Skip to main content
Select Source:

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), an early leader of romanticism in English poetry, ranks as one of the greatest lyric poets in the history of English literature.

William Wordsworth was born in Cookermouth, Cumberland, on April 7, 1770, the second child of an attorney. Unlike the other major English romantic poets, he enjoyed a happy childhood under the loving care of his mother and in close intimacy with his younger sister Dorothy (1771-1855). As a child, he wandered exuberantly through the lovely natural scenery of Cumberland. At Hawkshead Grammar School, Wordsworth showed keen and precociously discriminating interest in poetry. He was fascinated by "the divine John Milton," impressed by George Crabbe's descriptions of poverty, and repelled by the "falsehood" and "spurious imagery" in Ossian's nature poetry.

From 1787 to 1790 Wordsworth attended St. John's College, Cambridge, always returning with breathless delight to the north and to nature during his summer vacations. Before graduating from Cambridge, he took a walking tour through France, Switzerland, and Italy in 1790. The Alps gave him an ecstatic impression that he was not to recognize until 14 years later as a mystical "sense of usurpation, when the light of sense/ Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed/ The invisible world"—the world of "infinitude" that is "our beings's heart and home."

Sojourn in France

Revolutionary fervor in France made a powerful impact on the young idealist, who returned there in November 1791 allegedly to improve his knowledge of the French language. Wordsworth's stay in Paris, Orléans, and Blois proved decisive in three important respects. First, his understanding of politics at the time was slight, but his French experience was a powerful factor in turning his inbred sympathy for plain common people, among whom he had spent the happiest years of his life, into articulate radicalism. Second, in 1792 Wordsworth composed his most ambitious poem to date, the Descriptive Sketches. An admittedly juvenile, derivative work, it was in fact less descriptive of nature than the earlier An Evening Walk, composed at Cambridge. But it better illustrated his vein of protest and his belief in political freedom.

Finally, while Wordsworth's political ideas and poetic talent were thus beginning to take shape, he fell passionately in love with a French girl, Annette Vallon. She gave birth to their daughter in December 1792. Having exhausted his meager funds, he was obliged to return home. The separation left him with a sense of guilt that deepened his poetic inspiration and that accounted for the prominence of the theme of derelict womanhood in much of his work.

Publication of First Poems

Descriptive Sketches and An Evening Walk were printed in 1793. By then, Wordsworth's wretchedness over Annette and their child had been aggravated by a tragic sense of torn loyalties as war broke out between England and the French Republic. This conflict precipitated his republicanism, which he expounded with almost religious zeal and eloquence in A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff, while his new imaginative insight into human sorrow and fortitude found poetic expression in "Salisbury Plain." The influence of William Godwin's ideas in Political Justice prompted Wordsworth to write "Guilt and Sorrow," and this influence is also perceptible in his unactable drama, The Borderers (1796). This Sturm und Drang composition, however, also testified to the poet's humanitarian disappointment with the French Revolution, which had lately engaged in the terrorist regime of Maximilien de Robespierre.

The year 1797 marked the beginning of Wordsworth's long and mutually enriching friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the first fruit of which was their joint publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798). Wordsworth's main share in the volume was conceived as a daring experiment to challenge "the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers" in the name of precision in psychology and realism in diction. Most of his poems in this collection centered on the simple yet deeply human feelings of ordinary people, phrased in their own language. His views on this new kind of poetry were more fully described in the important "Preface" that he wrote for the second edition (1800).

"Tintern Abbey"

Wordsworth's most memorable contribution to this volume was "Tintern Abbey," which he wrote just in time for inclusion in it. This poem is the first major piece to illustrate his original talent at its best. A lyrical summing up of the poet's experiences and expectations, it skillfully combines matter-of-factness in natural description with a genuinely mystical sense of infinity, joining self-exploration to philosophical speculation. While tracing the poet's ascent from unthinking enjoyment of nature to the most exalted perception of cosmic oneness, it also voices his gnawing perplexity as the writer—prophetically, as it turned out— wonders whether his exhilarating vision of universal harmony may not be a transient delusion. The poem closes on a subdued but confident reassertion of nature's healing power, even though mystical insight may be withdrawn from the poet.

