William Wordsworth is commonly regarded as the vanguard poet of the Romantic era. A true pioneer, Wordsworth sought to cast off all literary convention by expressing often controversial political and religious opinions through his poetry. In the preface to Lyrical Ballads, the intention of every Romantic writer is summarized: “We shall describe objects and utter sentiments of such a nature and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified.” This assumption is most prominently demonstrated in the works of William Wordsworth.
“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” one of his most famous poems, expresses his love of nature and his longing for humanity to unify with the natural world. In “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth uses objects to express man’s connection to nature. The objects symbolize the emotions felt by man when he is alone with nature. As ” Tintern Abbey” opens, we can envision narrator, standing pensively on the riverbank, revisiting the days he spent there, five years previously. He describes a sacred place, a refuge from the storms of the outside world. He is alienated from everything and left only with his thoughts: “Once again/ Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,/That on a wild secluded scene impress/ Thoughts of more deep seclusion” (ll 5-8). Wordsworth uses the cliffs to illustrate the sense of solitude and isolation. In the poem Wordsworth also comments on the blessings he believes man can receive from nature. One of these blessing is a purer understanding of love: “-oh! with far deeper zeal/ Of holier love” (ll 154-5). By explaining his own experience, Wordsworth strengthens the readers bond with nature.
Wordsworth’s poems have a “worthy purpose” that usually focus on how our minds work, and “in much of his poetry his aim is to celebrate the changeless things in nature and man” (Wilkie 615). In his spiritual autobiography, “The Prelude,” Wordsworth acknowledges the impact that the natural world has on the poet. Filled with vivid recollection and nostalgic yearning, “The Prelude” chronicles a child’s journey of self-discovery. In “Book First” the speaker describes a “gentle breeze” that encompasses him (1). With the breeze, he discovers freedom for the first time in his life. The immeasurable joy he feels from this freedom gives birth to inspiration and creativity in the poet: “A correspondent breeze, that gently moved/ With quickening virtue, but is now become/ A tempest, a redundant energy, / Vexing its own creation. Thanks to both, / And their congenial powers, that, while they join/ In breaking up a long-continued frost” (35-40). The “tempest” and “redundant energy” exhibit the overwhelming sense of excitement that the poet feels by having the opportunity to write freely after “a long-continued frost” (37, 40). The poet is overjoyed by the spontaneous burst of creativity and is aware that the breeze is an effect of the natural world.
Along with a love for nature, Wordsworth also had a great affection for children and the idealization of childhood. He believed that children were souls from paradise, directly connected to Heaven. In “The Prelude” Wordsworth expresses this belief: “To those first-born affinities that fit/ Our new existence to existing things, / And, in our dawn of being, constitute/ The bond of union between life and joy” (555-58). Wordsworth believed that in infancy, individuals first become aware of the power of the natural world and their connection to nature. He displays this belief that nature teaches, guides and in some ways fosters the child as a parent in “The Prelude.” In the poem Wordsworth exemplifies that “nature is nurture” (Farnell). By chronicling the child’s relationship to nature, as remembered by the adult, Wordsworth connects the individual to nature and exhibits how the relationship between nature and man is a long and lasting one.
In “We Are Seven,” Wordsworth addresses the child’s understanding of death. The narrator describes a child who despite the death of two of her siblings, still insists that they are a family of seven. The little girl has no understanding of life and death. Because her deceased siblings are alive in her heart, she still believes they are still with her: “How many are you, then” said I, /”If they two are in heaven?”/Quick was the little maids reply/”O Master! We are seven” (ll 61-4). The reader is enlightened to the innocence that exists in children. In a sense, her innocence is her wisdom. The child is pure and free from the tainted views that come with age and experience. Wordsworth gives the reader a fresh outlook on life, free of corruption and negativity.
Throughout his life, William Wordsworth wrote hundreds of poems. Each in their own way, exemplify the characteristics of the Romantic era. William Wordsworth is the definitive Romantic poet.
Brian Wilkie and James Hunt, Eds. Neoclassicism Through the Modern Period. 1997.
Gary Farnell. “Wordsworth’s The Prelude as the Autobiography of an Orphan.” Romanticism on the Net. http://users.ox.ac.uk/~scat0385/orphan.html.
William Wordsworth “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” http://www.bartleby.com/39/36.html
William Wordsworth. “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” English Romantic Writer. Ed. David Perkins.
William Wordsworth. “We Are Seven.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins.