The Full Wiki

William Wordsworth: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth.
Born 7 April 1770(1770-04-07)
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, England
Died 23 April 1850 (aged 80)
Cumberland, England
Occupation Poet
Genres Poetry
Literary movement Romanticism
Notable work(s) Lyrical Ballads, Poems in Two Volumes, The Excursion

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads.

Wordsworth's magnum opus is generally considered to be The Prelude, a semiautobiographical poem of his early years which the poet revised and expanded a number of times. The work was posthumously titled and published, prior to which it was generally known as the poem "to Coleridge". Wordsworth was England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.



Early life and education

The second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson, William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Cumberland[1]—part of the scenic region in northwest England, the Lake District. His sister, the poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth, to whom he was close all his life, was born the following year, and the two were baptised together. They had three other siblings: Richard, the eldest, who became a lawyer; John, born after Dorothy, who would become a poet and enjoy nature with William and Dorothy until he died in an 1809 shipwreck, from which only the captain escaped; and Christopher, the youngest, who would become an academician. Their father was a legal representative of James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale and, through his connections, lived in a large mansion in the small town. Wordsworth, as with his siblings, had little involvement with their father, and they would be distant with him until his death in 1783.[2]

Wordsworth's father, although rarely present, did teach him poetry, including that of Milton, Shakespeare and Spenser, in addition to allowing his son to rely on his own father's library. Along with spending time reading in Cockermouth, Wordsworth would also stay at his mother's parents house in Penrith, Cumberland. At Penrith, Wordsworth was exposed to the moors and was influenced by his experience with the landscape and was further turned toward nature by the harsh treatment he received at the hands of his relatives. In particular, Wordsworth could not get along with his grandparents and his uncle, and his hostile interactions with them distressed him to the point of contemplating suicide.[3]

After the death of their mother, in 1778, John Wordsworth sent William to Hawkshead Grammar School and Dorothy to live with relatives in Yorkshire; she and William would not meet again for another nine years. Although Hawkshead was Wordsworth's first serious experience with education, he had been taught to read by his mother and had attended a tiny school of low quality in Cockermouth. After the Cockermouth school, he was sent to a school in Penrith for the children of upper-class families and taught by Ann Birkett, a woman who insisted on instilling in her students traditions that included pursuing both scholarly and local activities, especially the festivals around Easter, May Day, and Shrove Tuesday. Wordsworth was taught both the Bible and the Spectator, but little else. It was at the school that Wordsworth was to meet the Hutchinsons, including Mary, who would be his future wife.[4]

Wordsworth made his debut as a writer in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. That same year he began attending St John's College, Cambridge, and received his B.A. degree in 1791.[5] He returned to Hawkshead for his first two summer holidays, and often spent later holidays on walking tours, visiting places famous for the beauty of their landscape. In 1790, he took a walking tour of Europe, during which he toured the Alps extensively, and visited nearby areas of France, Switzerland and Italy. His youngest brother, Christopher, rose to be Master of Trinity College.[6]

Relationship with Annette Vallon

In November 1791, Wordsworth visited Revolutionary France and became enthralled with the Republican movement. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their child, Caroline. Because of lack of money and Britain's tensions with France, he returned alone to England the next year.[7] The circumstances of his return and his subsequent behaviour raise doubts as to his declared wish to marry Annette, but he supported her and his daughter as best he could in later life. During this period, he wrote his acclaimed "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free," recalling his seaside walk with his daughter, whom he had not seen for ten years. At the conception of this poem, he had never seen his daughter before. The occurring lines reveal his deep love for both child and mother. The Reign of Terror estranged him from the Republican movement, and war between France and Britain prevented him from seeing Annette and Caroline again for several years. There are strong suggestions that Wordsworth may have been depressed and emotionally unsettled in the mid-1790s.[citation needed]

With the Peace of Amiens again allowing travel to France, in 1802 Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, visited Annette and Caroline in France and arrived at a mutually agreeable settlement regarding Wordsworth's obligations.[7]

First publication and Lyrical Ballads

Wordsworth in 1798, about the time he began The Prelude.[8]

In his "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" which is called the "manifesto" of English Romantic criticism, Wordsworth calls his poems "experimental". The year 1793 saw Wordsworth's first published poetry with the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. He received a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert in 1795 so that he could pursue writing poetry. That year, he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, moved to Alfoxton House, Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge (with insights from Dorothy) produced Lyrical Ballads (1798), an important work in the English Romantic movement. The volume had neither the name of Wordsworth nor Coleridge as the author. One of Wordsworth's most famous poems, "Tintern Abbey", was published in the work, along with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The second edition, published in 1800, had only Wordsworth listed as the author, and included a preface to the poems, which was significantly augmented in the 1802 edition. This Preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In it, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility". A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805.

Germany and move to the Lake District

Wordsworth, Dorothy and Coleridge traveled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. While Coleridge was intellectually stimulated by the trip, its main effect on Wordsworth was to produce homesickness.[7] During the harsh winter of 1798–1799, Wordsworth lived with Dorothy in Goslar, and, despite extreme stress and loneliness, he began work on an autobiographical piece later titled The Prelude. He wrote a number of famous poems, including "The Lucy poems". He and his sister moved back to England, now to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, and this time with fellow poet Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey came to be known as the "Lake Poets".[9] Through this period, many of his poems revolve around themes of death, endurance, separation and grief.

Portrait, 1842, by Benjamin Haydon

Marriage and Children

In 1802, after returning from his trip to France with Dorothy to visit Annette and Caroline, Lowther's heir, William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, repaid the ₤4,000 debt owed to Wordsworth's father incurred through Lowther's failure to pay his aide.[10] Later that year, Wordsworth married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson.[7] Dorothy continued to live with the couple and grew close to Mary. The following year, Mary gave birth to the first of five children, three of whom predeceased William and Mary:

  • John Wordsworth (18 June 1803 - 1875). Married four times:
  1. Isabella Curwen (d. 1848) had six children: Jane, Henry, William, John, Charles and Edward.
  2. Helen Ross (d. 1854). No issue.
  3. Mary Ann Dolan (d. after 1858) had one daughter Dora (b.1858).
  4. Mary Gamble. No issue.
  • Dora Wordsworth (16 August 1804 - 9 July 1847). Married Edward Quillinan
  • Thomas Wordsworth (15 June 1806 - 1 December 1812).
  • Catherine Wordsworth (6 September 1808 - 4 June 1812).
  • William "Willy" Wordsworth (12 May 1810 - 1883). Married Fanny Graham and had four children: Mary Louisa, William, Reginald, Gordon.

Autobiographical work and Poems in Two Volumes

Wordsworth had for years been making plans to write a long philosophical poem in three parts, which he intended to call The Recluse. He had in 1798–99 started an autobiographical poem, which he never named but called the "poem to Coleridge", which would serve as an appendix to The Recluse. In 1804, he began expanding this autobiographical work, having decided to make it a prologue rather than an appendix to the larger work he planned. By 1805, he had completed it, but refused to publish such a personal work until he had completed the whole of The Recluse. The death of his brother, John, in 1805 affected him strongly.

The source of Wordsworth's philosophical allegiances as articulated in The Prelude and in such shorter works as "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey" has been the source of much critical debate. While it had long been supposed that Wordsworth relied chiefly on Coleridge for philosophical guidance, more recent scholarship has suggested that Wordsworth's ideas may have been formed years before he and Coleridge became friends in the mid 1790s. While in Revolutionary Paris in 1792, the twenty-two year old Wordsworth made the acquaintance of the mysterious traveller John "Walking" Stewart (1747–1822),[11] who was nearing the end of a thirty-years' peregrination from Madras, India, through Persia and Arabia, across Africa and all of Europe, and up through the fledgling United States. By the time of their association, Stewart had published an ambitious work of original materialist philosophy entitled The Apocalypse of Nature (London, 1791), to which many of Wordsworth's philosophical sentiments are likely indebted.

In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes were published, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood". Up to this point Wordsworth was known publicly only for Lyrical Ballads, and he hoped this collection would cement his reputation. Its reception was lukewarm, however. For a time (starting in 1810), Wordsworth and Coleridge were estranged over the latter's opium addiction.[7] Two of his children, Thomas and Catherine, died in 1812. The following year, he received an appointment as Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and the £400 per year income from the post made him financially secure. His family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside (between Grasmere and Rydal Water) in 1813, where he spent the rest of his life.[7]

The Prospectus

In 1814 he published The Excursion as the second part of the three-part The Recluse. He had not completed the first and third parts, and never would. He did, however, write a poetic Prospectus to "The Recluse" in which he lays out the structure and intent of the poem. The Prospectus contains some of Wordsworth's most famous lines on the relation between the human mind and nature:

My voice proclaims
How exquisitely the individual Mind
(And the progressive powers perhaps no less
Of the whole species) to the external World
Is fitted:--and how exquisitely, too,
Theme this but little heard of among Men,
The external World is fitted to the Mind.

Some modern critics recognize a decline in his works beginning around the mid-1810s. But this decline was perhaps more a change in his lifestyle and beliefs, since most of the issues that characterize his early poetry (loss, death, endurance, separation and abandonment) were resolved in his writings. But, by 1820, he enjoyed the success accompanying a reversal in the contemporary critical opinion of his earlier works. Following the death of his friend the painter William Green in 1823, Wordsworth mended relations with Coleridge.[12] The two were fully reconciled by 1828, when they toured the Rhineland together.[7] Dorothy suffered from a severe illness in 1829 that rendered her an invalid for the remainder of her life. In 1835, Wordsworth gave Annette and Caroline the money they needed for support.

The Poet Laureate and other honors

Wordsworth received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1838 from Durham University, and the same honor from Oxford University the next year.[7] In 1842 the government awarded him a civil list pension amounting to £300 a year. With the death in 1843 of Robert Southey, Wordsworth became the Poet Laureate. When his daughter, Dora, died in 1847, his production of poetry came to a standstill.


Gravestone of William Wordsworth, Grasmere, Cumbria

William Wordsworth died by re-aggravating a case of pleurisy on 23 April 1850, and was buried at St. Oswald's church in Grasmere. His widow Mary published his lengthy autobiographical "poem to Coleridge" as The Prelude several months after his death. Though this failed to arouse great interest in 1850, it has since come to be recognized as his masterpiece.