In its successful blending of inner and outer experience, of sense perception, feeling, and thought, "Tintern Abbey" is a poem in which the writer's self becomes an adequate symbol of mankind; undisguisedly subjective reminiscences lead to imaginative speculations about man and the universe. This cosmic outlook rooted in egocentricity is a central feature of romanticism, and Wordsworth's poetry is undoubtedly the most impressive exponent of this view in English literature.

The writing of "Tintern Abbey" anticipated the later spiritual evolution of Wordsworth; it clarified the direction that his best work took in the next few years; and it heralded the period in which he made his imperishable contribution to the development of English romanticism. Significantly, this period was also the time of his closest intimacy with Dorothy—who kept the records of their experiences and thus supplied him with an unceasing flow of motifs, characters, and incidents on which to base his poetry—and with Coleridge, whose constant encouragement and criticism provided the incentive to ever deeper searching and to more articulate thinking. The three lived at Nether Stowey, Somerset, in 1797-1798; took a trip to Germany in 1798-1799, which left little impression on Wordsworth's mind; and then settled in Grasmere in the Lake District.

Poems of the Middle Period

Even while writing his contributions to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth had been feeling his way toward more ambitious schemes. He had embarked on a long poem in blank verse, "The Ruined Cottage," later referred to as "The Peddlar"; it was intended to form part of a vast philosophical poem that was to bear the painfully explicit title "The Recluse, or Views of Man, Nature and Society." In it the poet hoped to "assume the station of a man in mental repose, one whose principles were made up, and so prepared to deliver upon authority a system of philosophy." This grand project, in which Coleridge had a considerable share of responsibility, never materialized as originally contemplated; its materials were later incorporated into The Excursion (1815), which centers on the poet's own problems and conflicts under a thin disguise of objectivity. This distortion is significant. Abstract impersonal speculation was not congenial to Wordsworth; he could handle experiences in the philosophical-lyrical manner that was truly his own only insofar as they were closely related to himself and therefore genuinely aroused his creative feelings and imagination. During the winter months that he spent in Germany, he started work on his magnum opus, the "poem on his own mind," which was to be published posthumously as The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet's Mind.

As yet, however, such an achievement was still beyond Wordsworth's scope, and it was back to the shorter poetic forms that he turned during the most productive season of his long literary life, the spring of 1802, when the great loss anticipated in "Tintern Abbey" came over him. The output of these fertile months, however, mostly derived from his earlier, twofold inspiration: nature and the common people. In "To a Butterfly," "I wandered lonely as a cloud," "To the Cuckoo," "The Rainbow," and other poems, Wordsworth went on to express his inexhaustible delight and participation in nature's "beauteous forms." Such poems as "The Sailor's Mother" and "Alice Fell, or the Beggar-Woman" were in the Lyrical Ballads vein, voicing "the still, sad music of humanity" and exhibiting once more his unfailing understanding of and compassion for the sufferings and moral resilience of the poor.

Changes in Philosophy

The crucial event of this period was Wordsworth's loss of the sense of mystical oneness, which had sustained his highest imaginative flights. Indeed, a mood of despondency as acute as Coleridge's in "Dejection" at times descended over Wordsworth, now 32 years old, as life compelled him to outgrow the joyful, irresponsible gladness of youth. He became engaged to Mary Hutchinson, a girl he had known since childhood. Marriage in 1802 entailed new cares and responsibilities. One was to secure some sort of financial stability, and another was somehow to wind up the Annette Vallon episode.

In the summer of 1802 Wordsworth spent a few weeks in Calais with Dorothy, where he arranged a friendly separation with Annette and their child. Napoleon Bonaparte had just been elected first consul for life, and Wordsworth's renewed contact with France only confirmed his disillusionment with the French Revolution and its aftermath. During this period he had become increasingly concerned with Coleridge, who by now was almost totally dependent upon opium for relief from his physical sufferings. Both friends were thus brought face to face with the unpalatable fact that the realities of life were in stark contradiction to the visionary expectations of their youth. But whereas Coleridge recognized this and gave up poetry for abstruse pursuits that were more congenial to him, Wordsworth characteristically sought to redefine his own identity in ways that would allow him a measure of continuity in purposefulness. The new turn that his life took in 1802 resulted in an inner change that set the new course that his poetry henceforth followed.

