Tuesday, November 13, 2012
William Wordsworth - An Analysis
To be honest, I'm not really a fan of Wordsworth. I have never managed to get through Tintern Abbey without falling asleep at least 3 times. But some of his poetry is actually some of my favourite poetry and since I had already written this essay I thought I should share it. This is the edited version. I obviously don't plan to share all of it unless I have a very good reason. I hope it helps you appreciate what he has written because whatever we may think now, what he did was really a leap ahead of his time.
William Wordsworth is universally regarded among the greatest poets of English literature. Charles William comments that Wordsworth, along with Shakespeare and Milton form the three great ranges of English poetry while other poets of equal height are mere peaks, thus comparing Wordsworth’s poetic skill to the breathtaking vastness of a mountain range.
At its greatest, Wordsworth’s poetry has a solemn sincerity beyond the compass of the human voice to utter. He does so by arousing a sense of unity of individual life with universal life.
“The shell of his verse ‘murmurs of the ocean from whence it came’; something more than us, more than Wordsworth, more than the poetry of Wordsworth, seems to open up and expand in the sound, as afterwards it withdraws and closes itself in the more expected, but still noble, verse to which it returns.” (Charles William)
In 1798, along with Coleridge, Wordsworth published The Lyrical Ballads which embodied his first major achievements in poetry. The famous Preface to The Lyrical Ballads lays down Wordsworth’s objectives and principles with reference to his poetry. In his own words,
“The principle object… proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as possible in a selection of language really used by men… and to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them… primary laws of our nature.”
Didacticism is another of Wordsworth’s traits and he attempts to draw moral conclusions through his poetry. He was conscious of his moral purpose and made sure the reader did not miss the point. For example, in the Lucy Poem Three Years She Grew he narrates Lucy’s education by Nature and indirectly preaches the idea education of a child and the traits of a human being educated thus. In his own words, “Every great poet is a teacher: I wish either to be considered as a teacher or as nothing.”
In keeping with Rousseau’s notion of the ‘noble savage,’ Wordsworth shows a preference and respect for the humble and rustic life, believing that men are better and uncorrupted when closer to their ‘natural’ state. The poem about a shepherd and his son entitled Michael is a telling example of this:
“His bodily frame had been from youth to age
Of an unusual strength. Among the rocks
He went, and still looked up to sun and cloud,
And listened to the wind.”
Wordsworth describes himself as a “worshipper of nature.” His poetry is inextricably bound with nature as his own upbringing in the Lake District, his way of thinking, his lifestyle and outlook of life are influenced by it.
Natural objects played a significant part in Wordsworth’s emotional life, similar to the part real people play in our lives. They were a source of strength, delight and comfort as he narrates in The Daffodils:
“And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.”
Another example of Wordsworth’s deviation from the conventions of the time, aside from the points he stresses in the Preface is his introduction of autobiography into poetry as a central theme. For every poet his own experience is the raw material of the creative process but in Wordsworth’s case it is something more. His personal experience is his characteristic subject matter, so that much of his best verse constitutes a kind of diary. Thus Wordsworth in the Preface says, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Wordsworth invites the reader to share the sensations and feelings experienced by the poet – persona, rather than just present them.
Romanticism celebrated the individual and this is evident in Wordsworth’s habit of introducing solitary figures. These figures are shrouded in an air of mystery, evoking sympathy and sometimes also fear. The Solitary Reaper, The Forsaken Indian Woman, Ruth, the shepherd at the end of Michael – all these, and more, sing their own solitary songs or preserve their solitary silences. The natural world too has its lone figures such as The Skylark or The Daisy. Looming above this is the recurrent solitude of Wordsworth himself. His poems often tell of individuals made lonely by their own actions or those of others, arousing in us a sense of our own capacity for solitude and endurance.
“Behold her, singing in the field,
Yon solitary Highland lass !
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass !” (The Solitary Reaper)
Although frequently autobiographical, Wordsworth masterfully presents the experiences and suffering of others. Resolution and Independence, Margaret and Michael are 3 major examples of this. Margaret, for example, echoes Wordsworth’s own relationship with Annette Vallon who he abandoned in France. The poem tells of a woman deserted by her husband, her life prematurely extinguished and her surroundings left to decay. The tale is narrated by a lonely Wanderer. The pathos is real because it is not asserted but felt:
“Then towards the cottage I returned; and traced
Fondly, through with an interest more mild,
That secret spirit of humanity
Which ’mid the calm oblivious tendencies
Of nature, ’mid her plants, and weeds, and flowers,
And silent overgrowings, still survived.”
Tintern Abbey forms a kind of bridge which links the purely autobiographical poems with those that concern themselves with the “still, sad music of humanity.” Through “Nature,” it merges not only inanimate nature but human nature as well.