Major works

Further reading

  • M.R. Tewari, One Interior Life—A Study of the Nature of Wordsworth's Poetic Experience, (New Delhi: S. Chand & Company Ltd, 1983)


  1. ^ "Wordsworth House", Images of hairy balls (English Heritage),, retrieved 2009-12-21 
  2. ^ Moorman 1968 pp. 5-7.
  3. ^ Moorman 1968:9-13.
  4. ^ Moorman 1968:15-18.
  5. ^ Wordsworth, William in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  6. ^ Appendix A (Past Governors) of Allport, D. H. & Friskney, N. J. "A Short History of Wilson's School", Wilson's School Charitable Trust, 1986.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h [1]Everett, Glenn, "William Wordsworth: Biography" Web page at The Victorian Web Web site, accessed 7 January 2007
  8. ^ "The Cornell Wordsworth Collection". Cornell University. Retrieved on February 13, 2009.
  9. ^ See: Recollections of the Lake Poets.
  10. ^ Moorman 1968 p. 8
  11. ^ Kelly Grovier, "Dream Walker: A Wordsworth Mystery Solved", Times Literary Supplement, 16 February 2007
  12. ^ Gentlemans Magazine|Sylvanus Urban- 1823
  13. ^ a b c d e M. H. Abrams, editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period, writes of these five poems: "This and the four following pieces are often grouped by editors as the 'Lucy poems,' even though 'A slumber did my spirit seal' does not identify the 'she' who is the subject of that poem. All but the last were written in 1799, while Wordsworth and his sister were in Germany, and homesick. There has been diligent speculation about the identity of Lucy, but it remains speculation. The one certainty is that she is not the girl of Wordsworth's 'Lucy Gray'" (Abrams 2000).

External links

General information and biographical sketches


  • Anonymous; Wordsworth at Cambridge. A Record of the Commemoration Held at St John’s College, Cambridge in April 1950; Cambridge University Press, 1950 (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009, ISBN 9781108002899)
  • Mallaby, George, Wordsworth: a Tribute (1950)

Wordsworth's works

Preceded by
Robert Southey
British Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Alfred Tennyson


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The eye— it cannot choose but see;
we cannot bid the ear be still;
our bodies feel, where'er they be,
against or with our will.

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770April 23, 1850) was a major English poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, launched the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 publication of Lyrical Ballads.


See also

  • Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (1807)


  • Oh, be wiser thou!
    Instructed that true knowledge leads to love.
    • Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
    And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.
    • Guilt and Sorrow, st. 41 (1791-1794)
  • There's something in a flying horse,
    There's something in a huge balloon;
    But through the clouds I'll never float
    Until I have a little Boat,
    Shaped like the crescent-moon.
    • Peter Bell, Prologue, st. 1 (1798)
  • A primrose by a river's brim
    A yellow primrose was to him,
    And it was nothing more.
    • Peter Bell, Pt. I, st. 12 (1798)
  • I traveled among unknown men,
    In lands beyond the sea;
    Nor, England! did I know till then
    What love I bore to thee.
    • I Traveled Among Unknown Men, st. 1 (1799)
  • Much converse do I find in thee,
    Historian of my infancy!
    Float near me; do not yet depart!
    Dead times revive in thee:
    Thou bring'st, gay creature as thou art!
    A solemn image to my heart.
    • To a Butterfly (Stay Near Me), st. 1 (1801)
  • Behold, within the leafy shade,
    Those bright blue eggs together laid!
    On me the chance-discovered sight
    Gleamed like a vision of delight.
    • The Sparrow's Nest, st. 1 (1801)
  • She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
    And humble cares,and delicate fears;
    A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;
    And love, and thought, and joy.
    • The Sparrow's Nest, st. 2 (1801)
  • Sweet childish days, that were as long
    As twenty days are now.
    • To a Butterfly (I've Watched You Now a Full Half-Hour), st. 2 (1801)
  • Like an army defeated
    The snow hath retreated,
    And now doth fare ill
    On the top of the bare hill;
    The Ploughboy is whooping— anon— anon!
    There's joy in the mountains:
    There's life in the fountains;
    Small clouds are sailing,
    Blue sky prevailing;
    The rain is over and gone.
    • Written in March, st. 2 (1801)
  • My heart leaps up when I behold
    A rainbow in the sky
    So was it when my life began;
    So is it now I am a man;
    So be it when I shall grow old,
    Or let me die!
    The Child is father of the Man;
    I could wish my days to be
    Bound each to each by natural piety.
  • Earth has not anything to show more fair:
    Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
    A sight so touching in its majesty:
    This City now doth, like a garment, wear
    The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
    Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
    Open unto the fields and to the sky;
    All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
    • Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802, l. 1 (1802)
  • Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
    The river glideth at his own sweet will:
    Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
    And all that mighty heart is lying still!
    • Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Sept. 3, 1802, l. 11 (1802)
  • Rapine, avarice, expense
    This is idolatry; and these we adore:
    Plain living and high thinking are no more:
    The homely beauty of the good old cause
    Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
    And pure religion breathing household laws.
    • Written in London, September 1802, l. 9 (1802)
  • O for a single hour of that Dundee,
    Who on that day the word of onset gave!
    • Sonnet. In the Pass of Killicranky, l. 11 (1803)
  • Pleasures newly found are sweet
    When they lie about our feet.
    • To the Same Flower (the Small Celandine), st. 1 (1803)
  • Every gift of noble origin
    Is breathed upon by Hope's perpetual breath.
    • These Times strike Monied Worldlings, l. 1 (1803)
  • Hail to thee, far above the rest
    In joy of voice and pinion!
    Thou, linnet! in thy green array,
    Presiding spirit here to-day,
    Dost lead the revels of the May;
    And this is thy dominion.
    • The Green Linnet, st. 2 (1803)
  • Lady of the Mere,
    Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance.
    • A Narrow Girdle of Rough Stones and Crags, l. 37 (1803)
  • There is a Yew-tree, pride of Lorton Vale,
    Which to this day stands single, in the midst
    Of its own darkness, as it stood of yore.
    • Yew-Trees, l. 1 (1803)
  • Of vast circumference and gloom profound,
    This solitary Tree! A living thing
    Produced too slowly ever to decay;
    Of form and aspect too magnificent
    To be destroyed.
    • Yew-Trees, l. 9 (1803)
  • Bright flower! whose home is everywhere
    Bold in maternal nature's care
    And all the long year through the heir
    Of joy or sorrow,
    Methinks that there abides in thee
    Some concord with humanity,
    Given to no other flower I see
    The forest through.
    • To the Daisy (third poem), st. 1 (1803)
  • O Blithe newcomer! I have heard,
    I hear thee and rejoice.
    O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,
    Or but a wandering Voice?
    • To the Cuckoo, st. 1 (1804)
  • No bird, but an invisible thing,
    A voice, a mystery.
    • To the Cuckoo, st. 4 (1804)
  • Thou unassuming Common-place
    Of Nature, with that homely face,
    And yet with something of a grace,
    Which Love makes for thee!
    • To the Same Flower (the Daisy), st. 1 (1805)
  • Oft on the dappled turf at ease
    I sit, and play with similes,
    Loose types of things through all degrees.
    • To the Same Flower (the Daisy), st. 2 (1805)
  • The light that never was, on sea or land,
    The consecration, and the poet's dream.
    • Elegiac Stanzas. Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, st. 4 (1805)
  • Dear Child of Nature, let them rail!
    • To a Young Lady, st. 1 (1805)
  • Thou, while thy babes around thee cling,
    Shalt show us how divine a thing
    A Woman may be made.
    • To a Young Lady, st. 2 (1805)
  • But an old age serene and bright,
    And lovely as a Lapland night,
    Shall lead thee to thy grave.
    • To a Young Lady, st. 3 (1805)
  • Happier of happy though I be, like them
    I cannot take possession of the sky,
    Mount with a thoughtless impulse, and wheel there
    One of a mighty multitude whose way
    Is a perpetual harmony and dance
    • The Recluse, l. 198 (1805)
  • Is there not
    An art, a music, and a stream of words
    That shalt be life, the acknowledged voice of life?
    • The Recluse, l. 401 (1805)
  • Not Chaos, not
    The darkest pit of lowest Erebus,
    Nor aught of blinder vacancy, scooped out
    By help of dreams - can breed such fear and awe
    As fall upon us often when we look
    Into our Minds, into the Mind of Man.
    • The Recluse, l. 788 (1805)
  • She hath smiles to earth unknown—
    Smiles that with motion of their own
    Do spread, and sink, and rise.
    • Cancelled lines originally in the second stanza of Louisa (1805)
  • Like—but oh, how different!
    • Yes, It Was the Mountain Echo, st. 2 (1806)
  • In truth the prison, unto which we doom
    Ourselves, no prison is.
    • Nuns Fret Not, l. 8 (1806)
  • The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    • The World Is Too Much with Us, l. 1 (1806)
  • Great God! I'd rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
    • The World Is Too Much with Us, l. 9 (1806)
  • Where lies the Land to which yon Ship must go?
    Fresh as a lark mounting at break of day,
    Festively she puts forth in trim array.
    • Where Lies the Land, l. 1 (1806)
  • Come, blessed barrier between day and day,
    Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!
    • To Sleep (A Flock of Sheep), l. 13 (1806)
  • Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know,
    Are a substantial world, both pure and good:
    Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
    Our pastime and our happiness will grow.
    • Personal Talk, sonnet 3 (1806)
  • Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.
    • Letter to Lady Beaumont (May 21, 1807)
  • I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous Boy,
    The sleepless Soul that perished in his pride;
    Of Him who walked in glory and in joy
    Following his plough, along the mountain-side:
    By our own spirits are we deified:
    We Poets in our youth begin in gladness;
    But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.
    • Resolution and Independence, st. 7 (1807)
  • Choice word and measured phrase, above the reach
    Of ordinary men.
    • Resolution and Independence, st. 14 (1807)
  • And mighty poets in their misery dead.
    • Resolution and Independence, st. 17 (1807)
  • It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
    The holy time is quiet as a Nun
    Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
    Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
    The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea.
    • It Is a Beautious Evening, l. 1 (1807)
  • Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
    And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
    God being with thee when we know it not.
    • It Is a Beautious Evening, l. 12 (1807)
  • Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee;
    And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
    Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
    Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
    • On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, l. 1 (1807)
  • Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
    Of that which once was great, is passed away.
    • On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, l. 13 (1807)
  • Thou hast great allies;
    Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
    And love, and man's unconquerable mind.
    • To Toussaint L'Ouverture, l. 12 (1807)
  • Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
    England hath need of thee: she is a fen
    Of stagnant waters.
    • London, 1802, l. 1 (1807)
  • Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
    Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
    Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
    So didst thou travel on life's common way,
    In cheerful godliness.
    • London, 1802, l. 9 (1807)
  • We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
    That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold
    Which Milton held.
    • It Is Not to Be Thought Of, l. 11 (1807)
  • He sang of love, with quiet blending,
    Slow to begin, and never ending;
    Of serious faith, and inward glee;
    That was the song,— the song for me!
    • O Nightingale! Thou Surely Art, l. 17 (1807)
  • Two Voices are there; one is of the sea,
    One of the mountains; each a mighty Voice.
    • Thought of a Briton on the Subjugation of Switzerland, l. 1 (1807)
  • Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
    His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
    The silence that is in the starry sky,
    The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
    • Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle, l. 161 (1807)
  • Action is transitory — a step, a blow—
    The motion of a muscle— this way or that—
    'Tis done; and in the after-vacancy
    We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed.
    • The White Doe of Rylstone, l. 1 (1807)
  • A few strong instincts and a few plain rules,
    Among the herdsmen of the Alps, have wrought
    More for mankind at this unhappy day
    Then all the pride of intellect and thought?
    • Alas! What Boots the Long Laborious Quest?, l. 11 (1809)
  • Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
    • Letter to his Wife (April 29 1812)
  • A cheerful life is what the Muses love,
    A soaring spirit is their prime delight.
    • From the Dark Chambers of Dejection Freed, l. 13 (1814)
  • For the gods approve
    The depth, and not the tumult, of the soul.
    • Laodamia, st. 13 (1814)
  • Mightier far
    Than strength of nerve or sinew, or the sway
    Of magic potent over sun and star,
    Is Love, though oft to agony distrest,
    And though his favorite seat be feeble woman's breast.
    • Laodamia, st. 14 (1814)
  • But shapes that come not at an earthly call,
    Will not depart when mortal voices bid.
    • Dion, st. 5 (1814)
  • Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind.
    • Surprised by Joy, l. 1 (1815)
  • And beauty, for confiding youth,
    Those shocks of passion can prepare
    That kill the bloom before its time;
    And blanch, without the owner's crime,
    The most resplendent hair.
    • Lament of Mary Queen of Scots, st. 6 (1817)
  • What is pride? A whizzing rocket
    That would emulate a star.
    • Inscriptions Supposed to be Found in and near a Hermit's Cell, l. 11 (1818)
  • Enough, if something from our hands have power
    To live, and act, and serve the future hour.
    • The River Duddon, sonnet 34 - Afterthought, l. 10 (1820)
  • We feel that we are greater than we know.
    • The River Duddon, sonnet 34 - Afterthought, l. 14 (1820)
  • The flower of sweetest smell is shy and lowly.
    • Not Love, Not War, Nor the Tumultuous Swell, l. 14
  • Lives there a man whose sole delights
    Are trivial pomp and city noise,
    Hardening a heart that loathes or slights
    What every natural heart enjoys?
    • To the Lady Fleming, st. 6 (1823)
  • A soul so pitiably forlorn,
    If such do on this earth abide,
    May season apathy with scorn,
    May turn indifference to pride;
    And still be not unblest— compared
    With him who grovels, self-debarred
    From all that lies within the scope
    Of holy faith and christian hope;
    Or, shipwrecked, kindles on the coast
    False fires, that others may be lost.
    • To the Lady Fleming, st. 7 (1823)
  • But hushed be every thought that springs
    From out the bitterness of things.
    • Elegiac Stanzas. Addressed to Sir G.H.B., st. 7 (1824)
  • True beauty dwells in deep retreats,
    Whose veil is unremoved
    Till heart with heart in concord beats,
    And the lover is beloved.
    • To ____ . (Let other Bards of Angels sing), st. 3 (1824)
  • Type of the wise who soar, but never roam;
    True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home!
    • To a Skylark, st. 2 (1825)
  • Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
    Mindless of its just honours; with this key
    Shakespeare unlocked his heart
    • Scorn Not the Sonnet, l. 1 (1827)
  • Ocean is a mighty harmonist.
    • On the Power of Sound, st. 12 (1828)
  • These feeble and fastidious times.
    • Letter to Alexander Dyce (April 19, 1830)
  • Myriads of daisies have shone forth in flower
    Near the lark's nest, and in their natural hour
    Have passed away; less happy than the one
    That by the unwilling ploughshare died to prove
    The tender charm of poetry and love.
    • Poems Composed or Suggested During a Tour in the Summer of 1833, "There!" said a Stripling, l. 10 (1833)
  • Small service is true service while it lasts.
    Of humblest friends, bright creature! scorn not one:
    The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
    Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun.
    • To a Child. Written in her Album (1834)
  • How does the Meadow-flower its bloom unfold?
    Because the lovely little flower is free
    Down to its root, and, in that freedom, bold.
    • A Poet!—He Hath Put His Heart to School, l. 9 (1842)
  • Minds that have nothing to confer
    Find little to perceive.
    • Yes, Thou art Fair, Yet Be Not Moved, st. 2 (1845)
  • Thought and theory must precede all action that moves to salutary purposes. Yet action is nobler in itself than either thought or theory.
    • Attributed by Anna Jameson in her A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories and Fancies (1854).

