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From Revision Medley (Pages 324-325)


WORDSWORTH’S THEORY OF POETRY


    Wordsworth’s theory of poetry, if there is one—has to be extracted from three documents: 1)  the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads 2) the preface to Lyrical Ballads and 3) the Appendix on poetic diction.  Wordsworth was not much of a deliberate theorist.  He was wretchedly ill-read on literary criticism as on all other subjects.  He was incapable of sustained cogitation.  He was blind to logical flaws and contradictions.

    Wordsworth holds that by the very act of writing a poet undertakes 1) to fulfill the expectations of his readers.  These expectations vary from age to age.  At times, as a result of conscious effort, it is possible for the poet to alter them.  This precisely is what he and Coleridge have attempted to do in Lyrical Ballads.
 
    Lyrical Ballads attempts to bring about a revolution in the areas of both content and form.  The content of the poems in rooted in the everyday life of ordinary people. The form is a selection of the language of common social intercourse.  Wordsworth holds, and this conviction lies at the core of Wordsworthian poetic theory, that this is how it should be in the case of all true poetry.

But by just fulfilling these two conditions a piece of verse cannot become good poetry.  The Poet has to ensure that strong emotions are associated with the subjects of his poems and he can do that only through long habits of meditation.  At the same time the piece should not be artificially composed, it should be an inspired creation.  Thus poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings that take its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.  It evokes in the reader the original emotions of the poet.

    The use of metre distinguishes poetry from prose.  But beyond that Wordsworth is unable to identify any basic difference.  The objectives of verse and prose are identical; they use the very same medium; emotion and passion are the life-blood of both. 

    A poet, according to Wordsworth, is a man speaking to men.  He is very much a common man who thinks and feels like all other common men.  But he is endowed with a more than common power of imagination and articulation.  He speaks to other men and also for other men.  The language and situation of his poetry should go together.  The aim of poetry  is universal truth.  It should represent nature and man with the conviction of truth.  The poet must endeavour to give immediate pleasure to the reader by appealing to the humanity within him.  The poet’s obligation to give pleasure is an affirmation of the value and validity of human life    Wordsworth declares that genuine passion is always the ultimate source of true poetry.  In all cultures and languages classical poets worked under the influence of genuine passion generated by real life events.  Being stimulated by genuine passion their language was highly metaphorical and daringly innovative.  In succeeding ages even, when not genuinely moved, the same figurative language came to be employed.  Thus a poetic diction was produced which took the language of poetry away from the real language of men turning the poetry into life less verbiage.  At such points in history a special, conscious effort is required to take the language of poetry back to the people.  This is what Lyrical Ballads has attempted to do.

However, as Coleridge points out in Biographia Literaria, some of Wordsworth’s pieces are those which speak of uncommon experiences in a language far more subtle and sophisticated than that used by common men.  A good example is “Tintern Abbey” generally accepted as one of Wordsworth’s masterpieces.  Neither its mystic philosophy nor its highly inspired language as anything everyday about it.



 



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