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and closed with
Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey."
All but three of the intervening poems were Wordsworth's, and,
as he declared in a preface to a second edition two years later, their
object was "to choose incidents and situations from common life
and to relate or describe them . . . in a selection of language really
used by men, . . . tracing in them . . . the primary laws of our nature."
Most of the poems were dramatic in form, designed to reveal the character
of the speaker. The manifesto and the accompanying poems thus set forth
a new style, a new vocabulary, and new subjects for poetry, all of them
foreshadowing 20th-century developments.
The second consequence of Wordsworth's partnership with
Coleridge was the framing of a vastly ambitious poetic design that teased
and haunted him for the rest of his life. Coleridge had projected an
enormous poem to be called "The Brook," in which he proposed
to treat all science, philosophy, and religion, but he soon laid the
burden of writing this poem upon Wordsworth himself. As early
as 1798 Wordsworth began to talk in grand terms of this poem,
to be entitled The Recluse. To nerve himself up to this enterprise
and to test his powers, Wordsworth began writing the autobiographical
poem that would absorb him intermittently for the next 40 years, and
which was eventually published in 1850 under the title The Prelude,
or, Growth of a Poet's Mind. The Prelude extends the quiet
autobiographical mode of reminiscence that Wordsworth had begun
in "Tintern Abbey" and traces the
poet's life from his school days through his university life and his
visits to France, up to the year (1799) in which he settled at Grasmere.
It thus describes a circular journey--what has been called a long journey
home. But the main events in the autobiography are internal: the poem
exultantly describes the ways in which the imagination emerges as the
dominant faculty, exerting its control over the reason and the world
of the senses alike.
The Recluse itself was never completed, and only
one of its three projected parts was actually written; this was published
in 1814 as The
Excursion and consisted of nine long philosophical monologues
spoken by pastoral characters. The first monologue (Book I) contained
a version of one of Wordsworth's greatest poems, "The Ruined
Cottage," composed in superb blank verse in 1797. This bleak narrative
records the slow, pitiful decline of a woman whose husband had gone
off to the army and never returned. For later versions of this poem
Wordsworth added a reconciling conclusion, but the earliest and
most powerful version was starkly tragic.
In the company of Dorothy, Wordsworth spent the winter of
1798-99 in Germany, where, in the remote town of Goslar,
in Saxony, he experienced the most intense isolation he had ever known.
As a consequence, however, he wrote some of his most moving poetry,
including the "Lucy" and "Matthew" elegies and early
drafts toward The Prelude. Upon his return to England, Wordsworth
incorporated several new poems in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads
(1800), notably two tragic pastorals of country life, "The Brothers"
and "Michael." These poems, together with the brilliant lyrics
that were assembled in Wordsworth's second verse collection,
Poems, in Two Volumes (1807), help to make up what is now recognized
as his great decade, stretching from his meeting with Coleridge in 1797
One portion of a second part of The Recluse was finished
in 1806, but, like The Prelude, was left in manuscript at the
poet's death. This portion, Home at Grasmere,
joyously celebrated Wordsworth's taking possession (in December
1799) of Dove Cottage, at Grasmere, Westmorland,
where he was to reside for eight of his most productive years. In 1802,
during the short-lived Peace of Amiens, Wordsworth returned briefly
to France, where at Calais he met his daughter and made his peace with
Annette. He then returned to England to marry Mary Hutchinson, a childhood
friend, and start an English family, which had grown to three sons and
two daughters by 1810.
In 1805 the drowning of Wordsworth's favorite brother, John,
the captain of a sailing vessel, gave Wordsworth the strongest
shock he had ever experienced. "A deep distress hath humanized
my Soul," he lamented in his "Elegiac Stanzas" on Peele Castle. Henceforth he would produce a different kind
of poetry, defined by a new sobriety, a new restraint, and a lofty,
almost Miltonic elevation of tone and diction. Wordsworth appeared
to anticipate this turn in "Tintern Abbey,"
where he had learned to hear "the still, sad music of humanity,"
and again in the "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" (written
in 1802-04; published in Poems, in Two Volumes). The theme of
this ode is the loss of his power to see the things he had once seen,
the radiance, the "celestial light" that seemed to lie over
the landscapes of his youth like "the glory and freshness of a
dream." Now, in the Peele Castle stanzas,
he sorrowfully looked back on the light as illusory, as a "Poet's
dream," as "the light that never was, on sea or land."
These metaphors point up the differences between the early and
the late Wordsworth. It is generally accepted that the quality
of his verse fell off as he grew more distant from the sources of his
inspiration and as his Anglican and Tory sentiments hardened into orthodoxy.