Lyrical Ballads (1798-1800)

  • Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science.
    • Preface
  • The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this.
    • Preface
  • In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs—in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed, the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time.
    • Preface
  • A multitude of causes unknown to former times are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.
    • Preface
  • What is a Poet?...He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.
    • Preface
  • But, whenever a portion of this facility we may suppose even the greatest Poet to possess, there cannot be a doubt that the language which it will suggest of him, must, in liveliness and truth, fall far short of that with is uttered by men in real life, under the actual pressure of these passions, certain shadows of which the poet thus produced, or feels to be produced, in himself. However exalted a notion we would wish to cherish of the character of a Poet, it is obvious, that, while he describes and imitates passions, his situation is altogether slavish and mechanical, compared with the freedom and power of real and substantial action and suffering.
    • Preface
  • I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.
    • Preface
  • All men feel something of an honorable bigotry for the objects which have long continued to please them.
    • Preface
  • — A simple child,
    That lightly draws its breath,
    And feels its life in every limb,
    What should it know of death?
    • We Are Seven, st. 1 (1798)
  • In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
    Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
    • Lines Written in Early Spring, st. 1 (1798)
  • Have I not reason to lament
    What man has made of man?
    • Lines Written in Early Spring, st. 6 (1798)
  • The eye— it cannot choose but see;
    we cannot bid the ear be still;
    our bodies feel, where'er they be,
    against or with our will.
    • Expostulation and Reply, st. 5 (1798)
  • Nor less I deem that there are Powers
    Which of themselves our minds impress;
    That we can feed this mind of ours
    In a wise passiveness.
    • Expostulation and Reply, st. 6 (1798)
  • Come forth into the light of things,
    Let Nature be your teacher.
    • The Tables Turned, st. 4 (1798)
  • One impulse from a vernal wood
    May teach you more of man,
    Of moral evil and of good,
    Than all the sages can.
    • The Tables Turned, st. 6 (1798)
  • O Reader! had you in your mind
    Such stores as silent thought can bring,
    O gentle Reader! you would find
    A tale in everything.
    • Simon Lee, st. 9 (1798)
  • I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
    With coldness still returning;
    Alas! the gratitude of men
    Hath oftener left me mourning.
    • Simon Lee, st. 12 (1798)
  • What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
    Into a lover's head!
    "O mercy!" to myself I cried,
    "If Lucy should be dead!"
    • Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known, st. 7 (1799)
  • She dwelt among the untrodden ways
    Beside the springs of Dove,
    A maid whom there were none to praise
    And very few to love:
    • She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways, st. 1 (1799)
  • She lived unknown, and few could know
    When Lucy ceased to be;
    But she is in her grave, and, oh,
    The difference to me!
    • She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways, st. 3 (1799)
  • Three years she grew in sun and shower,
    Then Nature said, "A lovelier flower
    On earth was never sown;
    This Child I to myself will take;
    She shall be mine, and I will make
    A Lady of my own."
    • Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower, st. 1 (1799)
  • A slumber did my spirit seal;
    I had no human fears:
    She seemed a thing that could not feel
    The touch of earthly years.

    No motion has she now, no force;
    She neither hears nor sees;
    Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
    With rocks, and stones, and trees.
    • A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal (1799)
  • A fingering slave,
    One that would peep and botanize
    Upon his mother's grave.
    • A Poet's Epitaph, st. 5 (1799)
  • A reasoning, self-sufficing thing,
    An intellectual All-in-all!
    • A Poet's Epitaph, st. 8 (1799)
  • And you must love him, ere to you
    He will seem worthy of your love.
    • A Poet's Epitaph, st. 11 (1799)
  • The sweetest thing that ever grew
    Beside a human door!
    • Lucy Gray, or Solitude, st. 2 (1799)
  • And sings a solitary song
    That whistles in the wind.
    • Lucy Gray, or Solitude, st. 16 (1799)
  • A youth to whom was given
    So much of earth—so much of heaven,
    And such impetuous blood.
    • Ruth, st. 21 (1799)
  • My eyes are dim with childish tears,
    My heart is idly stirred,
    For the same sound is in my ears
    Which in those days I heard.

    Thus fares it still in our decay:
    And yet the wiser mind
    Mourns less for what age takes away
    Than what it leaves behind.
    • The Fountain, st. 8 & 9 (1799)
  • Something between a hindrance and a help.
    • Michael. A Pastoral Poem, l. 189 (1800)
  • Drink, pretty creature, drink!
    • The Pet Lamb. A Pastoral, st. 1 (1800)
  • May no rude hand deface it,
    And its forlorn Hic jacet!
    • Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle, st. 7 (1800)

Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (1798)

On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798

  • Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
    Of five long winters! and again I hear
    These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
    With a sweet inland murmur. —Once again
    Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
    Which on a wild secluded scene impress
    Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
    The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
    • Stanza 1
  • These beauteous forms,
    Through a long absence, have not been to me
    As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
    But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
    Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
    In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
    Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
    And passing even into my purer mind,
    With tranquil restoration: —feelings too
    Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
    As have no slight or trivial influence
    On that best portion of a good man's life,
    His little, nameless, unremembered acts
    Of kindness and of love.
    Nor less, I trust,
    To them I may have owed another gift,
    Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
    In which the burthen of the mystery,
    In which the heavy and the weary weight
    Of all this unintelligible world
    Is lighten'd:— that serene and blessed mood,
    In which the affections gently lead us on,—
    Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
    And even the motion of our human blood
    Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
    In body, and become a living soul:
    While with an eye made quiet by the power
    Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
    We see into the life of things.
    • Stanza 2
  • O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,
    How often has my spirit turned to thee!
    • Stanza 3
  • And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
    With many recognitions dim and faint,
    And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
    The picture of the mind revives again:
    While here I stand, not only with the sense
    Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
    That in this moment there is life and food
    For future years.
    And so I dare to hope,
    Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
    I came among these hills;
    • Stanza 3
  • For nature then
    (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
    And their glad animal movements all gone by)
    To me was all in all.— I cannot paint
    What then I was.
    • Stanza 3
  • The sounding cataract
    Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
    The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
    Their colours and their forms, were then to me
    An appetite; a feeling and a love,
    That had no need of a remoter charm,
    By thought supplied, nor any interest
    Unborrowed from the eye.
    • Stanza 3
  • That time is past,
    And all its aching joys are now no more,
    And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
    Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
    Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
    Abundant recompence. For I have learned
    To look on nature, not as in the hour
    Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
    The still, sad music of humanity,
    Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
    To chasten and subdue.
    And I have felt
    A presence that disturbs me with the joy
    Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
    Of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
    And the round ocean and the living air,
    And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
    A motion and a spirit, that impels
    All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
    And rolls through all things.
    Therefore am I still
    A lover of the meadows and the woods,
    And mountains; and of all that we behold
    From this green earth; of all the mighty world
    Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
    And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
    In nature and the language of the sense,
    The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
    The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
    Of all my moral being.
    • Stanza 3
  • Nor, perchance,
    If I were not thus taught, Should I the more
    Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
    For thou art with me here upon the banks
    Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,
    My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
    The language of my former heart, and read
    My former pleasures in the shooting lights
    Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
    May I behold in thee what I was once,
    My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,
    Knowing that Nature never did betray
    The heart that loved her
    ; 'tis her privilege,
    Through all the years of this our life, to lead
    From joy to joy: for she can so inform
    The mind that is within us, so impress
    With quietness and beauty, and so feed
    With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
    Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
    Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
    The dreary intercourse of daily life,
    Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
    Our cheerful faith that all which we behold
    Is full of blessings.
    • Stanza 4
  • If I should be, where I no more can hear
    Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
    Of past existence, wilt thou then forget
    That on the banks of this delightful stream
    We stood together; And that I, so long
    A worshipper of Nature, hither came,
    Unwearied in that service: rather say
    With warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal
    Of holier love. Now wilt thou then forget,
    That after many wanderings, many years
    Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
    And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
    More dear, both for themselves, and for thy sake.
    • Stanza 4