In earlier days, Wordsworth's interest in the common people, whom he knew and loved and admired, had prompted him to assume a revolutionary stance. He now relinquished this stance, his attachment to his "dear native regions" extending to his native country and its institutions, which he now envisioned as a more suitable emblem of genuine freedom and harmony than France's revolutionary turmoils and republican imperialism. Poems about England and Scotland began pouring forth from his pen, while France and Napoleon soon became Wordsworth's favorite symbols of cruelty and oppression. His nationalistic inspiration led him to produce the two "Memorials of a Tour in Scotland" (1803, 1814) and the group entitled "Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty."

Poems of 1802

The best poems of 1802, however, deal with a deeper level of inner change: with Wordsworth's awareness of his loss and with his manly determination to find moral and poetic compensation for it. In his ode "Intimations of Immortality" (March-April), he plainly recognized that "The things which I have seen I now can see no more"; yet he emphasized that although the "visionary gleam" had fled, the memory remained, and although the "celestial light" had vanished, the "common sight" of "meadow, grove and stream" was still a potent source of delight and solace. And in "Resolution and Independence" (May), he in fact admonished himself to welcome his loss in a spirit of stoic acceptance and of humble gratefulness to God.

Thus Wordsworth shed his earlier tendency to a pantheistic idealization of nature and turned to a more sedate doctrine of orthodox Christianity. Younger poets and critics soon blamed him for this "recantation," which they equated with his change of mind about the French Revolution. While it is true that lyrical outbursts about duty and religion are apt to sound conventional and sanctimonious to modern ears, one cannot doubt the sincerity of Wordsworth's belief, expressed in 1815, that "poetry is most just to its own divine origin when it administers the comforts and breathes the spirit of religion." His Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822), which purport to describe "the introduction, progress, and operation of the Church of England, both previous and subsequent to the Reformation," are clear evidence of the way in which love of freedom, of nature, and of the Church came to coincide in his mind.

The Prelude

Nevertheless, it was the direction suggested in "Intimations of Immortality" that, in the view of later criticism, enabled Wordsworth to produce perhaps the most outstanding achievement of English romanticism: The Prelude. He worked on it, on and off, for several years and completed the first version in May 1805. The Prelude can claim to be the only true romantic epic because it deals in narrative terms with the spiritual growth of the only true romantic hero, the poet. Thus Wordsworth evolved a new genre peculiarly suited to his temperament. In this poem as in most of his best poetry—but here on a larger scale—the egocentricity for which he has often been rebuked was validated through symbolism. The inward odyssey of the poet was not described for its own sake but as a sample and as an adequate image of man at his most sensitive.

Wordsworth shared the general romantic notion that personal experience is the only way to gain living knowledge. The purpose of The Prelude was to recapture and interpret, with detailed thoroughness, the whole range of experiences that had contributed to the shaping of his own mind. Such a procedure enabled him to rekindle the dying embers of his earlier vision; it also enabled him to reassess the transient truth and the lasting value of his earlier glorious insights in the light of mature wisdom. It lies in the nature of such an extended process of reminiscence and revaluation that only death can end it, and Wordsworth wisely refrained from publishing the poem in his lifetime, revising it continuously. The posthumously printed version differs in several ways from the text he read to Coleridge in 1807. It is surprising, however, that the changes from the early version should not be more radical than they are. Most of them are improvements in style and structure. Wordsworth's youthful enthusiasm for the French Revolution has been slightly toned down. Most important and, perhaps, most to be regretted, the poet also tried to give a more orthodox tinge to his early mystical faith in nature.

Later Years

This type of modification toward orthodoxy had already been introduced in 1804, by which time the basic features of Wordsworth's mature personality had begun to stabilize. Of his later life, indeed, little needs to be said. He was much affected by the death of his brother John in 1805, an event that strengthened his adherence to the consolations of the Church. But he was by no means reduced to utter conformity, as his tract On the Convention of Cintra (1808), a strongly worded protest against the English betrayal of Portuguese and Spanish allies to Napoleon, shows. Important passages in The Excursion, in which he criticizes the new industrial forms of man's inhumanity to man, witness this also.

