William Wordsworth Critical Essay

G. K. Hall and Company, Boston, 1990

From the Introduction:Representations of Wordsworth

In spite of the shifts in cultural perspective that have recognized William Wordsworth as a radical of the 1790s in style and thought, as an “establishment” poet laureate, as the “Daddy Wordsworth” admired by the Victorians, as the “simple” Anglican poet of nature, as the “problematic” poet of “consciousness,” and, recently, as a “Nobodaddy” who was too conservative in the Age of Revolution, the poet’s reputation as one of the great masters of English poetry continues.Along with Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Tennyson, and Eliot, Wordsworth is one of those poets whose name still defines an age; in 1988 an extensive exhibition of English literary and visual art from the turn of the nineteenth century toured the United States under the title, “William Wordsworth and the Age of Romanticism.”The exhibition asserted the centrality of the poet in spite of the undisputed genius of his contemporaries, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and, especially, Blake.It represented the renewal of Wordsworth’s reputation in the twentieth century after the indifference of the Modernists (who favored, if any of the Romantics, the “aesthetic” Keats) and the disfavor of some contemporary scholars who preferred “revolutionary” Blake.

To some extent, Wordsworth fashioned himself into the emblem of his own age.His poems in Lyrical Ballads (1798) and his defense of them in the Preface added to the second edition (1800) proclaimed what should represent English taste and style at the beginning of the nineteenth century and articulated issues by defining the ideal characteristics of the poet and poetry.Wordsworth found in the old pastoral themes of the importance of nature and the joys of a simple life a basis for renewal of the human spirit in an age marked by the uncertainty of European war and revolution.

In 1972 M. H. Abrams published a collection of critical essay from the flowering of Wordsworth scholarship in the postwar period.In the introduction he charted “two roads”:one in England, where the “simple Wordsworth” of emotion and feeling was newly appreciated in the light of the wartime experience and in reaction to Modernist values; and the other in America, where a “problematic” seed sprouted in a fertile soil of fascination with literary psychology and took form is explorations of what Abrams called “consciousness.”Since Abrams published his collection of essays, examination of Wordsworth and “consciousness” has continued to be an attractive pursuit to scholars, and my collection includes an excerpt from his magisterial study, Natural Supernaturalism:Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (1971).A more clinical treatment is Richard Matlak’s look at the “psycho-biographical” context of the disturbing “Lucy” poems.Less formal essays that relate the poet’s life to his art are Donald Reiman’s judicious description of Wordsworth’s “heroism” in struggling to channel the passions of intimate family relationships into his creativity, and Jean H. Hagstrum’s not so tame portrait of the poet obsessed with a sexuality that lurks just under the surface of his poetry.

Essays collected here dealing with the influence of aesthetic traditions are Carl Woodring’s placement of “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” in the context of Wordsworth’s understanding of the theory of the sublime; Stephen J. Spector’s study of the poet’s use of mirror images drawn from the tradition of the picturesque; and my own look at the analogy between Wordsworth’s way of seeing Nature and his ideas on landscape and the English garden.Study of Wordsworth’s uniquely Romantic employment of rhetorical devices also enhances understanding of the poetry:Susan J. Wolfson examines the poet’s reliance on the interrogative mode in the Lyrical Ballads, including “Tintern Abbey”; Peter J. Manning explicates Ode:Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by allusion to Virgil’s fourth ecology; and Paul. H. Fry studies Wordsworth’s adaptation of the genre of the ode to the philosophical needs of the Intimations Ode.