Today many readers discern two Wordsworths,
the young Romantic revolutionary and the aging Tory humanist, risen
into what John Keats called the "Egotistical Sublime." Little
of Wordsworth's later verse matches the best of his earlier years.
In his middle period Wordsworth invested a good deal of
his creative energy in odes, the best known of which is "On the
Power of Sound." He also produced a large number of sonnets, most
of them strung together in sequences. The most admired are the Duddon
sonnets (1820), which trace the progress of a stream through Lake District
landscapes and blend nature poetry with philosophic reflection in a
manner now recognized as the best of the later Wordsworth. Other
sonnet sequences record his tours through the European continent, and
the three series of Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822) develop meditations,
many sharply satirical, on church history. But the most memorable poems
of Wordsworth's middle and late years were often cast in elegaic
mode. They range from the poet's heartfelt laments for two of his children
who died in 1812--laments incorporated in The Excursion--to brilliant
lyrical effusions on the deaths of his fellow poets James Hogg, George
Crabbe, Coleridge, and Charles Lamb.
In 1808 Wordsworth and his family moved from Dove Cottage
to larger quarters in Grasmere, and five years
later they settled at Rydal Mount, near Ambleside,
where Wordsworth spent the remainder of his life. In 1813 he
accepted the post of distributor of stamps for the county of Westmorland,
an appointment that carried the salary of 400 a year. Wordsworth
continued to hold back from publication The Prelude, Home
at Grasmere, The Borderers, and Salisbury
Plain. He did publish Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807; The
Excursion in 1814, containing the only finished portions of The
Recluse; and the collected Poems of 1815, which contained
most of his shorter poems and two important critical essays as well.
Wordsworth's other works published during middle age include
The White Doe of Rylstone (1815), a poem about the pathetic shattering
of a Roman Catholic family during an unsuccessful rebellion against
Elizabeth I in 1569; a Thanksgiving Ode (1816); and Peter
Bell (1819), a poem written in 1798 and then modulated in successive
rewritings into an experiment in Romantic irony and the mock-heroic
and coloured by the poet's feelings of affinity with his hero, a "wild
and woodland rover." The Waggoner (1819) is another extended
ballad about a North Country itinerant.
Through all these years Wordsworth was assailed by vicious
and tireless critical attacks by contemptuous reviewers; no great poet
has ever had to endure worse. But finally, with the publication of The
River Duddon in 1820, the tide began to
turn, and by the mid-1830s his reputation had been established with
both critics and the reading public.
Wordsworth's last years were given over partly
to "tinkering" his poems, as the family called his compulsive
and persistent habit of revising his earlier poems through edition after
edition. The Prelude, for instance, went through four distinct
manuscript versions (1798-99, 1805-06, 1818-20, and 1832-39) and was
published only after the poet's death in 1850. Most readers find the
earliest versions of The Prelude and other heavily revised poems
to be the best, but flashes of brilliance can appear in revisions added
when the poet was in his seventies.
Wordsworth succeeded his friend Robert Southey as Britain's poet laureate in 1843 and held that post
until his own death in 1850. Thereafter his influence was felt throughout
the rest of the 19th century, though he was honoured
more for his smaller poems, as singled out by the Victorian critic Matthew
Arnold, than for his masterpiece, The Prelude. In the 20th century
his reputation was strengthened both by recognition of his importance
in the Romantic movement and by an appreciation of the darker elements
in his personality and verse.
William Wordsworth was the central figure
in the English Romantic revolution in poetry. His contribution to it
was threefold. First, he formulated in his poems and his essays a new
attitude toward nature. This was more than a matter of introducing nature
imagery into his verse; it amounted to a fresh view of the organic relation
between man and the natural world, and it culminated in metaphors of
a wedding between nature and the human mind, and beyond that, in the
sweeping metaphor of nature as emblematic of the mind of God, a mind
that "feeds upon infinity" and "broods over the dark
abyss." Second, Wordsworth probed deeply into his own sensibility
as he traced, in his finest poem, The Prelude, the "growth
of a poet's mind." The Prelude was in fact the first long
autobiographical poem. Writing it in a drawn-out process of self-exploration,
Wordsworth worked his way toward a modern psychological understanding
of his own nature, and thus more broadly of human nature. Third, Wordsworth
placed poetry at the centre of human experience; in impassioned rhetoric
he pronounced poetry to be nothing less than "the first and last
of all knowledge--it is as immortal as the heart of man," and he
then went on to create some of the greatest English poetry of his century.
It is probably safe to say that by the late 20th century he stood in
critical estimation where Coleridge and Arnold had originally placed