The Prelude (1799-1805)

Quotations are from the 1850 text unless otherwise stated.

  • Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
    A visitant that while it fans my cheek
    Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
    From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
    Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
    To none more grateful than to me; escaped
    From the vast city, where I long had pined
    A discontented sojourner: now free,
    Free as a bird to settle where I will.
    • Bk. I, l. 1
  • Fair seedtime had my soul, and I grew up
    Fostered alike by beauty and by fear.
    • Bk. I, l. 301
  • Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
    Like harmony in music; there is a dark
    Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
    Discordant elements, makes them cling together
    In one society.
    • Bk. I, l. 340
  • The grim shape
    Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
    For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
    And measured motion like a living thing,
    Strode after me.
    • Bk. I, l. 381
  • Huge and mighty forms, that do not live
    Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
    By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.
    • Bk. I, l. 398
  • Where the statue stood
    Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
    The marble index of a mind forever
    Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.
    • Bk. III, l. 60
  • When from our better selves we have too long
    Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
    Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
    How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.
    • Bk. IV, l. 354
  • A day
    Spent in a round of strenuous idleness.
    • Bk. IV, l. 377
  • Whether we be young or old,
    Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
    Is with infinitude, and only there;
    With hope it is, hope that can never die,
    Effort and expectation, and desire,
    And something evermore about to be.
    • Bk. VI, l. 603
  • Brothers all
    In honor, as in one community,
    Scholars and gentlemen.
    • Bk. IX, l. 227
  • Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
    But to be young was very heaven!
    • Bk. XI, l. 108
  • There is
    One great society alone on earth:
    The noble Living and the noble Dead.
    • Bk. XI, l. 393

Memorials of a Tour in Scotland (1803)

  • Sweet Mercy! to the gates of Heaven
    This minstrel lead, his sins forgiven;
    The rueful conflict, the heart riven
    With vain endeavour,
    And memory of earth's bitter leaven
    Effaced forever.
    • Thoughts Suggested on the Banks of the Nith, st. 10
  • And stepping westward seemed to be
    A kind of heavenly destiny.
    • Stepping Westward, st. 2
  • I listened, motionless and still;
    And, as I mounted up the hill,
    The music in my heart I bore,
    Long after it was heard no more.
    • The Solitary Reaper, st. 4
  • Yet was Rob Roy as wise as brave;
    Forgive me if the phrase be strong;—
    A Poet worthy of Rob Roy
    Must scorn a timid song.
    • Rob Roy's Grave, st. 3
  • Burn all the statutes and their shelves:
    They stir us up against our kind;
    And worse, against ourselves.
    • Rob Roy's Grave, st. 5
  • The good old rule
    Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
    That they should take, who have the power,
    And they should keep who can.
    • Rob Roy's Grave, st. 9
  • A brotherhood of venerable trees.
    • Sonnet. Composed at ____ Castle, l. 6
  • From Stirling Castle we had seen
    The mazy Forth unravelled;
    Had trod the banks of Clyde and Tay,
    And with the Tweed had travelled;
    And when we came to Clovenford,
    Then said "my winsome marrow,"
    "Whate'er betide, we'll turn aside,
    And see the braes of Yarrow."
    • Yarrow Unvisited, st. 1

She Was a Phantom of Delight (aka Perfect Woman) (1804)

  • She was a Phantom of delight
    When first she gleamed upon my sight;
    A lovely Apparition, sent
    To be a moment's ornament.
    • Stanza 1
  • A Creature not too bright or good
    For human nature's daily food;
    For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
    Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.
    • Stanza 2
  • And now I see with eye serene
    The very pulse of the machine.
    • Stanza 3
  • A perfect woman, nobly planned,
    To warn, to comfort, and command.
    • Stanza 3

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1804)

  • I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of golden daffodils.
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
    • Stanza 1
  • Continuous as the stars that shine
    And twinkle on the milky way.
    • Stanza 2
  • Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
    Tosing their heads in sprightly dance.
    • Stanza 2
  • A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company.
    • Stanza 3
  • That inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude.
    • Stanza 4

Ode to Duty (1805)

  • A light to guide, a rod
    To check the erring, and reprove.
    • Stanza 1
  • Me this unchartered freedom tires;
    I feel the weight of chance-desires:
    My hopes no more must change their name,
    I long for a repose that ever is the same.
    • Stanza 5
  • Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
    And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.
    • Stanza 6
  • Give unto me, made lowly wise,
    The spirit of self-sacrifice;
    The confidence of reason give,
    And in the light of truth thy bondman let me live!
    • Stanza 7

Character of the Happy Warrior (1806)

  • Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
    That every man in arms should wish to be?
    • Line 1
  • Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
    And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
    Turns his necessity to glorious gain.
    • Line 12
  • More skillful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
    As tempted more; more able to endure,
    As more exposed to suffering and distress.
    • Line 23
  • But who, if he be called upon to face
    Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
    Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
    Is happy as a Lover.
    • Line 48
  • And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
    In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw.
    • Line 53
  • Whom neither shape of danger can dismay,
    Nor thought of tender happiness betray.
    • Line 72

The Excursion (1814)

  • Strongest minds
    Are often those of whom the noisy world
    Hears least.
    • Book I - The Wanderer, l. 91
  • The imperfect offices of prayer and praise.
    • Book I - The Wanderer, l. 216
  • The good die first,
    And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
    Burn to the socket.
    • Book I - The Wanderer, l. 500
  • Wisdom is ofttimes nearer when we stoop
    Than when we soar.
    • Book III - Despondency, l. 231
  • Wrongs unredressed, or insults unavenged.
    • Book III - Despondency, l. 374
  • The intellectual power, through words and things,
    Went sounding on, a dim and perilous way!
    • Book III - Despondency, l. 700
    • Variant: Three sleepless nights I passed in sounding on,
      Through words and things, a dim and perilous way. - Borderers, written 18 years before Excursion
  • Society became my glittering bride.
    • Book III - Despondency, l. 735
  • For by superior energies; more strict
    Affiance in each other; faith more firm
    In their unhallowed principles; the bad
    Have fairly earned a victory o'er the weak,
    The vacillating, inconsistent good.
    • Book IV - Despondency Corrected, l. 305
  • There is a luxury in self-dispraise;
    And inward self-disparagement affords
    To meditative spleen a grateful feast.
    • Book IV - Despondency Corrected, l. 475
  • Lost in a gloom of uninspired research.
    • Book IV - Despondency Corrected, l. 626
  • We live by Admiration, Hope and Love.
    • Book IV - Despondency Corrected, l. 763
  • I have seen
    A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
    Of inland ground, applying to his ear
    The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell;
    To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
    Listened intensely; and his countenance soon
    Brightened with joy; for from within were heard
    Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
    Mysterious union with its native sea.
    • Book IV - Despondency Corrected, l. 1132
  • One in whom persuasion and belief
    Had ripened into faith, and faith become
    A passionate intuition.
    • Book IV - Despondency Corrected, l. 1293
  • Spires whose "silent finger points to heaven."
    • Book VI - The Churchyard among the Mountains, l. 19
  • Wild is the music of the autumnal wind
    Among the faded woods.
    • Book VI - The Churchyard among the Mountains, l. 858.
    • These lines appear only in the earliest editions of The Excursion; they were re-written for the 1837 edition.
  • A man he seems of cheerful yesterdays
    And confident tomorrows.
    • Book VII - The Churchyard among the Mountains, cont., l. 557

Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1821)

  • Babylon,
    Learned and wise, hath perished utterly,
    Nor leaves her speech one word to aid the sigh
    That would lament her.
    • Part I, No. 25 - Missions and Travels.
  • As thou these ashes, little brook! will bear
    Into the Avon, Avon to the tide
    Of Severn, Severn to the narrow seas,
    Into main ocean they, this deed accurst,
    An emblem yields to friends and enemies
    How the bold teacher's doctrine, sanctified
    By truth, shall spread throughout the world dispersed.
    • Part II, No. 17 - Wicliffe. In obedience to the order of the Council of Constance (1415), the remains of Wickliffe were exhumed and burned to ashes, and these cast into the Swift, a neighbouring brook running hard by; and "thus this brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wickliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over", Thomas Fuller, Church History, section ii, book iv, paragraph 53; Compare also: "What Heraclitus would not laugh, or what Democritus would not weep?… For though they digged up his body, burned his bones, and drowned his ashes, yet the word of God and truth of his doctrine, with the fruit and success thereof, they could not burn", Fox, Book of Martyrs, vol. i. p. 606 (edition, 1611); "Some prophet of that day said,—
      "'The Avon to the Severn runs, / The Severn to the sea; / And Wickliffe's dust shall spread abroad / Wide as the waters be'", Daniel Webster, Address before the Sons of New Hampshire (1849), and similarly quoted by the Rev. John Cumming in the Voices of the Dead.
  • Habit rules the unreflecting herd.
    • Part II, No. 28 - Reflections.
  • The feather, whence the pen
    Was shaped that traced the lives of these good men,
    Dropped from an Angel's wing.
    • Part III, No. 5 - Walton's Book of Lives. Compare: "The pen wherewith thou dost so heavenly sing / Made of a quill from an angel's wing", Henry Constable, Sonnet; "Whose noble praise / Deserves a quill pluckt from an angel's wing", Dorothy Berry, Sonnet.
  • Meek Walton's heavenly memory.
    • Part III, No. 5 – Walton's Book of Lives.
  • But who would force the soul tilts with a straw
    Against a champion cased in adamant.
    • Part III, No. 7 - Persecution of the Scottish Covenanters.
  • Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore
    Of nicely calculated less or more.
    • Part III, No. 43 - Inside of King's College Chapel, Cambridge.
  • Where music dwells
    Lingering and wandering on as loth to die,
    Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
    That they were born for immortality.
    • Part III, No. 43 - Inside of King's College Chapel, Cambridge.


