- The Lyrical William Wordsworth [Biography]
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William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born on 7 April, 1770, in Cockermouth, Cumberland, and educated at Saint John's College, University of Cambridge. He developed a keen love of nature as a youth, and during school vacation periods he frequently visited places noted for their scenic beauty. In the summer of 1790 he took a walking tour through France and Switzerland. After receiving his degree in 1791 he returned to France, and it was there that he fell in love with Annette Vallon. She bore him a daughter in December 1792, shortly before his return to England.

Although Wordsworth had begun to write poetry while still a schoolboy, none of his poems was published until 1793, when An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches appeared. These works, although fresh and original in content, reflect the influence of the formal style of 18th century English poetry. The poems received little notice, and few copies were sold.

Wordsworth had met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an enthusiastic admirer of his early poetic efforts, and in 1797 he and his sister Dorothy moved to Alfoxden, Somersetshire, near Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. The move marked the beginning of a close and enduring friendship between the poets. In the ensuing period they collaborated on a book of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads, first published in 1798.

This work is generally taken to mark the beginning of the Romantic Movement in English poetry. Wordsworth wrote almost all the poems in the volume, including the memorable "Tintern Abbey"; Coleridge contributed the famous "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Representing a revolt against the artificial classicism of contemporary English verse, Lyrical Ballads was greeted with hostility by most leading critics of the day.

In defence of his unconventional theory of poetry, Wordsworth wrote a "Preface" to the second edition of Ballads, which appeared in 1800. His premise was that the source of poetic truth is the direct experience of the sense. Poetry, he asserted, originates from "emotion recollected in tranquillity." Rejecting the contemporary emphasis on form and an intellectual approach that drained poetic writing of strong emotion, he maintained that the scenes and events of every-day life and the speech of ordinary people were the raw material of which poetry could and should be made.

Before his publication of the "Preface", Wordsworth and his sister had accompanied Coleridge to Germany in 1798-99. There Wordsworth wrote several of his finest lyrical verses, the "Lucy" poems, and began The Prelude. This introspective account of his own development was completed in 1805 and, after substantial revision, published posthumously in 1850. Many critics rank it as Wordsworth's greatest work.

Returning to England, William and his sister settled in 1799 at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Westmorland, the loveliest spot in the English Lake District; the poet Robert Southey as well as Coleridge lived nearby. The three men became known as the Lake Poets. In 1802 Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend, who is portrayed in "She was a Phantom of Delight". In 1807 Poems in Two Volumes was published. The work contains much of Wordsworth's finest verse, notably "Ode: Intimations of Immortality", the autobiographical narrative "Resolution and Independence" and many of his well-known sonnets.

Much of Wordsworth's easy flow of conversational blank verse has true lyrical power and grace, and his finest work is permeated by a sense of the human relationship to external nature that is religious in its scope and intensity. To Wordsworth, God was everywhere manifest in the harmony of nature, and he felt deeply the kinship between nature and the soul of humankind.

As he advanced in age, Wordsworth's poetic vision and inspiration dulled; his later, more rhetorical, moralistic poems cannot be compared to the lyrics of his youth although a number of them are illumined by the spark of his former greatness.

In 1842 Wordsworth was awarded a government pension, and in the following year he succeeded Southey as poet laureate. Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount, 23 April, 1850, and was buried in the Grasmere churchyard.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


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