Lyrical Ballads and Related Writings by William Wordsworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Published in 1798, this collection of short poems is more notable for the "advertisement" - a sort of short introduction - and for the preface to the 1802 edition than for the poetry itself. In the introduction, Wordsworth wrote: "The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure."
The 21st century reader, encountering thee and thou and can'st and robb'd and the other poetic diction and affectations of early Romantic poetry and finding it anything but modern, has difficulty understanding what was so revolutionary about this slim book of poetry. It contains "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" and "Tintern Abbey" but otherwise most of the poems are no longer well known or considered first-rate. Many of the pieces concern madness, a fallen womkan, an idiot, a child who does not understand that her siblings are dead, or a shepherd who has lost his flock. These were not, in the 18th century and earlier, considered fit topics for poetry.
Besides the poetic fertility of everyday life in the lower classes, Wordsworth was trying to sell the idea that:
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man;
Of moral evil and of good
Than all the sages can.
Nature was not seen at that time as the spiritual inspiration it now is. This was before the flock of golden daffodils and the 19th century custom of vacationing in the Alps.
Here, from "Tintern Abbey," is more of Wordsworth's Romantic philosophy:
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Pretty inspiring. I especially like "the round oceans." It goes on:
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
And all my moral being.
It's enough to make Samuel Johnson spin in his grave.
2011 No 19
Coming soon: O: A Presidential Novel, by Anonymous
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