  • In modern business it is not the crook who is to be feared most, it is the honest man who doesn't know what he is doing.
    • Also, and more plausibly, attributed to the American businessman Owen D Young.
  • Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future.
  • To begin, begin.
    • Also attributed to Peter Nivio Zarlenga.


  • Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer.
    • Actually Night I, line 390 of Edward Young's Night Thoughts.
  • How blessings brighten as they take their flight!
    • Occasionally misattributed to Wordsworth, but in fact by Edward Young again. It is from his Night Thoughts, Night II, line 602.
  • Life's cares are comforts; such by Heav'n design'd;
    He that hath none must make them, or be wretched.
    • Another couplet from Edward Young: this time Night Thoughts, Night II, line 160.
  • Pictures deface walls more often than they decorate them.
    • This is only a slightly misquoted version of "Pictures deface walls oftener than they decorate them", written by Frank Lloyd Wright in the magazine Architectural Record in March 1908.
  • We take no note of time but from its loss.
    • Actually Night I, lines 55-56 of Young's Night Thoughts.
  • What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out.
    • This was not Wordsworth's viewpoint at all. The words are in fact those of Bertrand Russell in his Sceptical Essays (1928).
  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.


  • Just for a handful of silver he left us,
    Just for a riband to stick in his coat.
  • He lived amidst th'untrodden ways
    To Rydal Lake that lead:-
    A bard whom there were none to praise,
    And very few to read.

    Behind a cloud his mystic sense,
    Deep-hidden, who can spy?
    Bright as the night, when not a star
    Is shining in the sky.

    Unread his works – his "Milk-white Doe"
    With dust is dark and dim;
    It's still in Longman's shop, and Oh!
    The difference to him!
  • He is in this sense the most original poet now living, and the one whose writings could the least be spared: for they have no substitute elsewhere. The vulgar do not read them; the learned, who see all things through books, do not understand them; the great despise. The fashionable may ridicule them: but the author has created himself an interest in the heart of the retired and lonely student of nature, which can never die.
  • But that which Wordsworth knew, even the old man
    When poetry had failed like desire, was something
    I have yet to learn, and you, Duddon,
    Have learned and re-learned to forget and forget again.
    Not the radical, the poet and heretic,
    To whom the water-forces shouted and the fells
    Were like a blackboard for the scrawls of God,
    But the old man, inarticulate and humble,
    Knew that eternity flows in a mountain beck.
  • He wasn't a man as was thowte a deal o' for his potry when he was hereabout. It hed no laugh in it same as Lile Hartley [Coleridge]'s, bided a deal o makkin I darsay. It was kept oer long in his heead mappen. But then for aw that, he had best eye to mountains and streams, and buildings in the daale, notished ivvry stean o' the fellside, and we nin on us durst bang a bowder stean a bit or cut a bit coppy or raase an old wa' doon when he was astir.
    • Canon Rawnsley Literary Associations of the English Lakes (1894) p. 137.
    • Recording a Westmorland peasant's memories of Wordsworth.
  • Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
    It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
    Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
    Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
    And one is of an old half-witted sheep
    Which bleats articulate monotony,
    And indicates that two and one are three,
    That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep
    And, Wordsworth, both are thine.
  • Wordsworth went to the lakes, but he was never a lake poet. He found in stones the sermons he had already hidden there.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770-1850), English poet, was born at Cockermouth, on the Derwent, in Cumberland, on the 7th of April 1770. He was the son of John Wordsworth (1741-1783), an attorney, law agent to the first earl of Lonsdale, a prosperous man in his profession, descended from an old Yorkshire family of landed gentry. On the mother's side also Wordsworth was connected with the middle territorial class: his mother, Anne Cookson, was the daughter of a well-to-do mercer in Penrith, but her mother was Dorothy Crackanthorpe, whose ancestors had been lords of the manor of Newbiggin, near Penrith, from the time of Edward III. He thus came of " gentle " kin, and was proud of it. The country squires and farmers whose blood flowed in Wordsworth's veins were not far enough above local life to be out of sympathy with it, and the poet's interest in the common scenes and common folk of the North country hills and dales had a traceable hereditary bias. William Wordsworth was one of a family of five, the others being Richard (1768-1816), Dorothy (q.v.), John (1772-1805), and Christopher (q.v.).

Though his parents were of sturdy stock, both died prematurely, his mother when he was eight years old, his father when he was thirteen. At the age of eight Wordsworth was sent to school at Hawkshead, in the Esthwaite valley in Lancashire. His father died while he was there, and at the age of seventeen he was sent to St John's College, Cambridge. He did not distinguish himself in the studies of the university, and for some time after taking his degree of B.A., in January 1791, he showed what seemed to his relatives a most perverse reluctance to adopt any regular profession. His mother had noted his " stiff, moody and violent temper " in childhood, and it seemed as if this family judgment was to be confirmed in his manhood. After taking his degree, he was pressed to take holy orders, but would not; he had no taste for the law; he idled a few months aimlessly in London, a few months more with a Welsh college friend, with whom he had made a pedestrian tour in France and Switzerland during his last Cambridge vacation; then in the November of 1791 he crossed to France, ostensibly to learn the language, made the acquaintance of revolutionaries, sympathized with them vehemently, and was within an ace of throwing in his lot with the Girondins. When it came to this, his relatives cut off his supplies, and he was obliged to return to London towards the close of 1792. But still he resisted all pressure to enter any of the regular professions, published his poems An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches in 1793, and in 1794, still moving about to all appearance in stubborn aimlessness among his friends and relatives, had no more rational purpose of livelihood than drawing up the prospectus of a periodical of strictly republican principles to be called " The Philanthropist." But all the time from his boyhood upwards a great purpose had been growing and maturing in his mind. The Prelude expounds in lofty impassioned strain how his sensibility for nature vas " augmented and sustained," and how it never, except for a brief interval, ceased to be " creative " in the special sense of his subsequent theory. But it is with his feelings towards nature that The Prelude mainly deals; it says little regarding the history of his ambition to express those feelings in verse. It is the autobiography, not of the poet of nature, but of the worshipper and priest. The salient incidents in the history of the poet he communicated in prose notes and in familiar discourses. Commenting on the couplet in the Evening Walk- " And, fronting the bright west, yon oak entwines Its darkening boughs and leaves in stronger lines - " he said: " This is feebly and imperfectly exprest; but I recollect distinctly the very spot where this first struck me. It was on the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside, and gave me extreme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetical history; for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances. which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them; and I made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency. I could not at that time have been above fourteen years of age." About the same time he wrote, as a school task at Hawkshead, verses that show considerable acquaintance with the poets of his own country at least, as well as some previous practice in the art of verse-making.' The fragment that stands at the ' Memoirs of William Wordsworth, by Canon Wordsworth, vol. i. pp. 10, 11. According to his own statement in the memoranda dictated to his biographer, it was the success of this exercise that " put it into his head to compose verses from the impulse of his own beginning of his collected works, recording a resolution to end his life among his native hills, was the conclusion of a long poem written while he was still at school. And, undistinguished as he was at Cambridge in the contest for academic honours, the Evening Walk, his first publication, was written during his vacations.' He published it in 1793, to show, as he said, that he could do something, although he had not distinguished himself in university work. There are touches here and there of the bent of imagination that became dominant in him soon afterwards, notably in the moral aspiration that accompanies his Remembrance of Collins on the Thames: " O glide, fair stream! for ever so Thy quiet soul on all bestowing, Till all our minds for ever flow As thy deep waters now are flowing." But in the main this first publication represents the poet in the stage described in the twelfth book of The Prelude: " Bent overmuch on superficial things, Pampering myself with meagre novelties Of colour and proportion; to the moods Of time and season, to the moral power, The affections, and the spirit of the place Insensible." But, though he had not yet found his distinctive aim as a poet, he was inwardly bent upon poetry as " his office upon earth." In this determination he was strengthened by his sister Dorothy (q.v.), who with rare devotion consecrated her life henceforward to his service. A timely legacy enabled them to carry their purpose into effect. A friend of his, whom he had nursed in a last illness, Raisley Calvert, son of the steward of the duke of Norfolk, who had large estates in Cumberland, died early in 1795, leaving him a legacy of boo. It may be well to notice how opportunely, as De Quincey half-ruefully remarked, money always fell in to Wordsworth, enabling him to pursue his poetic career without distraction. Calvert's bequest came to him when he was on the point of concluding an engagement as a journalist in London. On it and other small resources he and his sister, thanks to her frugal management, contrived to live for nearly eight years. By the end of that time Lord Lonsdale, who owed Wordsworth's father a large sum for professional services, and had steadily refused to pay it, died, and his successor paid the debt with interest. His wife, Mary Hutchinson, whom he married on the 4th of October 1802, brought him some fortune; and in 1813, when in spite of his plain living his family began to press upon his income, he was appointed stamp-distributor for Westmorland, with an income of £500, afterwards nearly doubled by the increase of his district. In 1842, when he resigned his stamp-distributorship, Sir Robert Peel gave him a Civil List pension of boo.