New, indeed, since Abram’s collection is the emergence of William Blake as a true rival to Wordsworth for the role of Romantic “spirit of the age.”Some readers have not found Wordsworth meaningful because he did not take an energetic enough role in the politics of the Age of Revolution; ironically, it is the battle between the life of action and the life of the mind that Wordsworth dramatizes in Books IX through XI in The Prelude.This controversy is the background of recent reconsiderations of the poet’s political and social ideas.Ronald Paulson describes how in The Prelude Wordsworth had to come to terms with his own identity as a result of his experience of the French Revolution.Arguing against traditional “literary” readings of the Intimations Ode, Marjorie Levinson decodes the references in the poem to Wordsworth’s experiences in France and to his nostalgia over losing his innocence during the Revolution.Karl Kroeber admits the rivalry with Blake for critical esteem and defends Wordsworth’s merit on grounds relevant to the late twentieth-century interest in conserving the natural world:he treats Home at Grasmere as the expression of a preservationist’s ecological vision.In the afterword to the collection, Alan Grob responds to recent critics who view Wordsworth as reactionary; looking back to Abrams, he argues that out of the poet’s turn to “consciousness” evolved the very means by which he could assume the role of an influential exponent of change.

Such arguments touch on a crucial development in scholarship today:the rise of critics who ascribe an “ideology” to an artist or his defenders, or, conversely argue rigidly from the point of view of a particular ideology, rather than give real consideration to the creative work.In selecting essays, I have sought to avoid this neoclassical Modernism, which continues under the auspices of “postmodern” claims for the authority of method; rather, I present a gathering of scholars with diverse approaches who are committed first and foremost to their subject of study, Wordsworth and his poems.Their efforts offer instructive and occasionally delightful access to the most frequently read poems.

Additional Information on Critical Essays on William Wordsworth


George Gilpin’s edition of Critical Essays on William Wordsworth in the Critical Essays on British Literature series consists of fifteen essays that provide a variety of approaches to the author.The editor’s introduction traces the history of critical opinion on Wordsworth, while his selection of essays includes several on each of Wordsworth’s major works, the Lyrical Ballads, the Intimations Ode, and The Prelude, as well as others with diverse perspectives regarding the poet’s work and life.Most of the selected criticism is of recent origin.Original essays especially written for this volume include Gilpin’s own study of Wordsworth’s fascination with gardens and Alan Grob’s concluding treatment of Wordsworth politics.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION:Representations of Wordsworth

George H. Gilpin


The New Sublimity in “Tintern Abbey”

Carl Woodring

Speaker as Questioner in Lyrical Ballads, 1798

Susan Wolfson


Wordsworth’s Severe Intimations

Paul H. Fry

Wordsworth’s Intimations Ode and Its Epigraphs

Peter J. Manning

The Intimations:A Timely Utterance

Marjorie Levinson


Wordsworth’s Prelude and the Crisis-Autobiography (Excerpt)

M. H. Abrams

Wordsworth’s Prelude

Ronald Paulson


“Home at Grasmere”:Ecological Holiness

Karl Kroeber

Wordsworth Mirror Imagery and the Picturesque Tradition

Stephen J. Spector

In Wordsworth’s English Gardens

George H. Gilpin


Poetry as Familiarity:Wordsworth, Dorothy, and Mary Hutchinson

Donald H. Reiman

Wordsworth’s Lucy Poems in Psychobiographical Context

Richard E. Matlak

William Wordsworth:“Relationship and Love”

Jean H. Hagstrum

AFTERWORD:Wordsworth and the Politics of Consciousness

Alan Grob

·Hardcover: 360 pages

·Publisher: G K Hall (July 1990)

·ISBN-10: 0816187746

·ISBN-13: 978-0816187744

·Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches

Critical Analysis of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Critical Analysis of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge spearheaded a philosophical writing movement in England in the late 18th and early 19th century. Although Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge are often considered the fathers of the English Romantic movement, their collective theologies and philosophies were often criticized but rarely taken serious by the pair of writers due to their illustrious prestige as poets. The combined effort in the Lyrical Ballads catapulted their names into the mainstream of writers in 1798 and with this work; they solidified their place in English literature. Although, most people fail to note that the majority of Coleridge's and Wordsworth's work…show more content…

Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth was the piece of work that established him as an accomplished poet. The work was considered a collaboration between Wordsworth and Coleridge but was originally published anonymously. A lot had been made of their friendship where each would comment on each other?s poetry but it must also be noted that Coleridge was in dire need of money. He had hoped to travel to Germany to study and when the book was published, and it helped to pay for his trip.
In the Advertisement of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth says the following about the content of his work:

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a

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