Wordsworth's estrangement from Coleridge in 1810 deprived him of a powerful incentive to imaginative and intellectual alertness. Wordsworth's appointment to the office of distributor of stamps for Westmoreland in 1813 relieved him of financial care, but it also dissipated his suspicion of the aristocracy and helped him to become a confirmed Tory and a devout member of the Anglican Church. Wordsworth's unabating love for nature made him view the emergent industrial society with undisguished diffidence, but although he opposed the Reform Bill of 1832, which, in his view, merely transferred political power from the landed to the manufacturing class, he never stopped pleading in favor of the victims of the factory system. In 1843 he was appointed poet laureate. He died on April 23, 1850.

Further Reading

Mary Moorman, William Wordsworth: A Biography (2 vols., 1957, 1965), is the standard work. On the poet's personality, Herbert Read, Wordsworth (1930), and Wallace W. Douglas, Wordsworth: The Construction of a Personality (1968), are of interest.

General introductions to the poetry include Peter Burra, Wordsworth (1936); James C. Smith, A Study of Wordsworth (1944); Helen Darbishire, The Poet Wordsworth (1950); John F. Danby, The Simple Wordsworth (1960); Frederick W. Bateson, Wordsworth: A Re-interpretation (2d ed. 1963); and Carl Woodring, Wordsworth (1965). More specialized studies include David Ferry, The Limits of Mortality (1959); Colin C. Clarke, Romantic Paradox: An Essay on the Poetry of Wordsworth (1963); Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787-1814 (1964); David Perkins, Wordsworth and the Poetry of Sincerity (1965); Bernard Groom, The Unity of Wordsworth's Poetry (1966); and James Scoggins, Imagination and Fancy: Complementary Modes in the Poetry of Wordsworth (1966).

Important discussions of Wordsworth's philosophy are Arthur Beatty, William Wordsworth: His Doctrine and Art in Their Historical Relation (1922); Raymond D. Havens, The Mind of a Poet (1941); Newton P. Stallknecht, Strange Seas of Thought: Studies in William Wordsworth's Philosophy of Man and Nature (1945; 2d ed. 1958); Enid Welsford, Salisbury Plain: A Study in the Development of Wordsworth's Mind and Art (1966); and Melvin Rader, Wordsworth: A Philosophical Approach (1967).

The poet's literary theories are discussed in Marjorie Greenbie, Wordsworth's Theory of Poetic Diction (1966), and his political outlook in Francis M. Todd, Politics and the Poet: A Study of Wordsworth (1957), and in Amanda M. Ellis, Rebels and Conservatives: Dorothy and William Wordsworth and Their Circle (1968). Analyses of individual works include Judson S. Lyon, The Excursion: A Study (1950); Abbie F. Potts, Wordsworth's Prelude: A Study of Its Literary Form (1953); Herbert Lindenberger, On Wordsworth's Prelude (1963); John F. Danby, Wordsworth: The Prelude (1963); and Roger N. Murray, Wordsworth's Style: Figures and Themes in the 'Lyrical Ballads' of 1800 (1967). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William Wordsworth." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William Wordsworth." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-wordsworth

"William Wordsworth." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-wordsworth

Wordsworth, William

William Wordsworth

Born: April 7, 1770
Cookermouth, Cumberland, England
Died: April 23, 1850
Rydal Mount, Westmorland, England

English poet

William Wordsworth was an early leader of romanticism (a literary movement that celebrated nature and concentrated on human emotions) in English poetry and ranks as one of the greatest lyric poets in the history of English literature.

His early years

William Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770, in Cookermouth, Cumberland, England, the second child of an attorney. Unlike the other major English romantic poets, he enjoyed a happy childhood under the loving care of his mother and was very close to his sister Dorothy. As a child he wandered happily through the lovely natural scenery of Cumberland. In grammar school, Wordsworth showed a keen interest in poetry. He was fascinated by the epic poet John Milton (16081674).

From 1787 to 1790 Wordsworth attended St. John's College at Cambridge University. He always returned to his home and to nature during his summer vacations. Before graduating from Cambridge, he took a walking tour through France, Switzerland, and Italy in 1790. The Alps made an impression on him that he did not recognize until fourteen years later.

Stay in France

Revolutionary passion in France made a powerful impact on Wordsworth, who returned there in November 1791. He wanted to improve his knowledge of the French language. His experience in France just after the French Revolution (1789; the French overthrew the ruling monarchy) reinforced his sympathy for common people and his belief in political freedom.

