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William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication “Lyrical Ballads” in 1798. Wordsworth’s poetry is known for its emphasis on nature, emotion, and the beauty of the ordinary.

Early Life and Education

  • Birth: April 7, 1770, in Cockermouth, Cumberland, England.
  • Family: He was the second of five children. His mother died when he was eight, and his father when he was thirteen.
  • Education: Attended Hawkshead Grammar School and later studied at St John’s College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1791 but was not an outstanding student.

Personal Life

  • France: Wordsworth traveled to France in 1791, where he was influenced by the French Revolution’s ideals. He had an affair with Annette Vallon, which resulted in a daughter, Caroline.
  • Marriage: In 1802, he married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, and they had five children together.

Literary Career

  • Early Works: His first published work was “An Evening Walk” and “Descriptive Sketches” in 1793. These early works showed his growing appreciation of nature.
  • Lyrical Ballads: In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge published “Lyrical Ballads,” which included Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” This collection is often considered the beginning of the English Romantic movement. Wordsworth’s preface to the 1800 edition of “Lyrical Ballads” is a critical manifesto of Romantic poetry.
  • The Prelude: Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic poem, “The Prelude,” was published posthumously in 1850. It explores the development of his love for nature and his philosophical outlook.

Themes and Style

  • Nature: Wordsworth saw nature as a source of spiritual renewal and moral guidance. His poetry often features detailed descriptions of the natural world and explores the relationship between humans and nature.
  • Emotion and Imagination: Wordsworth believed that poetry should express deep personal feelings and the power of imagination. He aimed to depict ordinary life and everyday experiences with emotional intensity.
  • The Sublime: His work frequently explores the concept of the sublime—the awe-inspiring beauty of nature that provokes deep emotional responses.

Major Works

  • “Tintern Abbey”: Reflects Wordsworth’s belief in the spiritual and restorative power of nature.
  • “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”: Explores themes of childhood innocence and the loss of that innocence with age.
  • “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”: Also known as “Daffodils,” this poem celebrates the beauty of nature and its ability to uplift the human spirit.
  • “The Prelude”: An introspective, philosophical epic about the development of his poetic mind.

Later Life and Legacy

  • Poet Laureate: Wordsworth was named Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1843, a position he held until his death.
  • Death: He died on April 23, 1850, in Rydal Mount, Westmorland, England.
  • Influence: Wordsworth’s work influenced countless poets and writers. His emphasis on emotion, nature, and the individual’s experience remains central to Romantic literature.

Wordsworth’s poetry continues to be celebrated for its profound reflections on the human condition and its deep reverence for the natural world. His innovative use of language and focus on personal emotion marked a significant shift in the literary landscape of his time.