To return, however, to the course of his life from the time when he resolved to labour with all his powers in the office of poet. The first two years, during which he lived with his selfsacrificing sister at Racedown, in Dorset, were spent in halfhearted and very imperfectly successful experiments, satires in imitation of Juvenal, the tragedy of The Borderers,' and a poem in the Spenserian stanza, now entitled Guilt and Sorrow. How much longer this time of self-distrustful endeavour might have continued is a subject for curious speculation; an end was put to it by a fortunate incident, a visit from Coleridge, who had read his first publication, and seen in it, what none of the public critics had discerned, the advent of " an original poetic genius." mind." The resolution to supply the deficiencies of poetry in the exact description of natural appearances was probably formed while he was in this state of boyish ecstasy at the accidental revelation of his own powers. The date of his beginnings as a poet is confirmed by the lines in The Idiot Boy, written in 1798 " I to the Muses have been bound These fourteen years by strong indentures." ' In The Prelude, book iv., he speaks of himself during his first vacation as " harassed with the toil of verse, much pains and little progress." Not published till 1842. For the history of this tragedy see Memoirs, vol. i. p. 113; for a sound, if severe, criticism of it, A. C. Swinburne's Miscellanies, p. 118. And yet it was of the blank verse of The Borderers that Coleridge spoke when he wrote to Cottle that " he felt a little man by the side of his friend." Stubborn and independent as Wordsworth was, he needed some friendly voice from the outer world to give him confidence in himself. Coleridge rendered him this indispensable service. He had begun to seek his themes in " Sorrow, that is not sorrow, but delight; And miserable love, that is not pain To hear of, for the glory that redounds Therefrom to human kind, and what we are." He read to his visitor one of these experiments, the story of the ruined cottage, afterwards introduced into the first book of The Excursion. 3 Coleridge, who had already seen original poetic genius in the poems published before, was enthusiastic in his praise of them as having " a character, by books not hitherto reflected." June 1797 was the date of this memorable visit. So pleasant was the companionship on both sides that, when Coleridge returned to Nether Stowey, in Somerset, Wordsworth at his instance changed his quarters to Alfoxden, within a mile and a half of Coleridge's temporary residence, and the two poets lived in almost daily intercourse for the next twelve months. During that period Wordsworth's powers rapidly expanded and matured; ideas that had been gathering in his mind for years, and lying there in dim confusion, felt the stir of a new life, and ranged themselves in clearer shapes under the fresh quickening breath of Coleridge's swift and discursive dialectic.

The Lyrical Ballads were the poetic fruits of their companionship. Out of their frequent discussions of the relative value of common life and supernatural incidents as themes for imaginative treatment grew the idea of writing a volume together, composed of poems of the two kinds. Coleridge was to take the supernatural; and, as his industry was not equal to his friend's, this kind was represented by the Ancient Mariner alone. Among Wordsworth's contributions were The Female Vagrant, We are Seven, Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman, The Last of the Flock, The Idiot Boy, The Mad Mother (" Her eyes are wild "), The Thorn, Goody Blake and Harry Gill, The Reverie of Poor Susan, Simon Lee, Expostulation and Reply, The Tables Turned, Lines left upon a Yew-tree Seat, An Old Man Travelling (" Animal Tranquillity and Decay "), Lines above Tintern Abbey. The volume was published by Cottle of Bristol in September 1798.

It is necessary to enumerate the contents of this volume in fairness to the contemporaries of Wordsworth, for their cold or scoffing reception of his first distinctive work. Those Wordsworthians who give up The Idiot Boy, 4 Goody Blake and The Thorn as mistaken experiments have no right to triumph over the first derisive critics of the Lyrical Ballads, or to wonder at the dullness that failed to see at once in this humble issue from an obscure provincial press the advent of a great master in literature. It is true that Tintern Abbey was in the volume, and that all the highest qualities of Wordsworth's imagination and of his verse could be illustrated from the lyrical ballads proper in this first publication; but clear vision is easier for us than it - was when the revelation was fragmentary and incomplete.

Although Wordsworth was not received at first with the respect to which he was entitled, his power was not entirely without recognition. There is a curious commercial evidence of this, which ought to be noted, because a perversion of the fact is sometimes used to exaggerate the supposed neglect of Wordsworth at the outset of his career. When the Longmans The version read to Coleridge, however, must have been in Spenserian stanzas, if Coleridge was right in his recollection that it was in the same metre with The Female Vagrant, the original title of Guilt and Sorrow. The defect of The Idiot Boy is really rhetorical, rather than poetic. Wordsworth himself said that " he never wrote anything with so much glee," and, once the source of his glee is felt in the nobly affectionate relations between the two half-witted irrational old women and the glorious imbecile, the work is seen to be executed with a harmony that should satisfy the most exacting criticism. Poetically, therefore, the poem is a success. But rhetorically this particular attempt to "breathe grandeur upon_the very humblest face of human life " must be pronounced a failure, inasmuch as the writer did not use sufficiently forcible means to disabuse .his readers of vulgar prepossessions.

took over Cottle's publishing business in 1799, the value of the copyright of the Lyrical Ballads, for which Cottle had paid thirty guineas, was assessed at nil. Cottle therefore begged that it might be excluded altogether from the bargain, and presented it to the authors. But in 1800, when the first edition was exhausted, the Longmans offered Wordsworth £zoo for two issues of a new edition with an additional volume and an explanatory preface. The sum was small compared with what Scott and Byron soon afterwards received, but it shows that the public neglect was not quite so complete as is sometimes represented. Another edition was called for in 1802, and a fourth in 1805. The new volume in the 1800 edition was made up of poems composed during his residence at Goslar in Germany (where he went with Coleridge) in the winter of 1798-1799, and after his settlement at Grasmere in December 1799. It contained a large portion of poems now universally accepted : - Ruth, Nutting, Three Years She Grew, A Poet's Epitaph, Hartleap Well, Lucy Gray, The Brothers, Michael, The Old Cumberland Beggar, Poems on the Naming of Places. But it contained also the famous Preface, in which he infuriated critics by presuming to defend his eccentricities in an elaborate theory of poetry and poetic diction.

This document (and let it be noted that all Wordsworth's Prefaces are of the utmost interest in historical literary criticism) is constantly referred to as a sort of revolutionary proclamation against the established taste of the 18th century. For one who has read Wordsworth's original, hundreds have read Coleridge's brilliant criticism, and the fixed conception of the doctrines put forth by Wordsworth is taken from that.' It is desirable, therefore, considering the celebrity of the affair, that Wordsworth's own position should be made clear. Coleridge's criticism of his friend's theory proceeded avowedly " on the assumption that his words had been rightly interpreted, as purporting that the proper diction for poetry in general consists altogether in a language taken, with due exceptions, from the mouths of men in real life, a language which actually constitutes the natural conversation of men under the influence of natural feelings." Coleridge assumed further that, when Wordsworth spoke of there being " no essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition," he meant by language not the mere words but the style, the structure and the order of the sentences; on this assumption he argued as if Wordsworth had held that the metrical order should always be the same as the prose order. Given these assumptions, which formed the popular interpretation of the theory by its opponents, it was easy to demonstrate its absurdity, and Coleridge is very generally supposed to have given Wordsworth's theory in its bare and naked extravagance the coup de grace. But the truth is that neither of the two assumptions is warranted; both were expressly disclaimed by Wordsworth in the Preface itself. There is not a single qualification introduced by Coleridge that was not made by Wordsworth himself in the original statement. 2 In the first place, it was not put forward as a theory of poetry in general, though from the vigour with which he carried the war into the enemy's country it was naturally enough for polemic purposes taken as such; it was a statement and defence of the principles on which his own poems of humbler life were composed. Wordsworth also assailed the public taste as " depraved," first 1 Sir Henry Taylor, one of the most acute and judicious of Wordsworth's champions, came to this conclusion in 1834.

2 Although Coleridge makes the qualifications more prominent than they were in the original statement, the two theories are at bottom so closely the same that one is sometimes inclined to suspect that parts, at least, of the original emanated from the fertile mind of Coleridge himself. The two poets certainly discussed the subject together in Somerset when the first ballads were written, and Coleridge was at Grasmere when the Preface was prepared in 1800. The diction of the Preface is curiously Hartleian, and, when they first met, Coleridge was a devoted disciple of Hartley, naming his first son after the philosopher, while Wordsworth detested analytic psychology. If Coleridge did contribute to the original theory in 1798 or 1800, he was likely enough to have forgotten the fact by 1814. At any rate, he evidently wrote his criticism without making a close study of the Preface, and what he did in effect was to restate the original theor y against popular misconceptions of it.

and mainly in so far as it was adverse to simple incidents simply treated, being accustomed to " gross and violent stimulants," " craving after extraordinary incident," possessed with a " degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation," " frantic novels, sickly and stupid German tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse." This, and not adherence to the classical rule of Pope, which had really suffered deposition a good half century before, was the first count in Wordsworth's defensive indictment of the taste of his age. As regards the " poetic diction," the liking for which was the second count in his indictment of the public taste, it is most explicitly clear that, when he said that there was no essential difference between the language of poetry and the language of prose, he meant words, plain and figurative, and not structure and order, or, as Coleridge otherwise puts it, the " ordonnance " of composition. Coleridge says that if he meant this he was only uttering a truism, which nobody who knew Wordsworth would suspect him of doing; but, strange to say, it is as a truism, nominally acknowledged by everybody, that Wordsworth does advance his doctrine on this point. Only he adds - " if in what I am about to say it shall appear to some that my labour is unnecessary, and that I am like a man fighting a battle without enemies, such persons may be reminded that, whatever be the language outwardly holden by men, a practical faith in the opinions which I am wishing to establish is almost unknown." What he wished to establish was the simple truth that what is false, unreal, affected, bombastic or nonsensical in prose is not less so in verse. The form in which he expresses the theory was conditioned by the circumstances of the polemic, and readers were put on a false scent by his purely incidental and collateral and very much overstrained defence of the language of rustics, as being less conventional and more permanent, and therefore better fitted to afford materials for the poet's selection. But this was a side issue, a paradoxical retort on his critics, seized upon by them in turn and made prominent as a matter for easy ridicule; all that he says on this head might be cut out of the Preface without affecting in the least his main thesis. The drift of this is fairly apparent all through, but stands out in unmistakable clearness in his criticism of the passages from Johnson and Cowper: " But the sound of the church-going bell These valleys and rocks never heard, Ne'er sighed at the sound of a knell Or smiled when a Sabbath appeared." The epithet " church-going " offends him as a puritan in grammar; whether his objection is well founded or ill founded, it applies equally to prose and verse. To represent the valleys and rocks as sighing and smiling in the circumstances would appear feeble and absurd in prose composition, and is not less so in metrical composition; " the occasion does not justify such violent expressions." These are examples of all that Wordsworth meant by saying that " there is no essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition." So far is Wordsworth from contending that the metrical order should always be the same as the prose order, that part of the Preface is devoted to a subtle analysis of the peculiar effect of metrical arrangement. What he objects to is not departure from the structure of prose, but the assumption, which seemed to him to underlie the criticisms of his ballads, that a writer of verse is not a poet unless he uses artificially ornamental language, not justified by the strength of the emotion expressed. The furthest that he went in defence of prose structure in poetry was to maintain that, if the words in a verse happened to be in the order of prose, it did not follow that they were prosaic in the sense of being unpoetic - a side-stroke at critics who complained of his prosaisms for no better reason than that the words stood in the order of prose composition. Wordsworth was far from repudiating elevation of style in poetry. " If," he said, " the poet's subject be judiciously chosen, it will naturally, and upon fit occasion, lead him to passions the language of which, if selected truly and judiciously, must necessarily be dignified and variegated, and alive with metaphors and figures." Such was Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction. Nothing could be more grossly mistaken than the notion that the greater part of Wordsworth's poetry was composed in defiance of his own theory, and that he succeeded best when he set his own theory most at defiance. The misconception is traceable to the authority of Coleridge. His just, sympathetic and penetrating criticism on Wordsworth's work as a poet did immense service in securing for him a wider recognition; but his proved friendship and brilliant style have done sad injustice to the poet as a theorist. It was natural to assume that Coleridge, if anybody, must have known what his friend's theory was; and it was natural also that readers under the charm of his lucid and melodious prose should gladly grant themselves a dispensation from the trouble of verifying his facts in the harsh and cumbrous exposition of the theorist himself.' The question of diction made most noise, but it was far from being the most important point of poetic doctrine set forth in the Preface. If in this he merely enunciated a truism, generally admitted in words but too generally ignored in practice, there was real novelty in his plea for humble subjects, and in his theory of poetic composition. Wordsworth's remarks on poetry in general, on the supreme function of the imagination in dignifying humble and commonplace incidents, and on the need of active exercise of imagination in the reader as well as in the poet, are immeasurably more important than his theory of poetic diction. Such sayings as that poetry " takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity," or that it is the business of a poet to trace " how men associate ideas in a state of excitement," are significant of Wordsworth's endeavour to lay the foundations of his art in an independent study of the feelings and faculties of men in real life, unbiased as far as possible by poetic custom and convention. This does not mean that the new poet was to turn his back on his predecessors and never look behind him to what they had done. Wordsworth was guilty of no such extravagance. He was from boyhood upwards a diligent student of poetry, and Was not insensible to his obligations to the past. His purpose was only to use real life as a touchstone of poetic substance. The poet, in Wordsworth's conception, is distinctively a man in whom the beneficent energy of imagination, operative as a blind instinct more or less in all men, is stronger than in others, and is voluntarily and rationally exercised for the benefit of all in its proper work of increase and consolation. Not every image that the excited mind conjures up in real life is necessarily poetical. It is the business of the poet to select and modify for his special purpose of producing immediate pleasure.