Wordsworth fell passionately in love with a French girl, Annette Vallon. She gave birth to their daughter in December 1792. However, Wordsworth had spent his limited funds and was forced to return home. The separation left him with a sense of guilt that deepened his poetic inspiration and resulted in an important theme in his work of abandoned women.

Publication of first poems

Wordsworth's first poems, Descriptive Sketches and An Evening Walk, were printed in 1793. He wrote several pieces over the next several years. The year 1797 marked the beginning of Wordsworth's long friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (17721834). Together they published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Wordsworth wanted to challenge "the gaudiness [unnecessarily flashy] and inane [foolish] phraseology [wording] of many modern writers." Most of his poems in this collection centered on the simple yet deeply human feelings of ordinary people, phrased in their own language. His views on this new kind of poetry were more fully described in the important "Preface" that he wrote for the second edition (1800).

"Tintern Abbey"

Wordsworth's most memorable contribution to this volume was "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," which he wrote just in time to include it. This poem is the first major piece to illustrate his original talent at its best. It skillfully combines matter-of-factness in natural description with a genuinely mystical (magical) sense of infinity, joining self-exploration to philosophical speculation (questioning). The poem closes on a subdued but confident reassertion of nature's healing power, even though mystical insight may be obtained from the poet.

In its successful blending of inner and outer experience, of sense perception, feeling, and thought, "Tintern Abbey" is a poem in which the writer becomes a symbol of mankind. The poem leads to imaginative thoughts about man and the universe. This cosmic outlook rooted in the self is a central feature of romanticism. Wordsworth's poetry is undoubtedly the most impressive example of this view in English literature.

Poems of the middle period

Wordsworth, even while writing his contributions to the Lyrical Ballads, had been feeling his way toward more ambitious schemes. He had embarked on a long poem in unrhymed verse, "The Ruined Cottage," later referred to as "The Peddlar." It was intended to form part of a vast philosophical poem with the title "The Recluse, or Views of Man, Nature and Society." This grand project never materialized as originally planned.

Abstract, impersonal speculation was not comfortable for Wordsworth. He could handle experiences in the philosophical-lyrical manner only if they were closely related to himself and could arouse his creative feelings and imagination. During the winter months he spent in Germany, he started work on his magnum opus (greatest work), The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet's Mind. It was published after his death.

However, such a large achievement was still beyond Wordsworth's scope (area of capabilities) at this time. It was back to the shorter poetic forms that he turned during the most productive season of his long literary life, the spring of 1802. The output of these fertile (creative) months mostly came from his earlier inspirations: nature and the common people. During this time he wrote "To a Butterfly," "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," "To the Cuckoo," "The Rainbow," and other poems.

Changes in philosophy

The crucial event of this period was Wordsworth's loss of the sense of mystical oneness, which had sustained (lasted throughout) his highest imaginative flights. Indeed, a mood of despondency (depression) descended over Wordsworth, who was then thirty-two years old.

In the summer of 1802 Wordsworth spent a few weeks in Calais, France, with his sister Dorothy. Wordsworth's renewed contact with France only confirmed his disillusionment (disappointment) with the French Revolution and its aftermath.

During this period Wordsworth had become increasingly concerned with Coleridge, who by now was almost totally dependent upon opium (a highly addictive drug) for relief from his physical sufferings. Both friends came to believe that the realities of life were in stark contradiction (disagreement) to the visionary expectations of their youth. Wordsworth characteristically sought to redefine his own identity in ways that would allow him a measure of meaning. The new turn his life took in 1802 resulted in an inner change that set the new course his poetry followed from then on.

Poems about England and Scotland began pouring forth from Wordsworth's pen, while France and Napoleon (17691821) soon became Wordsworth's favorite symbols of cruelty and oppression. His nationalistic (intense pride in one's own country) inspiration led him to produce the two "Memorials of a Tour in Scotland" (1803, 1814) and the group entitled "Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty."