There were several respects in which the formal recognition of such elementary principles of poetic evolution powerfully affected Wordsworth's practice. One of these may be indicated by saying that he endeavoured always to work out an emotional motive from within. Instead of choosing a striking theme and working at it like a decorative painter, embellishing, enriching, dressing to advantage, standing back from it and studying effects, his plan was to take incidents that had set his own imagination spontaneously to work, and to study and reproduce with artistic judgment the modification of the initial feeling, the emotional motive, within himself. To this method he owed much of his strength and also much of his unpopularity. By keeping his eye on the object, as spontaneously modified by his own imaginative energy, he was able to give full and undistracted scope to all his powers in poetic coinage of the wealth that his imagination brought. On the other hand, readers 1 Wordsworth was not an adroit expositor in prose, and he did not make his qualifications sufficiently prominent, but his theory of diction taken with those qualifications left him free without inconsistency to use any language that was not contrary to " true taste and feeling." He acknowledged that he might occasionally have substituted " particular for general associations," and that thus language charged with poetic feeling to himself might appear trivial and ridiculous to others, as in The Idiot Boy and Goody Blake; he even went so far as to withdraw Alice Fell, first published in 1807, from several subsequent editions; but he argued that it was dangerous for a poet to make alterations on the simple authority of a few individuals or even classes of men, because if he did not follow his own judgment and feelings his mind would infallibly be debilitated.

whose nature or education was different from his own, were repelled or left cold and indifferent, or obliged to make the sympathetic effort to see with his eyes, which he refused to make in order that he might see with theirs.

" He is retired as noontide dew Or fountain in a noon-day grove, And you must love him ere to you He will seem worthy of your love." From this habit of taking the processes of his own mind as the standard of the way in which " men associate ideas in a state of excitement," and language familiar to himself as the standard of the language of " real men," arises a superficial anomaly in Wordsworth's poetry, an apparent contradiction between his practice and his theory. His own imagination, judged by ordinary standards, was easily excited by emotional motives that have little force with ordinary men. Most of his poems start from humbler, slighter, less generally striking themes than those of any other poet of high rank. But his poetry is not correspondingly simple. On the contrary, much of it, much of the best of it - for example, the Ode to Duty, and that on the Intimations of Immortality - is intricate, elaborate and abstruse. The emotional motive is simple; the passion has almost always a simple origin, and often is of no great intensity; but the imaginative structure is generally elaborate, and, when the poet is at his best, supremely splendid and gorgeous. No poet has built such magnificent palaces of rare material for the ordinary everyday homely human affections. It is because he has invested our ordinary everyday principles of conduct, which are so apt to become threadbare, with such imperishable robes of finest texture and richest design that Wordsworth holds so high a place among the great moralists in verse.

His practice was influenced also, and not always for good, by his theory that poetry " takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity." This was a somewhat doubtful corollary from his general theory of poetic evolution. A poem is complete in itself; there must be no sting in it to disturb the reader's content with the whole; through whatever agitations it progresses, to whatever elevations it soars, to this end it must come, otherwise it is imperfect as a poem. Now the imagination in ordinary men, though the process is not expressed in verse, and the poet's special art has thus no share in producing the effect, reaches the poetic end when it has so transfigured a disturbing experience, whether of joy or grief, that this rests tranquilly in the memory, can be recalled without disquietude, and dwelt upon with some mode and degree of pleasure, more or less keen, more or less pure or mixed with pain. True to his idea of imitating real life, Wordsworth made it a rule for himself not to write on any theme till his imagination had operated upon it for some time involuntarily; it was not in his view ripe for poetic treatment till this transforming agency had subdued the original emotion to a state of tranquillity. 2 Out of this tranquillity arises the favourable moment for poetic composition, some day when, as he contemplates the subject, the tranquillity disappears, an emotion kindred to the original emotion is reinstated, and the poet retraces and supplements with all his art the previous involuntary and perhaps unconscious imaginative chemistry.

When we study the moments that Wordsworth found favourable for successful composition, a very curious law reveals itself, somewhat at variance with the common conception of him as a poet who derived all his strength from solitary communion with nature. We find that the recluse's best poems were written under the excitement of some break in the monotony of his quiet life - change of scene, change of companionship, change of occupation. The law holds from the beginning to the end of his poetic career. An immense stimulus was given to his powers by his first contact with Coleridge after two years of solitary and abortive effort. Above Tintern Abbey was composed 2 The Prelude contains a record of his practice, after the opening lines of the first book " Thus far, 0 friend! did I, not used to make A present joy the matter of a song, Pour forth," &c.

during a four days' ramble with his sister; he began it on leaving Tintern, and concluded it as he was entering Bristol. His residence amidst strange scenes and " unknown men " at Goslar was particularly fruitful: She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways, Ruth, Nutting, There was a Boy, Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe, all belong to those few months of unfamiliar environment. The breeze that met him as he issued from the city gates on his homeward journey brought him the first thought of The Prelude. At the end of 1799 he was settled at Grasmere, in the Lake District, and seeing much of Coleridge. The second year of his residence at Grasmere was unproductive; he was " hard at work " then on The Excursion; but the excitement of a tour on the Continent in the autumn of 1802, combined perhaps with a happy change in his pecuniary circumstances and the near prospect of marriage, roused him to one of his happiest fits of activity. His first great sonnet, the Lines on Westminster Bridge, was composed on the roof of the Dover coach; the first of the splendid series " dedicated to national independence and liberty," the most generally impressive and universally intelligible of his poems, Fair Star of Evening, Once did She hold the Gorgeous East in Fee, Toussaint; .Milton, thou shouldst be Living at this Hour; It is not to be Thought of that the Flood, When I have Borne in Memory what has Tamed, were all written in the course of the tour, or in London in the month after his return. A tour in Scotland in the following year, 1803, yielded the Highland Girl and The Solitary Reaper. Soon after his return he resumed The Prelude; and The Affliction of Margaret and the Ode to Duty, his greatest poems in two different veins, were coincident with the exaltation of spirit due to the triumphant and successful prosecution of the long-delayed work. The Character of the Happy Warrior, which he described to Harriet Martineau as " a chain of extremely valooable thoughts," though it did not fulfil " poetic conditions, was the product of a calmer period. The excitement of preparing for publication always had a rousing effect upon him; the preparation for the edition of 1807 resulted in the completion of the ode on the Intimations of Immortality, the sonnets The World is too much with us, Methought I saw the Footsteps of a Throne, Two Voices are there, and Lady, the Songs of Spring were in the Grove,. and the Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle. After 1807 there is a marked falling off in the quality, though not in the quantity, of Wordsworth's poetic work. It is significant of the comparatively sober. and laborious spirit in which he wrote The Excursion that its progress was accompanied by none of those casual sallies of exulting and exuberant power that mark the period of the happier Prelude. The completion of The Excursion was signalized by the production of Laodamia. The chorus of adverse criticism with which it was received inspired him in the noble sonnet to Haydon - High is our Calling, Friend. He rarely or never again touched the same lofty height.

It is interesting to compare with what he actually accomplished the plan of life-work with which Wordsworth settled at Grasmere in the last month of 1799.2 The plan was definitely conceived as he left the German town of Goslar in the spring of 1799. Tired of the wandering unsettled life that he had led hitherto, dissatisfied also with the fragmentary occasional and disconnected character of his lyrical poems, he longed for a permanent home among his native hills, where he might, as one called and consecrated to the task, devote his powers continuously to the composition of a great philosophical poem on " Man, Nature and Society." The poem was to be called The Recluse, " as having for its principal subject the sensations and 1 This casual estimate of his own work is not merely amusing but also instructive, as showing - what is sometimes denied - that Wordsworth himself knew well enough the difference between " poetry " and such " valuable thoughts " as he propounded in The Excursion. s Wordsworth's residences in the Lake District were at Dove Cottage, Townend, Grasmere, from December 1799 till the spring of 1808; Allan Bank, from 1808 to 1811; the parsonage at Grasmere, from 1811 to 1813; Rydal Mount, for the rest of his life. Dove Cottage was bought in 1891 as a public memorial, and is held by trustees.

opinions of a poet living in retirement." He communicated the design to Coleridge, who gave him enthusiastic encouragement to proceed. But, though he had still before him fifty years of peaceful life amidst his beloved scenery, the work in the projected form at least was destined to remain incomplete. Doubts and misgivings soon arose, and favourable moments of felt inspiration delayed their coming. To sustain him in his resolution he thought of writing as an introduction, or, as he put it, an antechapel to the church which he proposed to build, a history of his own mind up to the time when he recognized the great mission of his life. One of the many laughs at his expense by unsympathetic critics has been directed against his saying that he wrote this Prelude of fourteen books about himself out of diffidence. But in truth the original motive was distrust of his own powers. He turned aside to prepare the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads and write the explanatory Preface, which as a statement of his aims in poetry had partly the same purpose of strengthening his self-confidence. From his sister's Journal we learn that in the winter of1801-1802he was " hard at work on The Pedlar " - the original title of The Excursion. But this experiment on the larger work was also soon abandoned. It appears from a letter to his friend Sir George Beaumont that his health was far from robust, and in particular that he could not write without intolerable physical uneasiness. His next start with The Prelude, in the spring of 1804, was more prosperous; he dropped it for several months, but, resuming again in the spring of 1805, he completed it in the summer of that year. In 1807 appeared two volumes of collected poems. It was not till 1814 that the second of the three divisions of The Recluse, ultimately named The Excursion, was ready for publication; and he went no further in the execution of his great design.