Poems of 1802

The best poems of 1802, however, deal with a deeper level of inner change. In Wordsworth's poem "Intimations of Immortality" (MarchApril), he plainly recognized that "The things which I have seen I now can see no more"; yet he emphasized that although the "visionary gleam" had fled, the memory remained, and although the "celestial light" had vanished, the "common sight" of "meadow, grove and stream" was still a potent (strong) source of delight and solace (comfort).

Thus Wordsworth shed his earlier tendency to idealize nature and turned to a more sedate (calm) doctrine (set of beliefs) of orthodox Christianity. Younger poets and critics soon blamed him for this "recantation" (renouncing), which they equated with his change of mind about the French Revolution. His Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822) are clear evidence of the way in which love of freedom, nature, and the Church came to coincide (come together at the same time) in his mind.

The Prelude

Nevertheless, it was the direction suggested in "Intimations of Immortality" that, in the view of later criticism, enabled Wordsworth to produce perhaps the most outstanding achievement of English romanticism: The Prelude. He worked on it, on and off, for several years and completed the first version in May 1805. The Prelude can claim to be the only true romantic epic (long, often heroic work) because it deals in narrative terms with the spiritual growth of the only true romantic hero, the poet. The inward odyssey (journey) of the poet was described not for its own sake but as a sample and as an adequate image of man at his most sensitive.

Wordsworth shared the general romantic notion that personal experience is the only way to gain living knowledge. The purpose of The Prelude was to recapture and interpret, with detailed thoroughness, the whole range of experiences that had contributed to the shaping of his own mind. Wordsworth refrained from publishing the poem in his lifetime, revising it continuously. Most important and, perhaps, most to be regretted, the poet also tried to give a more orthodox tinge to his early mystical faith in nature.

Later years

Wordsworth's estrangement (growing apart) from Coleridge in 1810 deprived him of a powerful incentive to imaginative and intellectual alertness. Wordsworth's appointment to a government position in 1813 relieved him of financial care.

Wordsworth's undiminished love for nature made him view the emergent (just appearing) industrial society with undisguised reserve. He opposed the Reform Bill of 1832, which, in his view, merely transferred political power from the land owners to the manufacturing class, but he never stopped pleading in favor of the victims of the factory system.

In 1843 Wordsworth was appointed poet laureate (official poet of a country). He died on April 23, 1850.

For More Information

Davies, Hunter. William Wordsworth: A Biography. New York: Atheneum, 1980.

Gill, Stephen. William Wordsworth: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Johnston, Kenneth R. The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.

Negrotta, Rosanna. William Wordsworth: A Biography with Selected Poems. London: Brockhampton, 1999.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Wordsworth, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wordsworth, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william-0

"Wordsworth, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william-0

Wordsworth, William

William Wordsworth, 1770–1850, English poet, b. Cockermouth, Cumberland. One of the great English poets, he was a leader of the romantic movement in England.

Life and Works

In 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.

The 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.

In 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.

In 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 sonnets.

Thereafter, 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 laureate.

Assessment

Wordsworth's 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.

Wordsworth's 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."

Although 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.

Bibliography

See his poetical works, ed. by E. de Selincourt and H. Darbishire (5 vol., 1940–49); his prose works, ed. by W. J. B. Owen and J. W. Smyser (3 vol., 1974); correspondence with his sister, ed. by E. de Selincourt (6 vol., 1967–82); biographies by M. Moorman (2 vol., 1965), S. Gill (1984), K. R. Johnston (1999), and J. Barker (rev. ed. 2005); studies by M. Reed (1967), F. E. Halliday (1970), R. Rehder (1981), J. K. Changler (1984), P. Hamilton (1986), A. J. Bewell (1989), D. Bromwich (1999), and A. Potkay (2012); G. McMaster, William Wordsworth: A Critical Anthology (1973); A. Sisman, The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge (2007).



Wordsworth's sister, 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, and describe 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.