The derisive fury with which The Excursion was assailed upon its first appearance has long been a stock example of critical blindness, yet the error of the first critics is seen to lie not in their indictment of faults, but in the prominence they gave to the faults and their generally disrespectful tone towards a poet of Wordsworth's greatness. Jeffrey's petulant ." This will never do," uttered, professedly at least, more in sorrow than in anger, because the poet would persist in spite of all friendly counsel in misapplying his powers, has become a byword of critical cocksureness. But The Excursion has not " done," and even Wordsworthians who laugh at Jeffrey are in the habit of repeating the substance of his criticism.

Jeffrey, it will be seen, was not blind to the occasional felicities and unforgetable lines celebrated by Coleridge, and his general judgment on The Excursion has been abundantly ratified.' It is not upon The Excursion that Wordsworth's reputation as a poet can ever rest. The two " books " entitled The Churchyard among the Mountains are the only parts of the poem that derive much force from the scenic setting; if they had been published separately, they would probably have obtained at once a reception very different from that given to The Excursion as a whole. The dramatic setting is merely dead weight, not because the chief speaker is a pedlar - Wordsworth fairly justifies this selection - but because the pedlar, as a personality to be known, and loved, and respected, and listened to with interest, is not completely created.

There can be little doubt that adverse criticism had a depressing influence on Wordsworth's poetical powers, notwithstanding his nobly expressed defiance of it and his determination to hold on in his own path undisturbed. Its effect in retarding the sale of his poems was a favourite topic with him in his later years;4 but the absence of general appreciation, and the ridicule of what he considered his best and most distinctive work, contributed in all probability to a still more unfortunate result - the premature depression and deadening of his powers.

Ward's English Poets, iv. 13.

4 Matthew Arnold heard him say that " for he knew not how many years his poetry had never brought him in enough to buy his shoe-strings " (preface to Selection, p. v.). The literal facts are that he received £ioo from the Longmans in 1800, and nothing more till he was sixty-five, when Moxon bought the copyright of his writings for £1000 (Prose Works, iii. 437).

For five years after the condemnation of The Excursion Wordsworth published almost nothing that had not been composed before. The chief exception is the Thanksgiving Ode of 1816. In 1815 he published a new edition of his poems, in the arrangement according to faculties and feelings in which they have since stood; and he sought to explain his purposes more completely than before in an essay on "Poetry as a Study." In the same year he was persuaded to publish The White Doe of Rylstone, written mainly eight years before. In purely poetic charm The White Doe ought to be ranked among the most perfect of Wordsworth's poems. But Jeffrey, who was too busy to enter into a vein of poetry so remote from common romantic sentiment, would have none of The White Doe: he pronounced it " the very worst poem ever written," and the public too readily endorsed his judgment. Two other poems, with which Wordsworth made another appeal, were not more successful. Peter Bell, written in 1798, was published in 1819; and at the instigation of Charles Lamb it was followed by The Waggoner, written in 1805. Both were mercilessly ridiculed and parodied. These tales from humble life are written in Wordsworth's most unconventional style, and with them emphatically " not to sympathize is not to understand." Meantime, the great design of The Recluse languished. The neglect of what Wordsworth himself conceived to be his best and most characteristic work was not encouraging; and there was another reason why the philosophical poem on man, nature, and society did not make progress. Again and again in his poetry Wordsworth celebrates the value of constraint, and the disadvantage of " too much liberty," of " unchartered freedom."' The formlessness of the scheme prevented his working at it continuously. Hence his " philosophy " was expressed in casual disconnected sonnets, or in sonnets and other short poems connected by the simplest of all links, sequence in time or place. He stumbled upon three or four such serial ideas in the latter part of his life, and thus found beginning and end for chains of considerable length, which may be regarded as fragments of the project which he had not sufficient energy of constructive power to execute. The Sonnets on the River Duddon, written in 1820, follow the river from its source to the sea, and form a partial embodiment of his philosophy of nature. The Ecclesiastical Sonnets, written in 1820-1821, trace the history of the church from the Druids onwards, following one of the great streams of human affairs, and exhibit part of his philosophy of society. A tour on the continent in 1820, a tour in Scotland in 1831, a tour on the west coast in 1833, a tour in Italy in 1837, furnished him with other serial forms, serving to connect miscellaneous reflections on man, nature and society; and his views on the punishment of death were strung together in still another series in 1840.

It was Coleridge's criticism in the Biographia Literaria (1817), together with the enthusiastic and unreserved championship of Wilson in Blackwood's Magazine in a series of articles between 1819 and 1822 (Recreations of Christopher North), that formed the turning-point in Wordsworth's reputation. From 1820 to 1830 De Quincey says it was militant, from 1830 to 1840 triumphant. On the death of Southey in 1843 he was made poet laureate. He bargained with Sir Robert Peel, before accepting, that no official verse should be required of him; and his only official composition, an ode on the installation of the Prince Consort as chancellor of Cambridge university in 1847, is believed to have really been written either by his son-in-law Edward Quillinan or by his nephew Christopher (afterwards bishop of Lincoln). He died at Rydal Mount, after a short illness, on the 23rd of April 1850, and was buried in Grasmere churchyard. His wife survived him till 1859, when she died in her 90th year. They had five children, two of whom had died in 1812; the two surviving sons, John (d. 1875) and William (d. 1883), had families; the other child, a daughter, Dora, Wordsworth's favourite, married Edward Quillinan in 1841 and died in 1847.

1 See the Sonnet, Nuns fret not, &c., The Pass of Kirkstone and the Ode to Duty. Professor Knight brought out in1882-1886an eight-volume edition of the Poetical Works, and in 1889 a Life in three volumes. The Memoirs of the poet were published (1851) by his nephew, Bishop Christopher Wordsworth. The " standard text " of the works is the edition of 1849-1850. The " Aldine " edition (1892) is edited by Edward Dowden. The one-volume " Oxford " edition (1895), edited by Thomas Hutchinson, contains every piece of verse known to have been published or authorized by Wordsworth, his Prefaces, &c., and a useful chronology and notes. Among critics of Wordsworth especially interesting for various reasons we may mention De Quincey (Works, vols. ii. and v.), Sir Henry Taylor (Works, vol. v.), Matthew Arnold (preface to Selection), Swinburne (Miscellanies), F. W. H. Myers (" Men of Letters " series), Leslie Stephen (Hours in a Library, 3rd series, " Wordsworth's Ethics "), Walter Pater (Appreciations), Walter Raleigh (Wordsworth, 1903). Wordsworth's writings in prose were collected by Dr Grosart (London, 1876). This collection contained the previously unpublished Apology for a French Revolution, written in 1793, besides the scarce tract on the Convention of Cintra (1809) and the political addresses To the Freeholders of Westmoreland (1818). Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes originally appeared in 18to as an introduction to Wilkinson's Select Views, and was first published separately in 1822. (W. M.; H. C11.)

<< Dorothy Wordsworth

Workington >>

Simple English

William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth.
Born 7 April 1770(1770-04-07)
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, England
Died 23 April 1850 (aged 80)
Cumberland, England
Occupation Poet
Genres Poetry
Literary movement Romanticism
Notable work(s) Lyrical Ballads, Poems in Two Volumes, The Excursion

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770April 23, 1850) was an important poet of the Romantic Age in English literature.

Many people think that The Prelude, an autobiographical poem of his early years is his masterpiece. Wordsworth was England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.



Early life and education

Wordsworth was born as second of five children in the Lake District. After the death of his mother in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School. In 1783 his father, who was a lawyer and the solicitor died. Although many aspects of his boyhood were positive, he remembered times of loneliness and anxiety. It took him many years, and much writing, to recover from the death of his parents.

Wordsworth went to St John's College, Cambridge in 1787. Three years later, in 1790, he visited Revolutionary France and supported the Republican movement. The following year, he graduated from Cambridge.

Relationship with Annette Vallon

In November 1791, Wordsworth returned to France and took a walking tour of Europe that included the Alps and Italy. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who in 1792 gave birth to their child, Caroline. Because he was poor and there were tensions between Britain and France, he returned alone to England the next year.[1] But he supported Annette Vallon and his daughter as best he could in later life. War between France and Britain prevented him from seeing Annette and Caroline again for several years. It is likely that Wordsworth would have been depressed during the 1790's.

In 1802 Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, visited Annette and Caroline in France.[1] [[File:|thumb|William Wordsworth, reproduced from Margaret Gillies' 1839 original]]

First publication and Lyrical Ballads

In 1793 Wordsworth published the poetry collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, moved to Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge produced Lyrical Ballads (1798), an important work in the English Romantic movement. The Preface to Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In it, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility." A fourth and final edition of Lyrical Ballads was published in 1805.

Germany and move to the Lake District

Wordsworth, Dorothy, and Coleridge then traveled to Germany in the autumn of 1798. The main effect on Wordsworth was that he became homesick.[1] But he began to work on the important autobiographical piece The Prelude. He also wrote a number of famous poems, including "the Lucy poems." He and his sister moved back to England, now to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District, and this time with the poet Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey came to be known as the "Lake Poets". Through this period, many of his poems speak of death, endurance, separation, and grief.


In 1805 he married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson.[1] Dorothy continued to live with the couple.

File:Benjamin Robert Haydon
Portrait, 1842, by Benjamin Haydon

In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes were published, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood".

Two of his children, Thomas and Catherine, died in 1812. In 1813 his family, including Dorothy, moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside (between Grasmere and Rydal Water), where he spent the rest of his life.[1]

Major works

  • Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798)
  • Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems (1800)
  • Poems, in Two Volumes (1807)
  • The Excursion (1814)
  • Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822)
  • The Prelude (1850, posthumous)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 [1]Everett, Glenn, "William Wordsworth: Biography" Web page at The Victorian Web Web site, accessed January 7, 2007


  • M. H. Abrams, ed (2000). The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2A, The Romantic Period (7th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-393-97568-1. 
  • Stephen Gill, ed (2000). William Wordsworth: The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.. ISBN 0-19-284044-4. 

Other websites

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Error creating thumbnail: sh: convert: command not found
Wikimedia Commons has images, video, and/or sound related to:

General information and biographical sketches

Wordsworth's works

Preceded by
Robert Southey
British Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Alfred Tennyson

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address