Bibliography

See her journals, ed. by H. Darbishire (2 vol., 1958; rev. ed. 1971, ed. by M. Moorman, repr. 1991); biography by E. de Selincourt (1933); A. M. Ellis, Rebels and Conservatives: Dorothy and William Wordsworth and Their Circle (1967); E. Hardwick, Seduction and Betrayal (1974); F. Wilson, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (2009).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Wordsworth, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wordsworth, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william

"Wordsworth, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william

Wordsworth, William (Brocklesby)

Wordsworth, William (Brocklesby) (b London, 1908; d Kingussie, Inverness-shire, 1988). Eng. composer. His 2nd sym. won Edinburgh Fest. Int. Comp. 1950. Mus. in idiom unfashionable in 1960s and 1970s but of expressive emotional range, melodic attraction, fine craftsmanship, and consistent integrity. Lived many years in Surrey, then moved in 1960s to Scottish Highlands (in which he anticipated Maxwell Davies) and helped to form Scottish branch of Composers’ Guild. Prin. works:ORCH.: syms.: No.1 in F minor (1944), No.2 in D (1947–8), No.3 in C (1951), No.4 in E♭ (1953), No.5 in A minor (1959–60), No.6 (1976–7), No.7 (1981), No.8 (1986); concs.: pf. in D minor (1946), vn. in A (1955); vc. (1963); Divertimento in D (1954); Sinfonietta (1957); Variations on a Scottish Theme (1962); Highland Overture (1964); Jubilation (1965); Valediction (1969); Confluence, sym. vars. (1975); Elegy for Frieda, str. (1982).CHORAL: The Houseless Dead, bar., ch., orch. (1939); Dies Domini, oratorio (1942–4); In No Strange Land (1951); A Song of Praise (1956); 2 Seasonal Songs (1971).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: No.1 (1941), No.2 (1944), No.3 (1947), No.4 (1950), No.5 (1957), No.6 (1964); 4 Lyrics, ten., str. qt. (1941); str. trio (1945); pf. qt. (1948); pf. trio (1949); ob. qt. (1949); cl. quintet (1952); pf. quintet (1959); The Solitary Reaper, sop., cl., pf. (1973); vc. sonata (1937); vn. sonata (1944); Theme and Variations, ob., pf. (1954); va. sonatina (1961); Prelude and Scherzo, ob., pf. (1974).PIANO: sonata in D minor (1939); Cheesecombe Suite (1945–6); Ballade (1949); Valediction (1967).VOICE & PIANO: 4 Songs, high v. (1936); 3 Songs, medium v. (1938); 4 Sacred Sonnets (Donne), low v. (1944); 4 Blake Songs, high v. (1948); Ariel's Songs, medium v. (1968).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Wordsworth, William (Brocklesby)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wordsworth, William (Brocklesby)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/wordsworth-william-brocklesby

"Wordsworth, William (Brocklesby)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/wordsworth-william-brocklesby

Wordsworth, William

Wordsworth, William (1770–1850). Greatest of the Romantic poets for ‘the union of deep feeling with profound thought’ his friend Coleridge admired in his work. From Cambridge a visit to France on the first anniversary of the Revolution fired his enthusiasm for the people's cause: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!’ His loyalties divided by the outbreak of war and separated from the woman who bore his child, he settled in Dorset with his sister Dorothy. The conditions of the rural poor preoccupied him and a Godwinian rationalism coloured his thinking; at this period Coleridge judged him ‘at least a semi-atheist’. Lyrical Ballads (1798) was written to show that ‘men who do not wear fine clothes can feel deeply’ and a copy presented to Charles James Fox. After 1800, back in his native Cumberland, a more subjective vein emerged in The Prelude (not published until 1850), the long poem on the growth of his own mind. A long life saw some hardening of poetical arteries and political attitudes; later commentators have generally preferred the poetry of his radical youth.

John Saunders

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Wordsworth, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wordsworth, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william

"Wordsworth, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william

Wordsworth, William

Wordsworth, William (1770–1850) English poet, a leading figure of Romanticism. He collaborated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Lyrical Ballads (1798). The collection concluded with Wordsworth's poem “Tintern Abbey”. His preface to the second edition (1800) outlined the aims of English Romanticism, which through the use of everyday language enabled “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. Critics derided his style. In 1799, he and his sister Dorothy moved to the Lake District; his poetry always bound up with a love of nature. The Prelude, a long autobiographical poem, was completed in 1805, but only published posthumously in 1850. After Poems in Two Volumes (1807), which includes “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”, it is generally recognized that his creativity declined. In 1843, he succeeded Robert Southey as poet laureate.

http://www.online-literature.com/wordsworth

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Wordsworth, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wordsworth, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william

"Wordsworth, William." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wordsworth-william